Original Paper

Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 368-380

First online:

Relaxed Bodies, Emancipated Minds, and Dominant Calm

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William James presented “The Gospel of Relaxation” (James in W. James, Writings 1878–1899, 1992) to the 1896 graduating class of Boston Normal School of Gymnastics and a decade later he delivered his presidential address “The Energies of Men” (James in W. James, Writings 1902–1910, 1987) to the American Philosophical Association. Both lectures focus on the body’s influence on emotions and on the liberating effects of live ideas on the body’s natural energies. They also reflect his use of the popular spiritual hygiene literature of his day to support his arguments. The first address draws on Hannah Whitall Smith’s views on disregarding our negative emotions and on Annie Payson Call’s writings, specifically her views on relaxation; the second on Horace Fletcher’s writings, specifically his views on anger and worry. I use these original sources to expand on key ideas in the two addresses, i.e., the role of imitation in altering unhealthy physiological habits and the energy-releasing role of suggestive ideas.


William James Hannah Whitall Smith Sigmund Freud Annie Payson Call Horace Fletcher Relaxation Energy Suggestible ideas Imitative models Calm