George Albert Coe.

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John Evans Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy
in Northwestern University





Copyright by



150 Fifth Avenue, New York.


S. E. C.

" ' Twos nothing that I can phrase,

But the whole dumb dwelling grew conscious,

And put on her looks and ways.""



THE studies here presented have been undertaken
in response to a conviction that, in the interest of
both science and religion, a new intellectual attitude
is necessary with respect to the facts of the spiritual
life. The religious processes taking place around
us and within us must be observed with all the pre-
cision that modern psychological methods and tools
render possible. For, whatever else religion may
or may not be, it is at least a mass of ascertainable
states of consciousness ; and in the absence of infor-
mation to the contrary we must presume that such
states can be analyzed and described, and that their
relations to one another and to the recognized laws
of the mental and bodily life can be to some extent
determined. What is needed is an examination of
the facts as such, without reference to their possible
bearing upon theology or philosophy. Until this
work is done there will remain an important gap in
the scientific knowledge of man. For, clearly, it is
the humanity that now is that gives us our problems
concerning man's origin and development, and that
necessarily controls and tests our hypotheses. Simi-



larly, knowledge of what religion now is must be the
most illuminating factor in any satisfactory science
of religion.

Religious propagandism also has a decisive motive
for seeking to understand the religious conscious-
ness of to-day. Ignorance is sometimes power, it is
true, but, on the whole, the safer course in a good
cause is to trust in knowledge. Moreover, aside
from this general motive there is special need for
the kind of knowledge here in question. Current
events are forcing upon thoughtful minds in all the
Protestant Churches a suspicion, if not a conviction,
that what has claimed a peculiar right to the name
"evangelical," both in piety and in modes of propa-
gating the Gospel, has not fully solved its own chosen
problems. There is reason for doubting whether
even the spiritual, teachers and guides of. the people
really grasp the mental processes with which they
have to deal. Training in doctrine, in philosophy,
in history, and even in the questions of the day, con-
stitutes only a logical equipment ; there is still neces-
sary a psychological equipment in order that one
may appreciate the vast mass of mental states and
processes of a nonlogical sort. The evident decay
of the revival, the alienation from the Church of
whole classes of the population, the excess of women
over men in Church life, the apparent powerlessness
of organized religion to suppress or seriously check

the great organized vices and injustices of society*



the failure of the Sunday school to make the people
or even its own pupils familiar with the contents of
the Bible these facts ought to raise a question as to
what, among the matters upon which we have laid
stress, is really practical and what mere ignorant

This question is already being raised, and it is
bound to be asked more and more often and in louder
and louder tones. It is no sign of enmity toward the
Church or of coldness toward Christianity, but rather
an incident of the expanding spirituality of men who
find in Jesus the final meaning of life, and in evan-
gelical Christianity the essential germ of future re-
ligious progress. This germ demands to be under-
stood. It is necessary to perceive that the problems
here suggested do not concern matters of mere tem-
porary expediency. They go to the bottom of life;
they concern the very essence of religion, of reli-
gious forces, and of the mind in which religion
lives and through which it works for the healing
of the nations. If this be true there is not a ray
of reasonable hope for the solution of these prob-
lems unless in some way either by a happy hit
of uninstructed zeal or else by definite knowledge of
the psychical factors involved we manage to put
ourselves into line with the mind of man as it is.

The present volume does not undertake to solve
these problems, much less to present a systematic or
complete treatment of the general psychology of reli-



gion. My task has been the much less ambitious one
of working out a few closely related groups of facts
which will claim a place in the systematic psychology
of religion when this comes to be written, and which
in the meantime have an important bearing upon the
practical side of religious life and work. While I
have tried to approach the facts in the spirit and by
the methods of science, I have not hesitated to point
out in each chapter some of the practical uses to
which its materials and results may be put. I hope
that these suggestions will show where to look for
a practical solution of several of our most trouble-
some problems.

I am under obligation to the editors of The Psy-
chological Review for permission to reprint in Chap-
ter III, with alterations and additions, an article that
was published in the September, 1899, number of
that journal.


Evanston, Illinois.






The Phenomena of Religion Scientifically Interest-
ing, 1 1 ; Application of Empirical Methods to Present
Religious Phenomena, 12 ; Psychology and the Super-
natural, 1 5 ; Religious Psychology as Equipment for
Religious Work, 18; The Psychology of Religion as a
Clew to Existing Religious Unrest, 23.



A Relation Exists between Religious Development
and Physical and Mental Growth, 29 ; " When I was a
Child I Thought as a Child," 31 ; Mental Character-
istics of Adolescence, 35 ; Adolescence and Religious
Awakening, 39 ; Interpretations, 47 ; Religious Feel-
ings of Youth, 50; A Hint for the Philosophy of
Religion, 52.



Spiritual Culture Must Respect Mental Conditions,
56 ; Intellectual Difficulties, 58 ; The Adolescent Con-
scielice, 67 ; Religious and Moral Effects of Nerve Fa-
tigue, 71; Psychological Aspects of Certain Tempta-
tions, 89 ; The Natural History Method of Handling
Moral and Religious Difficulties, 100.


Need for an Explanation of the Heterogeneity of
Christian Experience, 104 ; Inadequate Theories, 105 ;
Method of the Present Investigation, 109 ; Temperament


as a Factor in Striking Religious Transformations, 114;
Relation of These Experiences to Mental and Motor
Automatisms, 121; To Suggestibility, 128; Three
Factors Combined, 138; Explanation of Trances, Vis-
ions, " the Power," etc., 141 ; Employment of Sugges-
tion in Revival Meetings, 144.



Religion Has Some Relation to Health, 151 ; A Bit
of History, 1 54 ; The Law of Mental Healing Stated
and Illustrated, 156; Relation of Mental Healing to
Hypnotism, 164; A Word of Warning, 169; Mislead-
ing Sensations, 173; Limits of Mental Healing, 177;
Two Misapprehensions, 180; The Scientific Aspects
of Faith Cure, 184; The Scientific Aspects of Christian
Science, 189; Suggestion and Miracle, 200; Hygienic
and Therapeutic Value of the Christian Attitude toward
Life, 203.



The Christian Idea of Spiritual Life Has Been
Warped into Merely Temperamental Forms, 206;
Psychological Analysis of Sainthood, 208; Spiritual
Exercises, 214; Some Psychological Aspects of Hym-
nology, 219; The Spirituality of Prayer-Meeting Songs,
229 ; Popular Notions of Spirituality, 232 ; The " Eter-
nally Feminine " in the Church, 236 ; Some Results of
a Temperamental Interpretation of Christianity, 243;
The Fleeting and the Permanent in Christian Expe-
rience, 252 ; The Mind of the Master, 256.






The Psychological Point of View

PERHAPS no group of ascertained facts excels in
either theoretical or practical interest the mass of
human experiences called religious. Clustering
about them and intertwined with them are all the
marvels, real and alleged, of hypnotism, telepathy,
and mediumship; illusions and hallucinations here
acquire their greatest power; here the roots of the
highest reason lie side by side with those of the low-
est superstition. Nor do religious phenomena lose
their psychological importance when they are disen-
tangled from everything that is abnormal, for they
are everywhere present in human life, and in forms
exceedingly various. In some of these forms reli-
gious experiences are rare, sudden, and surprising;
in all forms they reverberate with surprising power
and permanence through the entire mental organism.

Yet the phenomena of religious experience have
been the last to be granted a hearing by the science of
psychology. Explorations have been carried on in
many a remote and obscure region of the mind in

apparent unconsciousness of this whole mass of psy-



chical wonders lying at the door of the psychologist's
study. < Metaphysics speculated about the rational
basis of religion ; the philosophy of religion mingled
these speculations with some slight analysis of the
states of mind called religious ; theology appealed, in
a general way, to religious experience in verification
of its theories; the history and science of religion
rummaged museums of anthropology and dug about
the roots of language in order to discover the earliest
forms of religion : but to none of these was it revealed
that the surest way to understand religion is to ob-
serve its present manifestations. What was still
needed was the

Application of Empirical Methods to Present Re-
ligious Phenomena.

Revival pi eachers took the first step in this method
when they gathered statistics concerning the age at
which large numbers of persons were converted. It
is probable that this incipient application of scientific
method was more effective in awakening sinners than
any equal amount of labor expended upon theorizing
or arguing in the absence of systematic observation
of facts.

The first comprehensive and organized impulse to
a scientific study of the religious phenomena in the
midst of which we are living made its appearance in
the present decade. In 1891 President G. Stanley
Hall, of Clark University, published an article on the



moral and religious training of children 1 based di-
rectly upon the psychology of childhood and adoles-
cence. Several pupils of his followed with further
observations and analyses. 2 Especially worthy of
mention for the range and patient impartiality of his
work is E. D. Starbuck, 3 now of Stanford Univer-
sity. It would be easy to over or under estimate the
value of the results thus attained, but this at least
may be claimed : fyVe have here the crude beginnings
of an empirical psychology of religious experience.

The method employed by these workers is, first,
to secure from hundreds of persons a written descrip-
tion of such facts as their conversion, their religious
growth, their conception of God, their doubts, etc. /
These descriptions are then analyzed, and the results
are grouped and massed in various ways so as to ex-
hibit averages and tendencies in religious life. Some-
what secure results have thus been attained, with re-
gard to the probability of conversion at various ages,
and suggestive material concerning motives, feel-
ings, doubts, and the effects of various influences.

1 Pedagogical Seminary, 5, ig6ff.

a A. H. Daniels, "The New Life," in American Journal of Psychology \ 1893,
vi, 6iff.; J. H. Leuba, "A Study in the Psychology of Religious Phenomena,"
ibid., 1896, vii, sogff. See, also, Luther Gulick, "Age, Sex, and Conversion," in
Association Outlook for December, 1897; W. H. Burnham, " The Study of Ado-
lescence," in Pedagogical Seminary, i, 2 ; E. G. Lancaster, "Psychology and
Pedagogy of Adolescence," in Pedagogical Seminary, v, i.

S "A Study of Conversion," in American Journal of Psychology, 1897, viii,
268ff.; "Some Aspects of Religious Growth," ibid., ix, yoff.; The Psychology of
Religion, London, 1899, PP- xx . 423. This last contribution to the psychology of
religion appears as these studies are passing through the press. I regret that I
cannot give it fuller notice.

2 13


This is called the questionnaire method. That it
is an effective way of getting at some kinds of facts
is evident, but its capacity as a tool for investigation
is obviously limited to such facts as the writers of the
papers are competent to observe and describe with
scientific accuracy. The average person of intel-
ligence is qualified, of course, to testify regarding
the more external facts of his religious experience,
such as dates, persons, and circumstances, but in the
absence of specific training in self -observation few
persons are qualified to give even approximately cor-
rect information regarding the subjective processes
that constitute their religious experience. To explain
why this is so would necessitate a larger excursion
into general psychology than is possible in this place.
It must suffice to say that in one's own mind, just as
in nature, the finer differences, so important when
accuracy is in question, escape attention unless the
observer has been trained to look for them ; that vari-
ous processes of self -laudation, of self-excusing, of
self-condemning, of explanation, of accommodation
to the opinions of others or of revolt from such opin-
ions all these so mingle with the facts as to blur,
suppress, magnify, and distort what is actually going
on within; that, finally, memory has many peculiar
and very effective ways of falsely representing the
past. On all these accounts it is necessary, when the
inner history is in question, to secure some corrective

for the self-deceptions that may easily creep into the



narrative of the most honest and, in other matters,
most competent witness. The present studies will
illustrate how some other methods of investigation
can be combined with that which rests upon question
and answer.

Whatever the method of securing and analyzing
the data may be, there can be no reasonable doubt of
the necessity of going for information directly to the
facts that can be observed here and now. No appeal
to the Bible can answer our questions unless the
Bible is a book of science, or at least of scientific ob-
servations. Happily for the peace and progress of
investigations in the sphere of religion, we are com-
ing to understand that the Scriptures are given for
instruction in righteousness, not for instruction in
any science, even psychology and the science of re- s
ligion. Data for all the sciences of man we certainly '
find there, but not scientific doctrines, nor, indeed,
the scientific purpose and attitude. The Bible is a
bank rather than a theory of finance; it is religion
rather than a theory of religion. The way is open,
then, and the time has arrived for applying to the
phenomena of the religious life the approved meth-
ods of the empirical sciences.

Psychology and the Supernatural.

The proposal to apply scientific methods to the
study of the most sacred experiences of life may pos-
sibly raise the question whether conversion and other



religious phenomena are not thereby assumed to be
purely natural occurrences in which God has no di-
rect part. ( Reduced to its lowest terms, the problem
is whether the empirical method of getting at facts
implies that such facts are not due to divine influ-

As a general reply it might be sufficient to point
out that, even in the investigation of physical facts,
the sciences assume nothing whatever as to the pres-
ence or absence of God in nature. If we may assume
that winds and tides, and day and night, do not occur
hit-or-miss, but only under specific circumstances
if we may assume that the world is a cosmos and
not a chaos we may be indifferent, as scientific
men, as to whether the phenomena of nature are due
to divine power or not. What science looks for is
law, in the sense of uniformities among phenomena.
Now, to look for possible uniformities among re-
ligious phenomena is not to make any assumption
as to the real agents involved. It is simply to as-
sume that religious experiences are not a chaotic
mass in which consequents have no respect for ante-

Looking a bit deeper into the problem, we may
ask whether a denial of this one assumption would
not be essentially atheistic. What a strange inversion
of faith is that which looks for the Infinite Mind in
chaos rather than in cosmos ! Surely God, as a ra-
tional being, will be self -con sis tent, wilt act in the



same way under the same circumstances. If, then,
there were no uniformities in religious experience,
the inference would be that religion itself proceeded
from some disorderly or mischievous spirit rather
than from the Father of Lights, with whom is no
variablenessA It may be worth while, also, to remind
ourselves now and then that facts are facts, and that
no amount of theorizing about how they must be can
prevent or refute observation of how they actually
are. The "armed eye" of science no man can close,
and he who attempts to do so should reflect upon
how he thereby discredits his own beliefs.

Empirical methods do not, then, reduce the facts
of the religious life to the plane of the natural as con-
trasted with the supernatural. Every question aris-
ing in the psychology of religious experience may be
understood in this way: Under what circumstances
does the Divine Spirit work such or such a change
in the minds of men? That the Holy Spirit does
observe antecedents and wait for conditions to ripen ;
that he does not vouchsafe the same blessings to all
individuals or to all ages of life ; and that we have it
in our power either to prepare the way for his revela-
tions or to hinder them all this is current belief
among Christians. Now, these are the very uni-
formities that need investigating. In fact, psychol-
ogy can only render more precise and complete what
is already recognized in a partial way in the practice
of the religious life. Yet the results will not be doc-

TT 1ST T V -TT T? TT 1 V


trinal in the ordinary sense of the term. They will
be merely statements of uniformities existing be-
tween certain antecedents and certain consequents,
and will leave entirely open the vast field of questions
regarding the divine purposes toward men and re-
garding man's real nature and destiny.

Religious Psychology as Equipment for Religious

The importance of such knowkdg-^ for one who
has the care of souls is evident. At the point where
the theologian becomes a winner and guide of men,
there definite knowle^gg^of^^nen turns into current
coin. Every item of information concerning any
uniformity existing between a certain experience
and its conditions becomes a Jeyer. ior controUiftg
the experience itself.

In his efforts to adapt himself to the variegated
needs of men the religious worker has heretofore
been obliged to rely almost entirely upon instinctive
sympathy with human nature and the tact that some-
times blossoms out of it. ^Generally the worker
makes his own experience a standard by which to
judge and to guide the experience of others as
though the many members of Christ's body, in spite
of their diversity of gifts and of duties, must never-
theless have the same form of experience. In one
case falling under my knowledge this form of infer-
ence was employed in a novel way. A young man,



who on three different occasions had earnestly sought
to be converted and had failed to receive what his
advisers told him to expect, reasoned as follows : "I
have honestly met all the conditions laid down, but
have not experienced what I have been taught to
look for. I am not different from other men. J There-
fore, since I have not received the blessing, neither
have they. ^The whole thing is a mistake or a sham !"
Both he and his spiritual guides had committed the
Jallacv of rpac;nning from insnffln'pnt Hajg. And it
is not easy to see how the evil effects of this error can
be eliminated from religious work unless at least the
leaders of such work take the trouble to study the_re-
Ijffious mind in a broadly inductive manner.

So far as I am informed, practically the only defi-
nite and communicable scheme of adaptation to per-
sonal needs now in use consists in marshaling regi-
ments of Scripture texts with which to fight all kinds
of doubt, hesitation, and objection. Whatever vir-
tues this practice may possess, it certainly suffers
from one serious defect, that it studies texts rather
than human nature. It does not^as^whence the
doubt, hesitation, or objection ; it does not seek the
conditions in order to remove or alleviate them, but
fires directly at the results. If a homely simile may
be pardoned, our ordinary revival methods may be
compared with the packages of proprietary medi-
cines to be found on the shelves of any drug store.

Glance along the shelf and you will find the symp-



toms of almost any common disease described with
apparent accuracy; and for each difficulty here is a
specific, neatly wrapped up, provided with directions
for taking, and in many cases with a corkscrew for
unlocking the riches within. \ It need not be doubted
that multitudes of persons have been really helped
by doses from such bottles. The vice of this style
of medication lies in the fact of the entire absence of
competent diagnosis, of competent knowledge of the
properties of the remedy, and of reasonable certainty
that the remedy fits the patient. Similarly, many a
revival worker is equipped with texts and advice and
exhortation, all neatly classified and ready for appli-
cation; but the investigation of the cases is utterly
superficial, and no connection is ordinarily estab-
lished between the remedy and the difficulty. Of
course, some will say that the method approves itself
by its results. But the same may be said for "patent"
medicines. After all, the question is not merely
whether we get results, but rather whether we get
the best results and the most of them. For this,
knowledge is necessary in the "cure of souls" as in
the healing of bodies. How, then, should we excuse
ourselves if, in order to bodily health, we should
study anatomy and physiology with diligence while
neglecting to know that more delicate organism, the
mind, which is the seat of our spiritual weal or

It is well to remember, too, that in both spheres the



negative cases are as significant as the positive ones.
We must ask not only how many persons we reach
by the revival, but also how many we fail to reach ;
and we must hold ourselves to a rigid accountability
for the souls whom our defective methods get into
doubt and difficulty, or even repel from religion alto-
gether. At a subsequent point in our discussion we
shall see that this question of the negative results of
well-meant efforts is by no means fanciful or gratui-
tous. So far, in fact, are these maladjustments from
being merely occasional or rare that the question will
at last press itself upon us whether certain widely
approved customs do not quite as often beget throes
of disappointment and unrest as the peace and con-
fidence of the sons of God.

Why should not the care of souls become an art
a system of organized and proportioned methods
based upon definite knowledge of the material to be
wrought upon, the ends to be attained, and the means
and instruments for attaining them? Such an art
would require scientific insight into the general or-
ganization of the mind, and especially into the par-
ticular characteristics of the child mind, the youth
mind, and the mature mind. It would know how to
discriminate between normal and morbid states of
religious feeling, would understand the intimate in-

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Online LibraryGeorge Albert CoeThe spiritual life : studies in the science of religion → online text (page 1 of 16)