Read CHAPTER I of The Sources Of Religious Insight, free online book, by Josiah Royce, on


My first task must be to forestall possible disappointments regarding the scope of our inquiry. In seven lectures upon a vast topic very little can at best be accomplished. I want to tell you at the outset what are some of the limitations to which I propose to subject my undertakings.

I come before you as a philosophical inquirer addressing a general audience of thoughtful people. This definition of my office implies from the outset very notable limitations. As a philosophical inquirer I am not here to preach to you, but to appeal to your own thoughtfulness. Again, since my inquiry concerns the Sources of Religious Insight, you will understand, I hope, that I shall not undertake to present to you any extended system of religious doctrine. Upon sources of insight we are to concentrate our attention. What insight may be obtained from those sources we shall only attempt to indicate in the most general way, not at length to expound. What theologians would call a system of dogmas, I shall not undertake to define. What philosophers would regard as a comprehensive philosophy of religion I shall have no time to develop within our limits. I am to make some comments upon the ways in which religious truths can become accessible to men. What truths thus become accessible you must in large measure discover by your own appeal to the sources of which I shall try to tell you.

These somewhat narrow limitations may have, as I hope, their correlative advantages. Since I am to speak of sources, rather than of creeds or of philosophies, I may be able to appeal to people of decidedly various opinions without directing undue attention to the motives that divide them. I need not presuppose that my hearers are of the company of believers or of the company of doubters; and if they are believers, it matters little, for my present purpose, to what household of the faith they belong. I am not here to set people right as to matters of doctrine, but rather to point out the way that, if patiently followed, may tend to lead us all toward light and unity of doctrine. If you listen to my later lectures you may, indeed, be led to ask various questions about my own creed, which, in these lectures, I shall not attempt to answer. But I shall be content if what I say helps any of you, however little, toward finding for yourselves answers to your own religious questions.

The limitations of my task, thus indicated, will become still clearer if I next try to define the term Religious Insight as I intend it to be here understood.

And first I must speak briefly of the word Insight. By insight, whatever the object of insight may be, one means some kind of knowledge. But the word insight has a certain richness of significance whereby we distinguish what we call insight from knowledge in general. A man knows the way to the office where he does his business. But if he is a successful man, he has insight into the nature and rules of his business and into the means whereby success is attained. A man knows the names and the faces of his acquaintances. But he has some sort of insight into the characters of his familiar friends. As these examples suggest, insight is a name for a special sort and degree of knowledge. Insight is knowledge that unites a certain breadth of range, a certain wealth of acquaintance together with a certain unity and coherence of grasp, and with a certain closeness of intimacy whereby the one who has insight is brought into near touch with the objects of his insight. To repeat: Insight is knowledge that makes us aware of the unity of many facts in one whole, and that at the same time brings us into intimate personal contact with these facts and with the whole wherein they are united. The three marks of insight are breadth of range, coherence and unity of view, and closeness of personal touch. A man may get some sort of sight of as many things as you please. But if we have insight, we view some connected whole of things, be this whole a landscape as an artist sees it, or as a wanderer surveys it from a mountain top, or be this whole an organic process as a student of the sciences of life aims to comprehend it, or a human character as an appreciative biographer tries to portray it. Again, we have insight when, as I insist, our acquaintance with our object is not only coherent but close and personal. Insight you cannot obtain at second hand. You can learn by rote and by hearsay many things; but if you have won insight, you have won it not without the aid of your own individual experience. Yet experience is not by itself sufficient to produce insight unless the coherence and the breadth of range which I have just mentioned be added.

Insight may belong to the most various sorts of people and may be concerned with the most diverse kinds of objects. Many very unlearned people have won a great deal of insight into the matters that intimately concern them. Many very learned people have attained almost no insight into anything. Insight is no peculiar possession of the students of any technical specialty or of any one calling. Men of science aim to reach insight into the objects of their researches; men of affairs, or men of practical efficiency, however plain or humble their calling, may show insight of a very high type, whenever they possess knowledge that bears the marks indicated, knowledge that is intimate and personal and that involves a wide survey of the unity of many things.

Such, then, is insight in general. But I am to speak of Religious Insight. Religious insight must be distinguished from other sorts of insight by its object, or by its various characteristic objects. Now, I have no time to undertake, in this opening discourse, any adequate definition of the term Religion or of the features that make an object a religious object. Religion has a long and complex history, and a tragic variety of forms and of objects of belief. And so religion varies prodigiously in its characteristics from age to age, from one portion of the human race to another, from one individual to another. If we permitted ourselves to define religion so as merely to insist upon what is common to all its forms, civilised and savage, our definition would tend to become so inclusive and so attenuated as to be almost useless for the purposes of the present brief inquiry. If, on the other hand, we defined religion so as to make the term denote merely what the believer in this or in that creed thinks of as his own religion, we should from the start cut ourselves off from the very breadth of view which I myself suppose to be essential to the highest sort of religious Insight. Nobody fully comprehends what religion is who imagines that his own religion is the only genuine religion. As a fact, I shall therefore abandon at present the effort to give a technically finished definition of what constitutes religion, or of the nature of the religious objects. I shall here limit myself to a practically useful preliminary mention of a certain feature that, for my present purpose, shall be viewed as the essential characteristic of religion, and of religious objects, so far as these lectures propose to discuss religion.

The higher religions of mankind religions such as Buddhism and Christianity have had in common this notable feature, namely, that they have been concerned with the problem of the Salvation of Man. This is sometimes expressed by saying that they are redemptive religions religions interested in freeing mankind from some vast and universal burden, of imperfection, of unreasonableness, of evil, of misery, of fate, of unworthiness, or of sin. Now, for my present purposes, this interest in the salvation of man shall be made, in these lectures, the essential feature of religion in so far as religion shall here be dealt with. The religious objects, whatever they otherwise may prove to be, shall be defined as objects such that, when we know them, and in case we can know them, this knowledge of them helps to show us the way of salvation. The central and essential postulate of whatever religion we, in these lectures, are to consider, is the postulate that man needs to be saved. And religious insight shall for us mean insight into the way of salvation and into those objects whereof the knowledge conduces to salvation.

This preliminary definition, thus somewhat abruptly stated, will arouse in the minds of many of you serious doubts and questions. And only the whole course of our study can serve to furnish such answer to these doubts and questions as I can hope to supply to you. Yet a further word or two of purely preliminary explanation may help to prevent your thoughts, at this point, from being turned in a wrong direction. I have defined religious insight as insight into the way of salvation. But what, you may ask, do I mean by the salvation of man or by man’s need of salvation? To this question I still owe you a brief preliminary answer.


The word salvation naturally first suggests to your own mind certain familiar traditions which have played a great part in the history of Christianity. I do not mean to make light of those traditions nor yet of the significance of the historical Christianity to which they belong. Yet, as I have already told you, these lectures will have no dogmatic religious system to expound, and, for that very reason, will not attempt the grave task of any extended discussion of Christianity. I propose at some future time, not in these lectures, but upon a wholly different occasion, to attempt an application of some of the principles that underlie the present lectures to the special problems which Christianity offers to the student of religion. But these lectures are not to be directly concerned with this special task of expounding or interpreting or estimating Christian doctrines. I repeat: My limited undertaking is to consider in company with you the sources of religious insight, not the contents of any one religion. You will understand, therefore, that when I define religious insight as insight into the way of salvation, I use the word salvation in a sense that I wish you to conceive in terms much more general than those which certain Christian traditions have made familiar to you.

I have already said that both Buddhism and Christianity are interested in the problem of the salvation of mankind, and share in common the postulate that man needs saving. I could have named still other of the world’s higher religions which are characterised by the same great interest. Had I the time and the technical knowledge, I could show you how far backward in time, how deep down into the very essence of some of the religions that seem to us extremely primitive, this concern for man’s salvation, and for a knowledge of the way of salvation, extends. But the history of religion does not fall within my present scope. And to the varieties of religious doctrine I can only allude by way of illustration. Yet the mere mention of such varieties may serve, I hope, to show you that whole nations and races, and that countless millions of men, have conceived of their need for salvation, and have sought the way thereto, while they have known nothing of Christian doctrine, and while they have not in the least been influenced by those dogmas regarding the fall of man, the process of redemption, or the future destiny of the soul of man which are brought to your minds when you hear the word salvation.

Be willing, then, to generalise our term and to dissociate the idea of salvation from some of the settings in which you usually have conceived it. Since there is thus far in our discussion no question as to whose view of the way of salvation is the true view, you can only gain by such a dissociation, even if it be but a temporary effort at generalisation. The cry of humanity for salvation is not a matter of any one time or faith. The pathos of that cry will become only the deeper when you learn to see why it is so universal a cry. The truth, if there be any accessible truth, regarding the genuine way of salvation will become only the more precious to you when you know by how widely sundered paths the wanderers in the darkness of this world have sought for the saving light.

So let me next attempt to define salvation in a sufficiently general sense. Man is an infinitely needy creature. He wants endlessly numerous special things food, sleep, pleasure, fellowship, power in all its Protean shapes, peace in all its elusive forms, love in its countless disguises in brief, all the objects of desire. But amongst these infinitely manifold needs, the need for salvation stands out, in the minds of those who feel it, as a need that is peculiarly paramount, so that, according to their view of life, to desire salvation is to long for some pearl of great price, for the sake of which one would be ready to sell all that one has. The idea that man needs salvation depends, in fact, upon two simpler ideas whereof the main idea is constituted. The first is the idea that there is some end or aim of human life which is more important than all other aims, so that, by comparison with this aim all else is secondary and subsidiary, and perhaps relatively unimportant, or even vain and empty. The other idea is this: That man as he now is, or as he naturally is, is in great danger of so missing this highest aim as to render his whole life a senseless failure by virtue of thus coming short of his true goal. Whoever has been led to conceive human life in these terms, namely, to think that there is for man some sort of highest good, by contrast with which all other goods are relatively trivial, and that man, as he is, is in great danger of losing this highest good, so that his greatest need is of escape from this danger whoever, I say, thus views our life, holds that man needs salvation.

Now, I beg you to observe that such a view of life as this is in no wise dependent upon any one dogma as to a future state of reward and punishment, as to heaven and hell, as to the fall of man, or as to any point of the traditional doctrine of this or of that special religion. Philosophers and prophets, and even cynics, learned and unlearned men, saints and sinners, sages and fanatics, Christians and non-Christians, believers in immortality and believers that death ends all, may agree, yes, have agreed, in viewing human life in the general spirit just characterised. A very few examples may serve to show how wide-spread this longing for salvation has been and how manifold have also been its guises.

I have already mentioned Buddhism as a religion that seeks the salvation of man. The central idea of the original southern Buddhism, as you know, is pessimistic. Man, so the Buddha and his earlier followers taught, is naturally doomed to misery. This doom is so pervasive and so fatal that you in vain would seek to escape from it through any luxuries, or, so to speak, excesses, of good fortune. On the throne or in the dungeon, wealthy or a beggar, man is always (so the Buddhist insists) the prisoner of desire, a creature of longing, consumed by the fires of passion and therefore miserable. For man’s will is insatiable, and hence always disappointed. Now we are here not in the least concerned with estimating this pessimism. This gloomy ancient Indian view of existence may be as false as you please. Enough millions of men have held it, and therefore have longed for salvation. For if, as the early Buddhists held, the evil of human life is thus pervasive and paramount, then the aim of escaping from such fatal ill must be deeper and more important than any economic aim or than any intent to satisfy this or that special desire. If man is naturally doomed to misery, the escape from this natural doom must be at once the hardest and the highest of human tasks. The older Buddhism undertakes to accomplish this task by teaching the way to “the extinction of desire” and by thus striking at “the root of all misery.” In Nirvana, those who have attained the goal have won their way beyond all desire. They return not. They are free from the burden of human existence. Such is one view of the need and the way of salvation.

If we turn in a wholly different direction, we find Plato, in the great myth of the “Phaedrus,” in the arguments and myths of the “Republic,” and in various other famous passages, defining what he regards as the true goal of the human soul, portraying how far we have naturally come short of that goal, and pointing out a way of salvation. And, in another age, Marcus Aurelius writes his “Thoughts” in the interest of defining the end for which it is worth while to live, the bondage and failure in which the foolish man actually lives, and the way out of our foolishness.

But are the partisans of ways of salvation confined to such serious and unworldly souls as were the early Buddhists and the ancient moralists? No; turn to modern times. Read the stanzas into which Fitzgerald, in a highly modern spirit, very freely translated the expressions of an old Persian poet Omar Khayyam; or, again, read the great programme of Nietzsche’s ethical and religious revolt as set forth only a few years since in his “Zarathustra”; or recall Goethe’s “Faust”; remember even Byron’s “Manfred”; and these few instances from amongst a vast wealth of more or less recent literary examples will show you that the idea of salvation and the search for salvation are matters that belong to no one type of piety or of poetry or of philosophy. Cynics and rebels, ancient sages and men who are in our foremost rank of time, can agree, and have agreed, in maintaining that there is some goal of life, conceivable, or at least capable of being, however dimly, appreciated some goal that, if accessible, would fulfil and surpass our lesser desires, or would save us from our bondage to lesser ills, while this goal is something that we naturally miss, or that we are in great danger of missing so that, whatever else we need, we need to be saved from this pervasive and overmastering danger of failure.

“Oh love, could thou and I with fate conspire
To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire,
Would we not shatter it to bits and then,
Remould it nearer to the heart’s desire?”

“He weaves and is clothed with derision,
Sows, and he shall not reap;
His life is a watch or a vision
Between a sleep and a sleep.”

Such, then, is man’s need. “Here we have no continuing city, we seek a city out of sight” such is another expression of this same need. What I ask you to do, just here, is to catch a glimpse of this universal form of the need for salvation. As you see, there is always a certain element of gloom and tragedy involved in the first conception of this need. All depends, for the further fortunes of one’s religious consciousness, upon whether or not one can get insight into the true nature of this need and into the way toward the needed salvation.


Religious Insight means then, for my present purposes, insight into the need and into the way of salvation. If the problem of human salvation has never come home to your mind, as a genuine problem of life and of experience, you will feel no interest in religion in the sense to which the present lectures will arbitrarily confine the term. If, on the other hand, your live personal experience has made you intimate with any form or phase of this problem of the pathetic need and cry of man for salvation, then I care not, at least at the outset of these discourses, whether you have thought of this problem in theological or in secular, in reverent or in rebellious, or in cynical terms, whether you have tried to solve it by scientific or by sentimental or by traditional means, or whether the problem now takes shape in your mind as a problem to be dealt with in a spirit of revolt or of conformity, of sceptical criticism or of intuitive faith, of hope or of despair. What we want is insight, if insight be possible, into the way of salvation. The problem with which these lectures are to deal is: What are the sources of such insight?

At the outset of our effort to deal with this problem, I shall try to show how the experience of the individual human being is related to the issues that are before us. That is, in this and in part of our next lecture, I shall discuss the sense in which the individual experience of any one of us is a source of insight into the need and the way of salvation. Hereby we shall erelong be led to our social experience as a source of still richer religious insight. And from these beginnings we shall go on to a study of sources which are at once developments from these first mentioned sources, and sources that are much more significant than these first ones would be if they could be isolated from such developments. I ask you to follow my discourse in the same spirit of tolerance for various opinions and with the same effort to understand the great common features and origins of the religious consciousness with the same spirit and effort, I say, by which I have tried to be guided in what I have already said to you in this introduction. It is always easy to see that, in religion, one man thinks thus and another man thinks otherwise, and that no man knows as much as we all wish to know. But I want to lay stress upon those perennial sources from which human insight has flowed and for ages in the future will continue to flow. To understand what these sources are will help us, I believe, toward unity of spirit, toward co-operation in the midst of all our varieties of faith, and toward insight itself and the fruits of insight.


I can best undertake my brief initial study of the way in which the experience of the individual human being is a source of religious insight by meeting an objection that a reading of my printed programme may have aroused in the minds of some of you. My list of the sources of religious insight, as contained in the titles of these lectures, makes no express reference to a source which some of you will be disposed to regard as the principal source, namely, Revelation. Here, some of you will already have said, is a very grave omission. Man’s principal insight into the need and the way of salvation comes, and must come, you will say, from without, from the revelation that the divine power which saves, makes of itself, through Scripture or through the Church. Now, so far as this thesis forms part of the doctrine of a particular religion, namely, in your own case, of Christianity, I shall in these lectures omit any direct discussion of that thesis. The reason for the omission I have already pointed out. These lectures undertake a limited task, and must be judged by their chosen limitations. But in so far as revelation is a general term, meaning whatever intercourse there may be between the divine and the human, all these lectures, in dealing with sources of religious insight, will be dealing with processes of revelation. And in what sense this assertion is true we shall see as we go on with our undertaking. This first mention of revelation enables me, however, both to state and to answer the objection to my programme which I have just mentioned, and in doing so to vindicate for the experience of any religiously disposed individual its true significance as a source of insight. Hereby, as I hope, I can forthwith show that even the present deliberately limited undertaking of these lectures has an importance which you ought to recognise, whatever your own views about revelation may be.

Let me suppose, then, that an objector, speaking on behalf of revelation as the main source of religious insight, states his case briefly thus: “Man learns of his need for salvation chiefly through learning what God’s will is, and through a consequent discovery that his own natural will is not in conformity with God’s will. He learns about the way of salvation by finding out by what process God is willing to save him. Both sorts of knowledge must be principally mediated through God’s revelation of himself, of his will, and of his plan of salvation. For, left to himself, man cannot find out these things. Apart from revelation, they are divine secrets. Hence the principal source of religious insight must be revelation.”

Whoever states his case thus brings to our attention at this point what I may venture to name: The Religious Paradox, or, to use other terms. The Paradox of Revelation. I call attention to this paradox in no spirit of mere cavilling or quibbling. The importance of the matter the whole course of these lectures will show. The religious paradox, as we shall define it, is one of the deepest facts in all religious history and experience. It will meet us everywhere; and every devout soul daily faces it. Moreover, as we shall see, it is a special case of a paradox regarding our human insight which is as universal and pervasive, in its significance for us, as is our human intelligence itself. I call it here the religious paradox. I shall later show you that it might be called, just as correctly, the paradox of common-sense, the paradox of reason, the paradox of knowledge, yes, the paradox of being thoughtfully alive in any sense whatever.

The religious paradox, viewed as it first comes to us, may be stated thus: Let a man say: “I have this or this religious insight because God has revealed to me, thus and thus, his will about me and his plans; has taught me my need of salvation and the divine way of salvation.

“’Man is blind because of sin;
Revelation makes him sure;
Without that who looks within,
Looks in vain; for all’s obscure.’”

Let a man say this. At once, addressing this believer in a revelation, we must ask, in no jesting spirit, but with the fullest sense of the tragic gravity of the issue: “By what marks do you personally distinguish a divine revelation from any other sort of report?”

Consider for an instant what this question implies. A depositor at a bank, in signing a cheque, reveals to his bank his will that such and such funds, which he already has on deposit at the bank, shall be paid to the order of a certain person. How is the bank able to recognise this revelation of the depositor’s will? The answer is: The bank, acting in the usual order of business, regards this revelation as genuine because its officers already know, with sufficient assurance, the depositor’s signature, and can therefore recognise it at sight, subject, of course, to a certain usually negligible risk of forgery. Apply the principle here involved to the case of the one who acknowledges the genuineness of a divine revelation. In asserting: “I know that this revelation is from God,” the believer in the revelation asserts, in substance, that in some sense and by some means he personally knows, as it were, the divine signature; knows by what marks the divine being reveals himself. This is the vast presumption, if you will, upon which the believer in revelation depends for his assurance. He knows God’s autograph. Now, how shall such a knowledge of the divine autograph have arisen in the mind of the individual believer? Has this believer first wandered through all the worlds to learn how the various orders of beings express themselves, what marks of their wisdom and of their interest in humanity they show, and who amongst them are, or who alone is, actually divine?

I repeat the stupendous question thus suggested is one which I mention not in any spirit of cavil, but solely for the sake of directing us on our further way, and of calling attention at the outset to a fact upon which all that is most vital in the religious consciousness has in every age depended. Every acceptance of a revelation, I say, depends upon something that, in the individual’s mind, must be prior to this acceptance. And this something is an assurance that the believer already knows the essential marks by which a divine revelation is to be distinguished from any other sort of report. In other words, a revelation can be viewed by you as a divine revelation only in case you hold, for whatever reason, or for no reason, that you already are acquainted with the signature which the divine will attaches to its documents, that you know the marks of any authentic revelation by which a divine will can make itself known to you. Unless, then, you are to make one supposed revelation depend for its warrant upon another in an endless series, you must presuppose that somewhere there is found a revelation that proves its genuineness by appealing to what your own interior light, your personal acquaintance with the nature of a divine being, enables you to know as the basis of all your further insight into the divine. The one who appeals to revelation for guidance cannot then escape from basing his appeal upon something which involves a personal and individual experience of what the need and the way of salvation is and of what the divine nature and expression essentially involves.

Nor is this remark merely the unsympathetic comment of a philosophical critic of what passes for revelation. The truth of the remark is acknowledged by all those who have in one way or another insisted that, without the witness of the spirit in the heart, no external revelation could enlighten those who are in darkness; that miracles by themselves are inadequate, because signs and wonders cannot teach the divine will to those whom grace, working inwardly, does not prepare for enlightenment; and that, in brief, if there is any religious insight whatever accessible, it cannot come to us without our individual experience as its personal foundation.

Now, the religious paradox is this: What one pretends or at least hopes to know, when there is any question of religious insight, is something which has to do with the whole nature and destiny and duty and fate of man. For just such matters are in question when we talk, not of how to earn our living or of how to get this or that worldly prosperity, but about our need of salvation and about how to be saved. So deep and so weighty are these matters, that to pretend to know about them seems to involve knowing about the whole nature of things. And when we conceive of the whole nature of things as somehow interested in us and in our salvation, as the religiously minded very generally do, we call this nature of things divine, in a very familiar sense of that word. Hence the higher religions generally undertake to know, as they say, the divine. And by the divine they mean some real power or principle or being that saves us or that may save us. But how is this divine to be known? By revelation? But knowledge through revelation can enlighten only the one in whose personal experience there is somewhere an adequate interior light, which shines in the darkness, and which permits him to test all revelations by a prior acquaintance with the nature and marks and, so to speak, signature of the divine will. Hereupon arises the question: How should I, weak of wit as I am, ignorant, fallible, a creature of a day, come to possess that intimate acquaintance with the plan of all things, and with the meaning of life, and with the divine, which I must obtain in case I am to pass upon the marks whereby any revelation that can save me is to be tested? The paradox is that a being who is so ignorant of his duty and of his destiny as to need guidance at every point, so weak as to need saving, should still hope, in his fallible experience, to get into touch with anything divine. The question is, how is this possible? What light can my individual experience throw upon vast problems such as this?

I have stated what I call the religious paradox. The whole of what I have hereafter to tell you is needed in order to throw such light as I can here attempt to throw upon the solution of the paradox. You will not expect, then, an immediate answer to the question thus brought before you. Yet you see our present situation: Unless there is something in our individual experience which at least begins to bring us into a genuine touch, both with the fact that we need salvation and with the marks whereby we may recognise the way of salvation, and the essentially divine process, if such there be, which alone can save unless, I say, there is within each of us something of this interior light by which saving divine truth is to be discerned, religious insight is impossible, and then no merely external revelation can help us. Let us then, without further delay, turn directly to the inner light, if such light there be, and ask what, apart from tradition, apart from external revelation, apart from explicit theories or reports concerning the universe, apart from all other sources, our own individual experience can tell us as to the need and the way of salvation, and as to the marks by which we may recognise whatever real influences, or divine beings, can intervene to help us in our need. We shall not upon this occasion answer the question; but we may do something to clarify the issue.

My dear friend, the late William James, in his book called “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” defined, for his own purposes, religious experience as the experience of individuals who regard themselves as “alone with the divine.” In portraying what he meant by “the divine,” James emphasised, although in language different from what I am using, the very features about the objects of religious experience which I have just been trying to characterise in my own way. Those who have religious experience, according to James, get into touch with something which, as he says, gives “a new dimension” to their life. As a result of their better and more exalted religious experience, they win a sense of unity with “higher powers,” whose presence seems to them to secure a needed but otherwise unattainable spiritual unity, peace, power in their lives. This “divine” thus accomplishes inwardly what the individual “alone with the divine” feels to be saving, to be needed, to be his pearl of great price. This is James’s way of defining the objects of religious experience.

Now James’s whole view of religious experience differs in many ways from mine. But just at the present point in our inquiry, where it is a question of what I should call the most elementary and intimate, but also the crudest and most capricious source of religious insight, namely, the experience of the individual “alone with the divine,” I feel my own account to be most dependent upon that of James and my own position to be most nearly in agreement with his.

Let me refer you, then, at this stage, to James’s great collection and analysis of the facts of individual religious experience. Let me presuppose some personal acquaintance, on your part, with individual experiences of the various types that James so wonderfully portrays. And then, in my own way, and as independently of James’s special theories as possible, let me tell you what, to my mind, is the essential substance of these elementary religious experiences which may come to the individual when he is alone with the problem of his own salvation and alone with his efforts to know the divine that can save. Let me try to show you that the individual, thus isolated, is indeed in touch with a genuine source of insight. Let me try to indicate both the value and the limitations of that source in such wise as to prepare us to view this first source in its needed relation to the sources hereafter to be studied.

The religious experience of the individual may concern three objects: First, his Ideal, that is, the standard in terms of which he estimates the sense and the value of his own personal life; secondly, his Need of salvation, that is, the degree to which he falls short of attaining his ideal and is sundered from it by evil fortune, or by his own paralysis of will, or by his inward baseness; thirdly, the presence or the coming or the longing for, or the communion with something which he comes to view as the power that may save him from his need, or as the light that may dispel his darkness, or as the truth that shows him the way out, or as the great companion who helps him in a word, as his Deliverer. The Ideal, the Need, the Deliverer these are the three objects which the individual experience, as a source of religious insight, has always undertaken to reveal. James’s collection of the facts of religious experience richly illustrates what I here have in mind. To that collection, and to your own individual experience, I appeal as my warrant for thus characterising our first source of insight. Can we say that this source gives us genuine insight and is trustworthy? Does it teach us about anything that is real; and if this be so, how far does this source of insight go? What is the extent, what are the limitations of the truth that one can hope in this way to gain?

As to the first two objects of the individual religious experience, namely, the individual’s own personal ideal and his sense of his need, you will readily agree that one’s private experience is, indeed, a source of genuine insight. You will, however, find it hard at first to define just how far that insight extends. For the world of a man’s private ideals and estimates is a world of precious caprices, because not only does one man’s private feelings or intuitions about ideals and values differ from another man’s, but every man’s own ideals, and his sense of need, tend to alter endlessly with the play of his passions, with the waxing and waning of all his natural powers, with his health, with his age. One form of the religious paradox may, in fact, be stated thus: Without intense and intimate personal feeling, you never learn any valuable truths whatever about life, about its ideals, or about its problems; but, on the other hand, what you know only through your feelings is, like the foam of the sea, unstable like the passing hour, doomed to pass away.

James, as a psychologist, well knew this truth about the value and the limitations of private experience; yet it was characteristic of his enterprising soul that he was always looking, in his “pluralistic universe,” for the strange, new religious experiences of other and still other individuals, without being able thereby even to define what all these ardent souls were seeking, namely, some genuine home land of the spirit, some place or experience or insight in which is to be revealed that for the sake of which all the feelings, the caprices, the longings, the efforts of individuals are justified and fulfilled.

Now the best way of defining what it is which our inner experience of our ideal and of our need shows us is, I think, this: We are indeed, and so far just as the Buddhists said, naturally the creatures of transient feelings, of passing caprices, of various and wilful longings. But, just because of this fact, we can get an insight, as intimate as it is fragmentary, into one absolutely valuable ideal. I do not think that the Buddhists best expressed our ideal by the words “the extinction of desire.” It is rather the ideal of triumph over our unreason. It is the ideal that the reign of caprice ought to be ended, that the wounds of the spirit ought to be healed. In the midst of all our caprices, yes, because of our caprices, we learn the value of one great spiritual ideal, the ideal of spiritual unity and self-possession. And both our ideal and our need come to consciousness at once. We need to bring our caprices into some sort of harmony; to bind up the wounds of what James calls the divided “self”; to change the wanderings of chance passion into something that shall bring the home land of the spirit, the united goal of life into sight. And so much all the great cynics, and the nobler rebels, and the prophets and the saints and the martyrs and the sages have in common taught us. So much Socrates and Plato and Marcus Aurelius, and our modern teachers of the wisdom of life, and, in his noblest words, the Buddha also, and Jesus, have agreed in proclaiming as the ideal and the need revealed to us by all that is deepest about our individual experience: We need to give life sense, to know and to control our own selves, to end the natural chaos, to bring order and light into our deeds, to make the warfare of natural passion subordinate to the peace and the power of the spirit. This is our need. To live thus is our ideal. And because this need is pressing and this ideal is far off from the natural man, we need salvation.

So much, I say, our individual experience can bring before us. This ideal and this need can become the objects of an insight that is as intimate as it is, by itself, unsatisfying. This need, I think, all the devout share, however unlearned their speech, however simple their minds, however various their creeds. Unity of Spirit, conformity to an universal Will, peace with power this is our need.

It remains for the individual experience to show to us, if it can, the presence of our Deliverer, the coming of that which we shall recognise as divine, just because it truly and authoritatively reveals to the Self the fulfilment that we need, by bringing us into touch with the real nature of things. We need to find the presence that can give this unity and self-possession to the soul. This presence is what all the higher religions seek to reveal. But if we are to learn of such an object of insight we must, indeed, come into touch with a Power or a Spirit that is in some true sense not-Ourselves. And so we must be able somehow to transcend the boundaries of any merely individual experience. Our individual experience must become some sort of intercourse with Another. And this Other must be in some sense the Master of Life, the Might that overcometh the world, the revealer of final truth. Without ceasing to be personal and intimate, our experience must in some way come into direct touch with the very nature of reality.

Is such a direct touch with the divine possible? The mystics of all ages have maintained that it is possible. Are they right? To answer this question adequately would be to solve the religious paradox. It would be to show whether and how the individual, even in his isolation, “alone with the divine,” can come to be nevertheless in unity with all other spirits, in touch with all that lies beneath and above himself, and with all that constitutes the essence of reality. Perhaps this is indeed possible. Unless it is possible, revelation, as we have seen, loses precisely its most intimate significance, as an appeal of the divine spirit directly to the interior light. But, on the other hand, all the mystics confess that, if this is possible, and if it happens in their own cases, they alone, viewing their experience merely as an individual experience, know not how it happens, but must accept their revelation as an insight without knowing in what precise sense it is insight.

It follows that individual experience remains a source of religious insight as indispensable and as fundamental as it is, by itself, inadequate and in need of supplement. Unless you have inwardly felt the need of salvation, and have learned to hunger and thirst after spiritual unity and self-possession, all the rest of religious insight is to you a sealed book. And unless, in moments of peace, of illumination, of hope, of devotion, of inward vision, you have seemed to feel the presence of your Deliverer, unless it has sometimes seemed to you as if the way to the home land of the spirit were opened to your sight by a revelation as from the divine, unless this privilege has been yours, the way to a higher growth in insight will be slow and uncertain to you. But, on the other hand, no one who remains content with his merely individual experience of the presence of the divine and of his deliverer, has won the whole of any true insight. For, as a fact, we are all members one of another; and I can have no insight into the way of my salvation unless I thereby learn of the way of salvation for all my brethren. And there is no unity of the spirit unless all men are privileged to enter it whenever they see it and know it and love it.

Individual Experience, therefore, must abide with us to the very end of our quest, as one principal and fundamental source of insight. But it is one aspect only of Religious Experience. We shall learn to understand and to estimate it properly only when we have found its deeper relations with our Social Experience. In passing to our social experience, however, we shall not leave our individual experience behind. On the contrary, through thus passing to our social experience as a source of religious insight, we shall for the first time begin to see what our individual experience means.