Psychology of Religion and the Books That Made It Happen

By Morgan, John H. | Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Psychology of Religion and the Books That Made It Happen


Morgan, John H., Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies


Abstract: On the centennial of the death of William James (1842-1910), I approached faculty members at eighteen major theological centers of learning requesting them to identify the twelve most important books in the field of the psychology of religion written between James' 1902 classic The Varieties of Religious Experience up to Peter Homan's 1970 Theology After Freud. The request was for each faculty member (by agreement to remain anonymous) to identify the twelve books during that time period (1902-1970) which, in their opinion, constituted major contributions to the development of the discipline of psychology of religion. By mutual agreement, James was credited with being the purported founder of the psychology of religion and Homans the quintessential culmination of the discipline's respectability. Though obviously subjective, the survey did register a consensus of scholars teaching in the field and what follows is a critical assessment of the merits of those books which they selected.

Key Words: psychology of religion, William James, James H. Leuba, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, David E. Roberts, Gordon Allport, Eric Fromm, Otto Rank, David Bakan, Erik Erikson, Abraham Maslow, Peter Homans

Between William James' 1902 The Varieties of Religious Experience and Peter Homans' 1970 Theology After Freud, the field of the psychology of religion was born and grew to maturity. About that, there is no serious question or doubt1. Within these seven decades, a discipline came into existence and established itself irrevocably as an indispensable component of the study of the human person. Under the influence of James' pioneering work and culminating in the provocative work of Homans, twelve books proved pivotal in the emergence of the psychology of religion as a respected area of research, study, and specialization within both the disciplines of psychology and theology. Of course, any number of scholars will wish to argue with the selection of these twelve titles but few will argue against the merits of those selected here. Another twelve could be named and another, but these have been chosen as indicative of the consensus within the academy of their crucial relevance to this collection honoring William James' life and work commemorating the centennial of his death in 19102 .

It might prove helpful to the reader for there to be a simple listing of the twelve titles selected for consideration here and then, following a brief acknowledgement and assessment of Edwin D. Starbuck's 1899 Scribner's publication, Psychology of Religion, wherein the term "psychology of religion" was used for the first time, we will proceed with our assessment of each book and its relevance to the development of the field of study called the psychology of religion. The twelve titles which constitute the consensus among the scholars surveyed are as follows and they are listed and considered in chronological order of publication.3

(English Translation dates used where relevant)

James, William (1902) The Varieties of Religious Experience

Leuba, James H. (1915) Psychological Origin and Nature of Religion

Freud, Sigmund (1927) The Future of an Illusion

Jung, Carl (1938) Psychology and Religion

Roberts, David E. (1950) Psychotherapy and A Christian View of Man

Allport, Gordon (1950) The Individual and His Religion

Fromm, Eric (1950) Psychoanalysis and Religion

Rank, Otto (1950) Psychology and the Soul

Bakan, David (1958) Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition

Erikson, Erik (1958) Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History

Maslow, Abraham (1970) Religion, Values, and Peak-Experiences

Homans, Peter (1970) Theology After Freud

Clearly this collection and the timeframe covered by their publication can be divided into a three-step development, namely, from James to Jung (1092 to 1938), from Roberts the Rank (1950) which constituted the backbone of the discipline's development, and from Bakan to Humans (1958-1970), when Freud comprised the beginning and ending of the third step. …

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