Guiding Question: Is Galahad a saint or a psychopath?
At the turn of the twentieth century William James
gave his famous ìGifford Lecturesî at the University of Edinburgh.
These lectures later became published in the form of the book, The
Varieties of Religious Experience. William James began his
academic career in Physiology until he later became a psychologist.
During that time he published Psychology: A Briefer Course in which
he described human consciousness as a stream of ideas. By the time
he made these lectures James considered himself a philosopher while retaining
the views accumulated through his experiences in experimental psychology.
Jamesí approach to religion in The Varieties of Religious Experience is both rational and practical. He judges the religious practices of human beings by their ìfruitsî (or by the positive effects on the practicing believer and his/her community). James uses evidence from human history to show both the positive and negative effects of religious practices. He demonstrates the limitations of reason alone in light of the powers of transformation, endurance, morality and creative genius resulting from experiences due to faith. He attributes these powers to the unconscious, though he does not rule out the possibility of ìdivine intervention.î Even then, he shows that the divine will seems to be expressed through the portal of the unconscious.
Certainly the bulk of psychological research on the unconscious has been accomplished in the twentieth century by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. James Hillman, among others, have employed Jungian psychology to established a new branch in the field called "Depth Psychology." It is highly recommended that the student, wishing to do further research in the area of the unconscious, begin by reading James Hillmanís Revisioning Psychology. In Hillman, Jungís archetypes of the unconscious regain their independence from the Ego and, once again, become the gods of old. Depth Psychology addresses each individualís ìinner worldî which certainly affects their behavior in the ìouter worldî but not as directly as James' work, which also seems to be foreshadowing Behaviorism.
William Jamesí work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, is used in this course because of its focus on how religion is used, affecting daily life and the possible benefits to the community. This text will help us find ways, in our discussions, to judge the characters in the Quest by the world-views represented in The Quest of the Holy Grail and our own. At this point in the story, ìThe Adventures of the Companions,î Galahad and his friends have just enacted a great slaughter of human life. It is interesting to note that Galahad had avoided much killing up until this point and had even regretted the loss of life in this instance. However, a priest appears later to tell the heroes that their victimsí deaths were justified. Galahadís actions may be considered right and consistent within the values represented by the book, but what should we think about the possibility of the existence of others whose values may be different than the authorís. This would certainly be a greater concern if the story represented itself as an historical text as opposed to fiction. But, even as a fictional story, it is promoting values that we might not think appropriate, even for 1220 CE when the story was composed, and/or from 1 to 600 CE when the story was supposed to have occurred.
Are our heroes of the Quest merely slaughtering psychopathic or are they merely oppressing others whose beliefs may be different than their own? On the other hand, what benefits do the knights and their community receive due to their faith in the principles of their religion, and how might we acquire those benefits for ourselves? We will address these and similar questions in the conferences.
Required Reading: "Week 10" in the Study Guide; The Quest of the Holy Grail, pp. 235-251; William James: Selections from The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).
1) Although you are only required to read from the chapter entitled "Saintliness" to the end of the book, The Varietiesof Religious Experience, it is recommended that you read the entire work.
2) Please add your own brief psychological analyses of the principle characters in the Quest to your online journal.
3) Also, please explore your own unconscious by adding descriptions of your dreams to your online journal.