The Psychology of Religion: Theoretical Approaches

The Psychology of Religion: Theoretical Approaches

The Psychology of Religion: Theoretical Approaches

The Psychology of Religion: Theoretical Approaches


Theory in the psychology of religion is undergoing rapid development, and this book demonstrates how various positions in this field may be translated into original foundational work that will in turn encourage exploration in many directions.


Good psychology is premised on good theory and good research. This is as true for the psychology of religion as it is for a demanding laboratory study of factors affecting the maze learning of ants. Still, when religion enters the picture, some psychologists fear a kind of spiritual subversion that threatens their identity as scientists. This is a deformation of the fundamental objectivity of science, in which image replaces reality. Simply put, we study people, not religion, and that is not a denigration of religion but a statement of psychology's basic goal.

The study of people in relation to their faith is a compelling task for psychology. We live in a nation in which 95 percent of the populace claim belief in a deity, 89 percent report that they pray, and two-thirds are formally affiliated with a religious institution (Gallup 1987; Paloma &Gallup 1991). The significance of religion throughout the world needs no further explication. Similar data speak to issues and expressions of deep personal concern with one's faith; hence, there is a need for psychologists to understand this realm of human activity.

This interest can be fruitfully employed to teach not only the psychology of religion or its parent field, social psychology, but much about psychology in general. There is a general fascination with religion that suggests how psychologists should think--critically, constructively, and with an eye toward increasing our understanding of the human condition. There are leads here into virtually every aspect of psychology, including its applied aspects as they are evidenced in child and clinical work. Here are avenues to perception, cognition, motivation, personality, development, abnormality, and social life.

One of the greatest of twentieth-century psychologists, Kurt Lewin, is reported to have said that "there is nothing more practical than a good theory." In this volume, we have tried to illustrate this principle by showing how theory opens doors to research. Theories provide such direction. They allow us to see problems and issues from different perspectives. They prepare us for those discoveries and insights that are likely to occur to the mind that is prepared to accept them. They make us think.

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