Harvard University Memorial Church ©Author Adventures

William James and Harvard University

The William James Hall at Harvard University was named for the scholar and author William James (1842-1910), best known for the classic non-fiction philosophical book entitled The Varieties of Religious Experience, which we found at archive.org.

The high-rise building was designed in 1963, a half-century after its namesake passed away, by the same architect who designed the World Trade Center, Minuoru Yamasaki.

William James’s seminal book astounded academics and lay people alike when first published in 1902. When the field of psychology was still fairly embryonic, the excitement of this new means of analysis began to spread beyond the walls of academia. It became a new lens donned at the same time that new movements of expressive religion were lighting the United States landscape, one tent meeting at a time, through a steady stream of charismatic men and women. The daunting task of finding the connections between thought, belief, and behavior compelled the eloquent and articulate William James to analyze and write.

Even today, if you Google one of his quotations,  such as, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it,” you can see that his words remain popular and continue to resonate, proving his point.

Brother of Henry James

A lesser known historical fact is that William James was the elder brother of novelist Henry James, who was dissatisfied with the United States and moved to England. Meanwhile, William James remained in Cambridge where he earned the highest respect from its academic community.


Additional authors closely connected to Harvard, with pages on AuthorAdventures.org, include: William C. BryantW.E.B. DuBois, John Hope Franklin, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Barack Obama, Wallace Stegner, Wallace Stevens, Henry David Thoreau, and Owen Wister, among others.

This is the fifth stop on Massachusetts Author Adventures Trail Part 1.

Patricia Smart