Psychology and American Catholicism: From Confession to Therapy?

By Neenan, Benedict | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Psychology and American Catholicism: From Confession to Therapy?


Neenan, Benedict, The Catholic Historical Review


Psychology and American Catholicism: From Confession to Therapy? By C. Kevin Gillespie, SJ. (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company. 2001. Pp. xviii, 214. $24.95 hardback.)

In his well-researched and well-written study of the encounter of twentiethcentury American Catholics with modern psychology, Kevin Gillespie has shed valuable light on how both forces have influenced one another. The book also suggests that, in spite of the initial wariness of many Catholics toward modern psychology, which they perceived to be guided by secularist principles, many other Catholics quickly recognized the value of the new field for aiding in the understanding of the human person.

As a lens for understanding the historical narrative, Gillespie accurately identifies and analyzes the chief problematic in the relationship between American Catholics: the cura animarum, that is, the spiritual responsibility of the Church to care for the souls of its members. The question among early Catholic investigators of the new field of scientific psychology was whether its use contributed to or hindered the care of souls. Although the term is rarely used in modern theology and spirituality, it is still legitimate to ask-and Gillespie does-whether modern attempts to integrate psychology and theology or spirituality bring genuine assistance to the spiritual lives of people.

Psychology and American Catholicism illustrates well the vitality and energy of Catholic pioneers in the psychology field. A number of Catholics, even priests, were among the earliest enthusiasts of the New Psychology who went to study under the European masters. The Catholic University of America was one of the earliest universities in the United States to establish a psychological laboratory and clinic. The enthusiasm for psychology quickly spread to other Catholic colleges and universities. …

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