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August 1967

William James and Alcoholics Anonymous

THE place of God in AA is, of course, widely known. I was quite surprised and intrigued, however, to learn recently that the emphasis given to God is due in large measure to the direct influence of William James, the father of American psychology and one of our most important philosophers. It seems that when Bill W., a co-founder of AA, was still trying to fight his way back to sobriety, he happened upon a copy of James' Varieties of Religious Experience. He read the book from cover to cover and was deeply impressed by James' "great wisdom." It helped Bill to reach the turning point in his career and finally to completely arrest his progressive illness of alcoholism. In subsequent years, the influence of James came to be felt also in the formulation of AA's basic ideas.


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