Judeo-Christian Perspectives on Psychology: Human Nature, Motivation, and Change

By Frager, Robert | Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Judeo-Christian Perspectives on Psychology: Human Nature, Motivation, and Change

Frager, Robert, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

MILLER, W., & DELANEY, H. (Eds.). (2005). Judeo-Christian perspectives on psychology: Human nature, motivation, and change. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association. 327 pp. ISBN 1591471613. Hardbound, $49.95. Reviewed by Robert Frager.

This book is the report of a two-year project sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trust. The foundation asked psychology and seven other academic disciplines to compare and contrast the dominant models of human nature with a "Judeo-Christian view of the individual." It is interesting that this book is published by APA, perhaps a sign of a growing interest in psychology in religion and spirituality.

Major contributors are all senior psychologists, mostly full professors at various American universities. Their chapters vary greatly in quality. Some are thin, others focus on the little empirical research that is relevant, and a few are thoughtful and interesting. There is only one reference to transpersonal psychology and five mentions of humanistic psychology. This is another indication of how little we have penetrated into the thinking of traditional psychologists, even those deeply interested in religion and spirituality.

There are five sections to the book: Foundations and Context; The Nature of the Human Person; Motivation, Virtues, and Values; Transformation, Change and Development; and Reflections. There are 15 chapters and they run about 20 pages in length apiece.

Chapter 1 by William Miller is entitled "What is human nature? Reflections from Judeo-Christian perspectives." Miller (2005) lists eight basic components of a Judeo-Christian understanding of human nature. Both the overlap with transpersonal perspectives and the differences are extremely interesting.

1. Reality of Spirit. Miller argues that the most important assumption is the assertion that there is more to live than the material world, that there is an "unseen spiritual dimension of reality to which humans are meaningfully related" (p. 16). And, the essence of this spiritual dimension is God, the creator of humanity.

2. Not God. The first assumption entails the notion that humans are not God, not the ultimate sources of morality. Miller asserts there is a natural law, an absolute standard of right and wrong, ultimate values-and these all apply to humanity.

3. Sin. Human beings often fall short of absolute standards, by our very nature. This is described in Judaism and Christianity as "sin." This also implies that human nature includes the potential for both good and evil.

4. Agency. Human beings have the capacity for choice. Human behavior is purposive and influenced by our choices, and with our capacity for choice comes responsibility. The issue of free will is complex. From this perspective there are many determinants of our behavior, but our behavior is never fully determined.

5. Spiritual Health. Like physical health, spiritual health is not automatic; it can be promoted by spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, meditation, service, and scriptural study. Before the emergence of modern psychology, there have been thousands of years of reflection and practical experience in cultivating spiritual health.

6. Relational Responsibility. We are not only responsible for ourselves but for our communities as well. In addition to seeking personal spiritual health, human beings are responsible for seeking social justice and working to develop a healthy community.

7. Hope. We do not have to rely on our personal resources alone.

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