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The author of the following pages has thought in his modesty that, since his name is as yet unknown to fame, his book might gain a prompter recognition if it were prefaced by a word of recommendation from some more hardened writer. Believing the book to be valuable, I am glad to be able to write such a preface.
Many years ago Dr Starbuck, then a student in Harvard University, tried to enlist my sympathies in his statistical inquiry into the religious ideas and experiences of the circumambient population. I fear that to his mind I rather damned the whole project with my words of faint praise. The question-circular method
. of collecting information had already, in America, reached the proportions of an incipient nuisance in psychological and pedagogical matters. Dr Starbuck's questions were of a peculiarly searching and intimate nature, to which it seemed possible that an undue number of answers from egotists lacking in sincerity might come.. Moreover, so few minds have the least spark of originality that answers to questions scattered broadcast would be likely to show a purely conventional content. The writers' ideas, as well as their phraseology, would be the stock-in-trade of the Protestant Volksgeist, historically and not psychologically based; and, being in it one's self, one might as well cipher it all out a priori as seek to collect it in this burdensome, inductive fashion. I think I said to Dr Starbuck that I expected the chief result of his circulars would be a certain number of individual answers relating peculiar experiences and ideas in a way that might be held as typical. The sorting and extracting of percentages and reducing to averages, I thought, would give results of comparatively little significance.
But Dr Starbuck kept all the more resolutely at his task, which has involved an almost incredible amount of drudging labour. I have handled and read a large proportion of his raw material, and I have just finished reading the revised proofs of the book. I must say that the results amply justify his own confidence in his methods, and that I feel somewhat ashamed at present of the littleness of my own faith.
The material, quite apart from the many acutely interesting individual confessions which it contains, is evidently sincere in its general mass. The Volksgeist of course dictates its special phraseology and most of its conceptions, which are almost without exception Protestant, and predominantly of the Evangelical sort; and for comparative purposes similar collections ought yet to be made from Catholic, Jewish, Mohammedan, Buddhist and Hindoo sources.
But it has been Dr Starbuck's express aim to disengage the general from the specific and local in his critical discussion, and to reduce the reports to their most universal psychological value. It seems to me that here the statistical method has held its own, and that its percentages and averages have proved to possess
genuine significance. Dr Starbuck's conclusion, for example, that 'conversion is not a unique experience, but has its correspondences in the common events of moral and religious development, emerges from the general parallelism of ages, sexes, and symptoms shown by statistical comparison of different types of personal evolution, in some of which conversion, technically so called, was present, whilst it was absent in others. Such statistical arguments are not mathematical proofs, but they support presumptions and establish probabilities, and in spite of the lack of precision in many of their data, they yield results not to be got at in any less clumsy way.
Rightly interpreted, the whole tendency of Dr Starbuck's patient labour is to bring compromise and conciliation into the long standing feud of Science and Religion. Your evangelical' extremist will have it that conversion is an absolutely supernatural event, with nothing cognate to it in ordinary psychology. Your 'scientist' sectary, on the other hand, sees nothing in it but hysterics and emotionalism, an absolutely pernicious pathological disturbance. For Dr Starbuck, it is not necessarily either of these things. It may in countless cases be a perfectly normal psychologic crisis, marking the transition from the child's world to the wider world of youth, or from that of youth to that of maturity-a crisis which the evangelical machinery only methodically emphasises, abridges and regulates.
But I must not in this preface forestall the results of the pages that follow it. (They group together a
mass of hitherto unpublished facts, forming a most interesting contribution both to individual and to collective psychology. They interpret these facts with rare discriminatingness and liberality—broad-mindedness being indeed their most striking characteristic. They explain two extremes of opinion to each other in so sympathetic a way that, although either may think the last word has yet to be said, neither will be left with that sense of irremediable misunderstanding which is so common after disputes between scientific and religious persons. And, finally, they draw sagacious educational inferences. On the whole, then, Christians and Scientists alike must find in them matter for edification and improvement.
Dr Starbuck, in short, has made a weighty addition, to that great process of taking account of psychological and sociological stock, with which our generation has come to occupy itself so busily. He has broken ground in a new place, his only predecessor (so far as I am aware) being Dr Leuba, in his similar but less elaborate investigation in Volume VII. of the American Journal of Psychology. The examples ought to find imitators, and the inquiry ought to be extended to other lands, and to populations of other faiths.
I have no hesitation in recommending the volume, both for its religious and for its psychological interest. I am sure it will obtain the prompt recognition which its importance as a documentary study of human nature deserves.
WILLIAM JAMES. HARVARD UNIVERSITY, October 1899.