Religious Experience: William James, Ecstasy, and Fundamentalism

  • Eric MullisEmail author
Part of the Performance Philosophy book series (PPH)


In this chapter, Mullis critically engages William James’ account of conversion experiences and mystical consciousness in light of Pentecostal theology and ethnographic fieldwork in charismatic Pentecostal churches. James’ emphasis on pathology in his account of ecstatic behavior is critically assessed as is his framing of religious encounters as passive and solitary. Mullis then considers how James’ analysis would differ if it were based not on religious autobiographical literature but on ethnographic research and embodied experiential inquiry. The chapter also discusses the confluence of ecstatic practices and fundamentalist ideology that can occur during charismatic Christian rituals, James’ dismissal of fundamentalism, and an ethics of witnessing practiced by the ethnographer-artist.


  1. Agamben, Giorgio. 2002. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  2. Barnard, William. 1997. Exploring Unseen Worlds: William James and the Philosophy of Mysticism. New York: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  3. ———. 2002. The Varieties of Religious Experience Reflections on Its Enduring Value. Journal of Consciousness Studies 9 (9–10): 57–77.Google Scholar
  4. Casselberry, Judith. 2017. The Labor of Faith: Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentecostalism. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chenyang, Li, ed. 2000. The Sage and the Second Sex: Confucianism, Ethics, and Gender. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  6. Conquergood, Dwight. 2013. Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, Praxis. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. De Michelis, Elizabeth. 2004. A History of Modern Yoga. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  8. Dewey, John. 1958. Experience and Nature. New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  9. Flor-Henry, Pierre, Yakov Shapiro, and Corine Sombrun. 2017. Brain Changes During a Shamanic Trance: Altered Modes of Consciousness, Hemispheric Laterality, and Systemic Psychobiology. Cognitive Psychology 4 (1): 1–25.Google Scholar
  10. Frederick, Norris. 2012. William James and Swami Vivekananda: Religious Experience and Vedanta/Yoga in America. William James Studies 9: 37–55.Google Scholar
  11. Gotman, Kélina. 2017. Choreomania: Dance and Disorder. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hall, David, and Roger Ames. 1987. Thinking Through Confucius. New York: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  13. Impett, Emily A., Jennifer J. Daubenmier, and Allegra L. Hirschman. 2006. Minding the Body: Yoga, Embodiment, and Well-being. Sexuality Research & Social Policy 3 (4): 39–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. James, William. 1976. Essays in Radical Empiricism. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. ———. 1978. Essays in Philosophy. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  16. ———. 1979. The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  17. ———. 1981. The Principles of Psychology. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. ———. 1985. The Varieties of Religious Experience. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  19. ———. 1987. The Energies of Men. In William James: Writings, 1902–1910, ed. John McDermott. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  20. ———. 1992. In The Correspondence of William James, ed. Ignas Skrupskelis and Elizabeth Berkeley. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.Google Scholar
  21. ———. 1994. Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Janicaud, Dominique, Jean-François Courtine, and Jean-Louis Chrétien. 2000. Phenomenology and the “Theological Turn”: The French Debate. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Katz, Richard. 1982. Boiling Energy: Community Healing Among the Kalahari Kung. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Kay, William, and Stephen Hunt. 2014. Pentecostal Churches and Homosexuality. In The Oxford Handbook of Theology, Sexuality and Gender, ed. Adrian Thatcher. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Kierkegaard, Søren, and Gordon Daniel Marino. 2013. Fear and Trembling and the Sickness Unto Death. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Krippner, Stanley. 2000. The Epistemology and Technologies of Shamanic States of Consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies 7 (11–12): 93–118.Google Scholar
  27. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1969. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Mandell, Arnold. 1980. Toward a Psychobiology of Transcendence: God in the Brain. In The Psychobiology of Consciousness, ed. Julian Davidson and Richard Davidson, 379–464. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Marion, Jean-Luc. 2002. Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness. Trans. Jeffrey Kosky. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. ———. 2008. The Visible and the Revealed. Trans. Christina Gschwandtner. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Marsden, George. 2006. Fundamentalism and American Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. McCombs, Richard. 2013. The Paradoxical Rationality of Søren Kierkegaard. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Mead, George Herbert. 1934. Mind, Self and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  34. Mooney, Edward. 2013. Pseudonyms and ‘Style’. In The Oxford Handbook of Kierkegaard, ed. John Lippitt and George Pattison, 191–2210. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Mullis, Eric. 2008. Toward a Confucian Ethic of the Gift. Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 7 (2): 175–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Oliver, Kelly. 2000. Beyond Recognition: Witnessing Ethics. Philosophy Today 44 (1): 31–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pinchevski, Amit. 2005. By Way of Interruption: Levinas and the Ethics of Communication. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Proudfoot, Wayne. 1985. Religious Experience. Oakland: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  39. Shusterman, Richard. 2008. Body Consciousness: A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Taylor, Eugene. 1999. William James and Sigmund Freud: ‘The Future of Psychology Belongs to Your Work’. Psychological Science 10 (6): 465–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Taylor, Charles. 2002. Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Winkelman, Michael. 1986. Trance States: A Theoretical Model and Cross-Cultural Analysis. Ethos 14 (2): 174–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Queens University of CharlotteCharlotteUSA

Personalised recommendations