William James and the Art of Popular Statement

William James and the Art of Popular Statement (Michigan State University Press, 2013)

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Paul Stob

I am an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Vanderbilt University. My research explores rhetoric and intellectual culture in American history, particularly in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

For the last decade I've spent much of my time writing about William James, the great American philosopher and, as I always like to point out, a brilliant lecturer and public speaker. My book, William James and the Art of Popular Statement, published in 2013 by Michigan State University Press, explores James's career as a lecturer and public speaker. The argument I develop in the book (which you can read in the introduction) is that James not only directed his philosophy to general audiences but ended up creating a system of thought centered on the perceptions, beliefs, and experiences of ordinary people.

Some of James's work that I explore in the book includes his 1878 lectures in Baltimore and Boston, Talks to Teachers on Psychology, The Varieties of Religious Experience, and Pragmatism. I also explore James's advocacy of psychical research, which remains an understudied aspect of his career.

Some of my recent journal articles include

My next book project explores an idea I introduced in William James and the Art of Popular Statement—namely, the idea of "intellectual populism." I hope to show how a populist orientation toward the pursuit of knowledge has long been part of American intellectual culture. One of the chapters in this book will center on Robert Ingersoll. If you don't know about Ingersoll or have never read his lectures, you should.