The Religious Life: The Insights of William James

By Donald Capps

An introduction to William James’ classic Varieties of Religious Experience, explaining and applying his insights into the psychology of religious belief.

ISBN: 9780718894283


William James called his classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, “a study in human nature”. For James, it is a fundamental feature of human nature that we have a conscious and a subconscious mind, and that the subconscious mind is deeply implicated in the religious life, especially in conversion and other experiences of spiritual enlightenment. In The Religious Life, Donald Capps addresses religious melancholy, the divided self and discordant personality, religious conversion, the saintly character, and the prayerful consciousness. He contrasts the cases of two clergymen – one deeply troubled, the other exemplary of the spiritual person. Aimed at general readers, Capps’ work makes William James, a popular author in his own day, accessible to a modern audience.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 262

Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

Donald Capps (1939-2015) was William Harte Felmeth Professor of Pastoral Theology (Emeritus) and Adjunct Professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of At Home in the World (2013), Still Growing (2014), and The Resourceful Self (2014). He is co-author with Nathan Carlin of The Gift of Sublimation (2015).



Part I: Varieties of Religious Experience
1. The Book and Its Author
2. Personal Religious Experience
3. The Healthy Mind
4. The Sick Soul
5. The Divided Self and the Process of Its Unification
6. The Psychology of Religious Conversion
7. The Saintly Character
8. The Prayerful Consciousness

Part II: Living In Hope
9. A Troubled Man: The Case of Ansel Bourne
10. A Spiritual Person: The Example of Phillips Brooks
11. The Letting Loose of Hope

Index of Names


Endorsements and Reviews

I know of no more faithful introduction to William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience than Donald Capps’ The Religious Life. Situating James at centre stage, Capps infiltrates every page with a lifetime of scholarship in the psychology of religion and a palpable appreciation for James’ life and work. Seekers will find renewed encouragement in their spiritual quests, imbibing in the generosity of spirit and hopeful imagination that James and Capps share.
Robert C. Dykstra, Charlotte W. Newcombe Professor of Pastoral Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

The Religious Life is a remarkable scholarly achievement, and a richly textured exploration of the profoundly personal and contextual dimensions of James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience. Capps … provides readers with insights into the creation of James’ stunning book, and a nuanced commentary on James’ study of human nature and religion.
Lewis R. Rambo, Senior Research Professor of Psychology and Religion, San Francisco Theological Seminary

Donald Capps has written a beautiful text … with the same kind of insight and intuition that he culls from James. In the same manner that Varieties has become a classic text in religious studies, Capps’ volume will surely become a classic in its own right. The contemporary reader is provided with an opportunity to consider what it means to live a religious or spiritual life.
Carol Schweitzer, Associate Professor of Pastoral Care, Union Presbyterian Seminary

Capps offers us edifying highlights from James’s classic work on religious experience.
Jeremy Carrette, in Theology, Vol 120, Issue 5

This superb guide to the writings of William James is the last work of a renowned pastoral theologian. It acts as a signpost pointing in two directions: both to the seminal work of James and to other books by Capps. Not only is it a tribute to the author of the classic work The Varieties of Religious Experience, but it is a fitting finale to a life lived with a rare combination of scholarship and compassion.
Anne Holmes, at, October 2017

The Religious Life is helpful to anyone who wants to grasp quickly the scope and essence of James’ work in the Varieties.
Nathan G. Wheeler, in Theological Book Review, Vol 28, No 2, p.7