Religion and the Individual: A Social-Psychological Perspective

Religion and the Individual: A Social-Psychological Perspective

Religion and the Individual: A Social-Psychological Perspective

Religion and the Individual: A Social-Psychological Perspective

Synopsis

In a thoroughly revised edition of this popular text, the authors use methods of social psychology to explore the personal rather than the institutional perspective of religious experience, and to describe and analyze this uniquely human and universal behavior in scientific terms. A new chapter has been included on individual development and personal religion, and there is a new section on music and language as facilitators of religious experience. Also, the authors present the latest version of their three-dimensional model for assessing personal religion as a means, end, and quest, and include clarification and evaluation of that model in light of criticisms of earlier versions. Nearly 100 studies done during the last decade have been added to the analysis of the relation between personal religion and mental health, and recent evidence has been included to expand the discussion of the social consequences of personal religion. This fascinating, controversial work will challenge and enlighten students of psychology, sociology, and religious studies.

Excerpt

Never discuss politics or religion. Far from indicating a lack of interest in these topics, this familiar maxim suggests much interest but much difference of opinion. Given the interest and controversy, one might think that religion would have received considerable attention from social psychologists. It has not. With a few notable exceptions, they have carefully adhered to the maxim of never discussing religion. We think this is unfortunate and offer this book as a step toward the development of a social psychology of religion.

More than a body of information, social psychology is the application of a particular method, the scientific method, to study the behavior of individuals in society. The scientific method includes two key elements: (1) development of explanatory theories based on empirical observation; and (2) testing these theories through subsequent empirical observation. This book reports our attempt to apply this method to the study of religion. Our concern is with the role of religion in the life of the individual--its origins, development, dynamics, functions, and consequences--rather than with religion as a social institution. It is for this reason that we speak of individual or personal religion. Our goal is to provide a clear and coherent social-psychological picture of individual religion, a picture that does not do violence to its diversity and mystery yet is still scientifically sound.

Pursuit of this goal has led us to consider the classic treatments by William James, Sigmund Freud, and Gordon Allport, as well as much of the more recent empirical literature. But we have drawn on the past selectively. We have not tried to provide a comprehensive, textbook review of the literature in psychology and sociology of religion. Instead, we have used whatever ideas and research contributed most directly to our analysis. Especially for theoretical insights, this has meant relying heavily on literature in social psychology that has not traditionally been classified as psychology or sociology of religion. It has also meant leaving out a sizeable portion of the traditional literature.

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