Psychology and Catholicism: Contested Boundaries

By Nussbaum, Abraham | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Psychology and Catholicism: Contested Boundaries


Nussbaum, Abraham, The Catholic Historical Review


Psychology and Catholicism: Contested Boundaries. By Robert Kugelmann. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 201 1 . Pp. v, 490. $ 1 25.00. ISBN 9781-107-00608-9.)

Robert Kugelmann, a psychology professor at the University of Dallas, has written an intellectual history of the relationships between psychology and Catholicism in America from 1879 to 1965- a more circumscribed subject than his title suggests, but an authoritative history of these interactions.

Although American Catholics in psychology lack a signal figure- a Freud or Jung, or a seminal work or theory- their interactions are deep and varied. At their heart is a contest between faith and reason, between the soul and the self, which has altered everything from pastoral counseling and the confessional to marriage preparation and Catholic education. However, giving an account of these interactions is conceptually challenging, because psychology as a field has contested roots, practices, meanings, and relationships with other disciplines.

To navigate this uncertain terrain, Kugelmann identifies four broad characterizations of the interactions between psychology and religion. First, since psychology develops only from empirically tested results, it neither depends on nor challenges theological claims. Second, psychology, like all knowledge, has philosophical presuppositions that participate in and challenge theological claims, so psychology is bound, in some fashion, to philosophy and theology. Third, theological commitments precede the developments of psychology, so the only valid psychology is a confessional psychology. Fourth, religion is irrational and psychology is rational, so psychology is a replacement for both theology and faith.

In Kugelmann's account, Catholics understand the relationships between faith and psychology chiefly through one of the first two categories, either as an empirical science whose claims do not affect or depend on their faith, or as a field of knowledge whose claims, although distinct, participate in theological and philosophical claims.

After establishing these categories in the first chapter, Kugelmann develops these relationships over eight chapters that function like case histories of specific moments and movements in recent history.

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