Relational Integration, Part I: Differentiated Relationality between Psychology and Theology

By Sandage, Steven J.; Brown, Jeannine K. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Relational Integration, Part I: Differentiated Relationality between Psychology and Theology


Sandage, Steven J., Brown, Jeannine K., Journal of Psychology and Theology


In Part I of a two-part manuscript, we describe the contours of a relational integration approach to the relationship between psychology and theology. This approach builds on the tradition of the integration of psychology and theology but thematizes relationality at the levels of both content and process. We argue that it is persons who seek to integrate (or not); thus, integration is a relational process that inevitably involves the challenges of conflict, power and control stances, and difference. Therefore, relational integration necessitates differentiated capacities for mutual recognition and collaboration across disciplinary differences. We contrast our differentiation-based approach to relational integration with other published views for relating psychology and theology and outline relational integration as (a) embodied and (b) hermeneutical.

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The relationship between psychology and theology has been a central theme of Christian literature on integration over the past 50 years, although a historical review shows that various efforts to engage psychology and theology can be traced back to seminal church figures, such as Augustine and Aquinas (Johnson, 2010). Models for relating psychology and theology continue to be debated among Christian scholars and practitioners. Parallel debates can be found in the broader literature in areas such as science and religion or spirituality and health. The debates often include questions of whether to epistemologically privilege science or religion and the practical implications of such privileging. At times, contemporary "integration" of psychology and theology or science and religion is offered as an explicit, defined position (e.g., Collins, 2000; Jones, 2010); alternately, integration is sometimes suggested as a more ambiguous interdisciplinary goal. In this article, we focus on relational dynamics in the integration of psychology and theology but also offer some connections to broader interdisciplinary integration.

Since scholars have often been the primary contributors to published literature on integration, it may not be surprising that the focus is typically placed on integrating abstract bodies of knowledge. What have been largely overlooked are the actual interpersonal dynamics of integration. The limited consideration of actual relational dynamics among psychologists and theologians is striking particularly among Christians who hold a relational view of God and a relational ontology of personhood. Entwistle (2010) offers a partial exception by suggesting relational metaphors for individual stances on integration (e.g., enemies, spies, colonialists, neutral parties, allies), but his focus is not on actual embodied relational dynamics. In the initial edition of their edited volume on four views for relating psychology and Christianity, Johnson and Jones (2000) note the possibility that a fifth view has emerged among some theorists (e.g, Sorenson, 1996). This potential fifth view emphasizes an "ethical (embodied, experiential, practical, personal) dimension of the Christian's involvement in psychology" (Johnson & Jones, 2000, p. 244), although Johnson and Jones concluded the "ethical call does not constitute a separate approach" (p. 245). In a recently updated volume, Johnson (2010) adds a distinct fifth view by Coe and Hall (2010), which captures some of our interest by emphasizing the "important connection between relationality and knowing" (p. 215) and the spiritual, emotional, and character development of the psychologist. We embrace this emphasis on a relational understanding of spiritual formation and the way in which relational ontology influences epistemology. Yet we want to extend relationality beyond a one-person view of integration toward two-person and systemic understandings of relational integration. None of the authors in Johnson (2010) focus specifically upon the challenges or potentialities of actual relational interaction and collaboration between theologians and psychologists, nor do any focus on the positive aspects of diversity and differentiation with respect to their particular view. …

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