William James: Psychologist, Philosopher and Scholar of Religion - PHIL6550

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2021 to 2022.


William James (1842-1910) has arguably had a profound impact in the shaping of three contemporary disciplines: philosophy, psychology and the study of religion. This course aims to examine the life and work of William James in depth. It will examine the life of William James and the James family and show how this relates to his work. The course will examine his key texts: Principles of Psychology (1890), The Will to Believe (1897), The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) and his studies of pragmatism, including Pragmatism (1907), The Pluralistic Universe (1909) and The Meaning of Truth (1909). It will also explore his long term and frustrated attempt to set up a scientific study of psychical phenomena.


Contact hours

This module will be taught by means of a one-hour lecture and a two-hour seminar for ten weeks.
Total Contact Hours: 30
Private Study Hours: 270
Total Study Hours: 300

Method of assessment

This module will be assessed by 100% Coursework:
• Mid-term Essay (1,000 words) – 30%
• Essay (3,000 words) – 50%
• Critical Literature Book Review (1,000 words) – 10%
• Seminar Participation – 10%
For the essays, students will choose from a set of questions/topics that will be available in class and on Moodle.
Feedback will be offered throughout the module, e.g., through seminars, office hours, and written comments on the essays.
The critical literature review is intended to establish extended critical and analytical skills. Level 5 students will examine ONE text on the course reading list related to the life of William James and level 6 students will compare and contrast TWO texts on the life of William James to demonstrate greater critical and analytical skills.
Seminar participation will be evaluated in line with the Department's Seminar Participation Criteria.

Indicative reading

Ayer, A.J. (1968) The Origins of Pragmatism: Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce and William James (London: Macmillan)
Brown, H. (2000) William James on Radical Empiricism and Religion (Toronto: University of Toronto Press)
Carrette, J. ed. (2005) William James and the Varieties of Religious Experience (London: Routledge)
James, W. (1975-1988) The Writings of William James (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press)
Myers, G.E. (1986) William James: His Life and Thought (New Haven: Yale)
Putnam, R. A. ed. (1997) The Cambridge Companion to William James (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
8.1 demonstrate knowledge of the life and work of William James;
8.2 demonstrate an understanding of the secondary literature on William James;
8.3 evaluate the extent to which the work of William James intersects with other aspects of religious history and philosophy;
8.4 demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the central texts of William James;
8.5 appreciate the diversity and range of William James' thinking.
8.6 show critical skills in reading and assessing William James' work;


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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