Psychology of Religion

he psychology of religion is the study and interpretation of recognized faiths using contemporary methods of Western psychology. The history of the discipline is divided into three main periods of research: From 1880 to World War II; post-war to the 1960s; and 1970 to the present day. In its formative period, noted researchers and psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, G. Stanley Hall and William James all came to prominence and their work investigated themes including prayer, emotion, religious growth and conversion, mysticism, the paranormal, revival movements, and a wide assortment of issues linking the psychosocial dynamics that exist between culture, society and religion.

Freud was convinced of the superiority of science and the secular society. Because of this, he endeavored to use psychoanalysis as a kind of "cure of souls," with the result leading to his proclamation of religion as a historical vestige. Jung is known as the founding father of analytical psychology, and his valorization of the transformative potential of religion was based on the related concepts of the collective unconscious and individuation. It was Jung's belief that beneath Freud's theory of personal unconscious lay a collective unconscious containing a variety of universal archetypes, conceived as forms known by their cultural and religious expressions and effects on each individual psyche. Jung's concept of the "unchurched" was a mystical form of self-actualization still held in high regard today.

In North America, psychology of religion primarily stemmed from two major figures, G. Stanley Hall and William James. Hall and James were sympathetic towards religion, both having been drawn initially to theological education and the ministry, and each believing in the value of a progressive social worldview. Hall developed the view that religion was socially adaptive. His 1917 publication "Jesus, the Christ, in the Light of Psychology" proposed the theory that religious figures embodied higher forms of morality. He argued that psychology could help mankind to actualize those ethical ideals. James proclaimed experience as having greater importance than religious theology. Despite the perception that Hall was the main instigator of the psychology of religion, it is James, author of the classic 1902 publication "The Varieties of Religious Experience," who continues to bear great influence on the field. Unlike Freud and Jung, James never developed a therapeutic system. Despite this he became the most prolific and philosophically astute of the American contributors.

The culmination of the Second World War saw new resources being introduced into the psychology of religion. Immigration allowed intellectuals representing a variety of different religions from Europe, Asia and North American into greater dialogue and exchanges of ideas. The rise of the therapeutic culture made way for the valorization of the individual over and above the communal whole. With the far-reaching impact of this new science, the perception was that psychology was becoming a dominant cultural vehicle for personal introspection. The 1950s and 1960s saw a resurgence of Jung's psychology, as well as an extension of previous attempts at developing phenomenological, existential, and humanistic elements into the psychology of religion. In his 1950 publication "The Individual and His Religion," noted psychologist Gordon Allport made the distinction between mature, intrinsic forms of religious orientation and more immature, extrinsic ones. In extrinsic forms of religious orientation, Allport thought that individuals treated religion as a means to an end, and that this could lead to egoistical and wish-fulfilling forms of behavior. Allport's typology led to the creation of an influential empirical correlational scale known as the Religious Orientation Scale, which measured extrinsic and intrinsic forms of religious behavior.

There is a continued and expanding trend to include the psychology of religion as part of a more inclusive social scientific approach to religion. From this perspective psychology is a cultural science intertwined with the findings of sociology and anthropology in analyzing religious phenomena. Examples of this point are the works of sociologist Michael Carroll who marries social theory with psychoanalysis ("The Cult of the Virgin Mary," 1986); anthropologist Gananath Obeysekere, who uses cultural, psychological, anthropological, and philosophical theory to intepret Hindu ideas ("Medusa's Hair" 1981 and "The Work of Culture" 1990); and social scientist Peter Homans, who, in "The Ability to Mourn" (1989) fashioned an integration of social-scientific disciplines. This work focused on the psychodynamics of individual biography in the context of social change, in an attempt to understand the emergence of creative theorizing about religion in figures such as Jung and Freud.

Psychology of Religion: Selected full-text books and articles

Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality By Raymond F. Paloutzian; Crystal L. Park Guilford Press, 2005
The Psychology of Religion: Theoretical Approaches By Bernard Spilka; Daniel N. McIntosh Westview Press, 1997
Religion and the Individual: A Social-Psychological Perspective By C. Daniel Batson; Patricia Schoenrade; W. Larry Ventis Oxford University Press, 1993
Psychology for Christian Ministry By Fraser Watts; Rebecca Nye; Sara Savage Routledge, 2002
The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism By Ralph W. Hood, Jr.; Peter C. Hill; W. Paul Williamson Guilford Press, 2005
The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements By James R. Lewis Oxford University Press, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Part III "Social and Psychological Dimensions"
Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion By Jeremy Carrette; Richard King Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Two "Western Psychology and the Politics of Spirituality"
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