The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach

By Bassett, Rodney L. | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach


Bassett, Rodney L., Journal of Psychology and Christianity


THE PSYCHOLOGY OF RELIGION: AN EMPIRICAL APPROACH (4th ed.) Ralph W. Hood, Peter C. Hill, and Bernard Spilka, New York: Guilford, 2009- Pp. 636. Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton (Evangel University, Springfield, MO).

The fourth edition of this classic psychology of religion text provides an important survey of the state of empirical research in the psychology of religion and spirituality. I just finished teaching a course titled the Psychology of Religion and was pleased I had chosen this text because of the comprehensive and balanced overview the authors offer. All of the authors are psychological scientists. New to this edition is Peter Hill, Professor of Psychology at Biola University's Rosemead School of Psychology. Ralph Hood is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Bernard Spilka is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Denver.

The authors aim "to present a comprehensive evaluation of the psychology of religion from an empirical perspective (xii)." They recognize the cultural trends that have influenced recent research. First, the emergence of numerous studies on spirituality adds a nuanced dimension to the traditional study of the psychology of religion. Second, the authors note the impact of research funds from the John Templeton Foundation. Third, religious fundamentalism, evident in the attacks of September 11, 2001, has stimulated much research and commentary in the past decade.

The authors cover a broad range of topics in 13 chapters with an epilogue. In the first three chapters, they provide a broad foundation for understanding religion, an empirical approach to the psychological study of religion, and the biological basis of religious behavior. They review the problem of defining the construct religion along with the related notion of spirituality. Although the authors do not formally divide the text into discrete units or sections, the next four chapters examine religion through the lifespan with chapters on childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and aging. …

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