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Psychology: Psychology of Religion


In its most basic sense, the field of the psychology of religion is composed of a variety of studies that have utilized a broad spectrum of theoretical frameworks to interpret the psychological meaning and patterns of collective and individual religious contents, ideation, and practice. Certainly, precursors to the introspective and empirical investigations found in the psychology of religion can be discerned in the mystical, existential, philosophical, theological, and poetic texts of religious traditions both East and West. However, by the late nineteenth century, numerous factors (e.g., the rise of science, the cultural ascendancy of religious pluralism, a liberal theological atmosphere, the stress on authentic personal experience, the growing disillusionment with dogmatic forms of religious expression) gave rise to widespread attempts at more systematic, social-scientific approaches to religious phenomena. This survey will proceed by detailing the central figures, theoretical models, issues, and themes that have animated the field of the psychology of religion. The history of the field can be divided into three periods: (1) 1880 to World War II; (2) the postwar period through the 1960s; and (3) 1970 to 2005.

1880 to World War II

The era from 1880 to World War II was the formative period of the psychology of religion, with pathbreaking contributions from a number of researchers. Although the most influential scholarship came from Europe and North America, it is important to stress that the contributors exerted mutual influence and that collaboration was international in scope. This is well illustrated by the famous photograph of, among others, Sigmund Freud (18561939), G. Stanley Hall (18441924), William James (18421910), and Carl Jung (18751961) at the legendary conference at Clark University (Worcester, Massachusetts) in 1909. Several journals were inaugurated by these scholars, including Archiv für Religionspsychologie, Zeitschrift für Religionspsychologi e, and the American Journal of Religious Psychology and Education. Topics investigated varied from prayer, conversion, mysticism, religious emotion, the paranormal, revival movements, and religious growth to the wide assortment of issues linked to the comparative study of religion and the psychosocial dynamic between religion, culture, and society.

European Contributions

In Europe, seminal contributions came from several countries. In Germany, one cannot ignore the figure of Wilhelm Wundt (18321920), known as the founder of experimental psychology, who established the first laboratory for the study of psychological phenomena. Wundt bequeathed to later generations a psychophysical approach to human experience and consciousness that stressed the importance of analysis and the classification of data. Wundt eschewed collecting individual instances of religious faith in favor of a historical, ethnographical, and folk psychological approach to religion that highlighted its evolving cultural structure and expression. The analysis of individual religious experience was left to Wundt's successors. His student Oswald Külpe (18621915), the head of the Würzburg School of psychology, modified Wundt's advances to create an approach in experimental introspection that could be applied to religion. Külpe's student Karl Girgensohn (18751925), famous for his Dorpat School of religious psychology, introduced questionnaires and religious stimuli of various kinds into the laboratory setting, concluding that religious experience was a complex phenomenon composed of cognitive, emotional, and existential elements. As David Wulff notes in his Psychology of Religion: Classic and Contemporary (1997), members of the Dorpat School, in relying on the laboratory setting yet attending to descriptive detail, championed elements of the phenomenological approach to the psychology of religion (which was carried on most decisively in this era by William James and evident in the works of later humanistic and existential theorists), as well as the empirical approach (which was also apparent in the North American researchers and multiple theorists in subsequent periods of history in the field).

In France, a distinctly psychopathological approach to religion emerged, centering on the creative theoretical advances of Jean Martin Charcot (18251893) and his student Pierre Janet (18591947). Through their work, which eventuated in the articulation of pyschopathological processes based on the theory of the subconscious, the development of hypnosis, and the analysis of a number of case histories involving unusual religious states, this school laid claim to demonstrating the complicity of diseased mental states (notably hysteria), in individual religious faith and its expression. The most famous product of this school was the Viennese-based (and later, London-based) based founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.

Freud was one of the three most influential psychologists of religion of this era (the other two being William James and Carl Jung). In abandoning hypnosis in favor of the free associative technique to gain insight into the psychological dynamics of his patients, Freud went well beyond Charcot and Janet in developing a radically new theory of the mind. This theory was essentially a conflict model which divided the psyche into three parts: the unconscious, or id (seen as the repository of repressed wishes and ruled by primary instinctual processes); the ego (seen as cognizant of the exigencies of external reality and ruled by the light of reason); and the superego (the internalized voice of conscience). In addition, Freud posited a psychosexual developmental line, the central dynamic of which was ruled by the existence of childhood sexual impulses and the Oedipus complex, and a theory of the instincts (the biologically based instinctual forces of Eros [life and sexual drives] and Thanatos [aggressive and death drives]) that impacted development and the relations between the id, ego, and superego. Freud applied his theory to cultural products, particularly religion, in works such as Totem and Taboo (1913) and Future of an Illusion (1927). Freud was convinced of the superiority of science and the fact of secularization, and he endeavored to create a social space for psychoanalysis as a secular cure of souls. To that end, Freud proclaimed religion to be a historical vestige, a collective universal obsessional neurosis whose various accoutrements were composed of projected, regressive, and defensive Oedipal and related unconscious elements. His analysis deeply influenced subsequent ego-psychological and object-relational approaches (about which more shall be said below). As an architect of modernity, he is still the foremost figure of a depth-psychological approach to religion that champions, as the philosopher Paul Ricoeur once said, the hermeneutics of suspicion.

Other proponents of a subconscious, subliminal, or unconscious dimension of the personality were not wholly antithetical towards religious phenomena. In France the Catholic thinkers Henri Delacroix (18731937) and Joseph Maréchal (18781944) utilized theories of subliminal, subconscious states to enrich theological understandings of mystical states, whereas F. W. H. Myers (18431901), operating out of Great Britain, exercised an enormous influence on North American researchers, especially William James, by writing about how conceptions of such states could help to explain paranormal phenomena. In particular, Switzerland proved to be a most hospitable home to a methodological approach sympathetic to religion. Theodore Flournoy (18541820), who held a position in experimental psychology at the University of Geneva, wrote several essays and books composed of analyses of case histories and autobiographical material. Flournoy advocated a nonpathological approach that bracketed the ontological reality of the divine and, in cautioning that religious experience is complex, promoted the integration of physiological, developmental, and comparative perspectives in coming to an understanding of exceptional religious states. A good friend of William James, Flournoy also influenced Georges Berguer (18731945), a professor of the psychology of religion who argued that the methodological framework of psychology was necessarily limited, thus creating a dialogical intellectual space for theological perspectives. Flournoy was also a force in the development of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, where Jean Piaget (18961980), a subsequent director of the institute known primarily for his theories of cognitive development, also wrote about religion. Piaget distinguished between an immature, socially determined form of faith that engendered negative emotions and a more humanistic faith championing autonomy and equality. However, without question, the most important figure associated with the Swiss tradition is Carl Jung.

Jung, who studied with Janet, was deeply influenced by Flournoy and James, and was heir apparent to Freud before their complete break, is known as the founder of analytical psychology. In contrast to Freud's tripartite structural theory of the psyche, reliance on the developmental determinism of childhood, and negative evaluation of religion, Jung's valorization of the transformative potential of religion was based on the related concepts of the collective unconscious and individuation. Beneath Freud's personal unconscious, thought Jung, lay a collective unconscious housing universal archetypes, conceived of as forms (without specific content) known only by their cultural and religious expressions and effects on the individual psyche. The task of psychological growth, which Jung termed individuation, was to acknowledge and therapeutically work through the contents of the personal and collective unconscious, gradually heightening the feeling of wholeness, harmony, and the totality of the self. Although Jung posited many archetypes, he thought those of the persona, shadow, anima/animus, the wise man, the child, the great mother, and the self were particularly evident in religious ideation. Jung's psychology of religion, while establishing a theoretical framework for analyzing the therapeutic and healing nature of religion (including Eastern religions, which Jung promoted with greater success than any other psychologist of his era), also tended to blur the line between a psychology "of" religion and a religious psychology. In positing a generic, religious dimension to the unconscious, Jung is in part responsible for establishing the unchurched, mystical form of self-actualization prevalent in the modern era.

North American Contributions

The originative contributions to the psychology of religion from North America stemmed primarily from two major figures, G. Stanley Hall and William James, and their students. These contributors as a group were sympathetic towards religion, many having been drawn initially to theological education, the ministry, and the value of a progressive social worldview. Hall, who founded the Clark School of the Psychology of Religion (at Clark University), was initially influenced by Wundt and set up a laboratory for the empirical investigation of religion. Particularly interested in conversion, religious growth, mysticism, and education, Hall and two of his best-known students, E. D. Starbuck (18661917) and James Leuba (18681946), were instrumental in developing questionnaires, interviews, and a statistical approach to the psychology of religion. Hall developed the view that religion was socially adaptive and, in books such as Jesus, the Christ, in the Light of Psychology (1917), that religious figures embodied higher forms of morality. Psychology, argued Hall, could help mankind to actualize those ethical ideals. Starbuck followed suit, publishing a landmark study, aptly titled The Psychology of Religion (1899), which centered on the relation between adolescence and conversion. However, Leuba, in works such as The Psychology of Religious Mysticism (1925), evinced a marked sympathy towards the methods of psychophysiology, remaining unconvinced of the ontological reality of the divine. Yet even Leuba, the most reductionistic of the group, also argued for the potential of religion to morally transform individuals and society. Leuba also studied with James, as did James Bisset Pratt (18751944), whose work on Buddhism and Hinduism, like that of Jung's, was instrumental in heightening awareness of the value of Eastern religious traditions. W. E. Hocking (18731966), James's successor at Harvard University, argued for a psychologically pragmatic, democratic, and socially activist form of mysticism. James also had a long correspondence with R. C. Bucke (18371902), the Canadian psychologist and author of the classic book Cosmic Consciousness (1901), who became an important figure for later humanistic and transpersonal psychologists. Bucke's major contribution proceeded as a result of an epiphany he later conceptualized as an instance of "cosmic consciousness." He was an early advocate of perennialism, arguing that cosmic consciousness lay at the heart of all religion, that mankind was evolving towards a utopian socialist and mystical society, and that all outward religious forms would disappear as mankind actualized its inherent ability to achieve cosmic consciousness.

Despite the fact that during this era it was Hall and his students who were perceived as the main instigators of the psychology of religion, it is James, author of the classic work The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), who continues to exert influence on the field. Although James never developed a therapeutic system like Freud and Jung, he was the most prolific and philosophically astute of the American contributors. A product of the modern worldview, James proclaimed experience as more primary than religious dogma, theology, or church accoutrements. Adopting the descriptive, phenomenological method, he compiled the most diverse, substantial, and compelling anthology of personal religious experience of his day, offering typologies such as the sick soul, the healthy-minded, and the divided self, as well as parameters for understanding religious phenomena such as mysticism and conversion. James was a thoroughgoing pragmatist who posited a radical form of empiricism (which allowed for personal religious experience as a source for ascertaining the nature of reality), and he offered the possibility of a pluralistic universe (which threw into doubt the ascertainable existence of one, underlying absolute truth). In bracketing the divine, or "More," on the further side of the individual psyche, his interpretative evaluation of religious experiences aimed at providing existential judgements (classification schemes and an examination of the subconscious dynamic involved) and spiritual judgements (an assessment of their "fruits," or pragmatic value for one's life).

By 1930 there was a general decline of interest in colleges and culture at large in the psychology of religion. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi (1974) has adduced several factors for this, including the rise of National Socialism, the threat of war, the Great Depression, the rise of behaviorism (which eschewed introspection and subjectivity) and theological neo-orthodoxy (a conservative theological movement which challenged the ability of psychology to apprehend religious truth), and the perception that the methods of psychology were less than competent, objective, and value-neutral. Nevertheless, one can discern the beginnings of theoretical models (depth-psychological, humanistic, phenomenological-existential, empirical) and dialogical enterprises (with humanistic, theological, and social-scientific methods) that would become the foundation upon which advances could be built.

The Postwar Period Through the 1960s

The aftermath of the Second World War brought new resources into the psychology of religion. Immigration brought European, Asian, and North American intellectuals representing a variety of religious traditions into greater dialogue. With respect to theory, there were substantial developments in psychoanalysis, analytical psychology, empirical studies, and humanistic-existential forms of therapy. Perhaps as important, the effect of psychology on many sectors of society was impressive enough that many culture theorists began to take note. The sociologist Philip Rieff (b. 1922), in his classic work The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966), wrote that previously, all societies were "positive" in nature, by which he meant guided by a religious symbol system that facilitated repression, insured the allegiance of individuals to the communal whole, and offered religious forms of healing to ward off anomie. However, with the impact of psychology, particularly the depth-psychology of Freud and Jung, a new controlling symbolism displaced the reigning religious one. The key to the rise of the therapeutic culture (or "negative" communities) was the valorization of the individual over the communal whole and the creation of a cultural space for the working through of previously repressed unconscious contents. Given the enormous impact of this new science, philosophers, theologians, and comparativists were eager to dialogue with proponents of the psychology of religion, not simply on the grounds of the field's intellectual merits, but also due to their (correct) perception that psychology was becoming the preferred, even dominant cultural mode of introspection. This period saw both an extension and a creative rebirthing of the efforts of the prewar era. The major developments of the 1950s and 1960s were ego psychology; analytic psychology; humanistic, phenomenological, and existential psychology; empirical and behavioral studies; and pastoral psychology.

Ego psychology

Classic psychoanalysis as developed by Freud rendered the ego weak, beset by the more powerful forces of the id and superego. The next generation of psychoanalysts, headed by his daughter Anna Freud (18951982) and including Heinz Hartmann (18941970), Ernst Kris, David Rapaport (19111960), and Erik Erikson (19021994), formulated a much more positive understanding of the ego. They granted it independent energy, more sophisticated defenses, increased ability for adaptation and play, and a central role in an epigenetic, developmental process whose multiple stages of growth spanned the life cycle. These theoretical advances allowed for the resolution of infantile fixations and conflicts, eventuating in virtues such as trust, integrity, identity, generational care, and generativity. Erikson, the best known of this group, was instrumental in using such advances to reverse Freud's negative evaluation of religion. Utilizing the genre of psychobiography, Erikson analyzed religious figures such as Martin Luther (Young Man Luther, 1958) and Gandhi (Gandhi's Truth, 1969) to show how ego psychology could illuminate the healing, transformative power of religion. In the 1960s Erich Fromm (19001980), in his Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (1960), and Herbert Fingarette (b. 1921), in his The Self in Transformation (1965), similarly used the insights of ego psychology to frame Buddhism as a healing enterprise commensurate with the best aims of psychoanalysis.

Analytic psychology

Jung's psychology was increasingly influential during the 1950s and 1960s, not simply due to the efforts of Jung, who wrote many of his most influential books on religion during this time (e.g., Answer to Job [1952]), but also due to subsequent interpreters such as Erich Neumann (19051960) and, later, James Hillman (b. 1926). During this period Jung's psychology was also made accessible to empirical, correlational testing through the creation of the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a personality test based on Jung's description of personality types. It is still a popular tool utilized to measure religious orientation. Jung's psychology also had considerable impact on the comparative study of religion. Mircea Eliade (19071986), one of the leading comparativists of his generation, used Jung's notion that the collective unconscious housed a generic religious dimension to facilitate his project of trying to recover the sacred (see Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries, 1960). Additionally, Joseph Campbell (19041987) in works such as The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), established a considerable oeuvre on myths which drew heavily on Jungian archetypal thought to demonstrate their universal significance and meaning.

Humanistic, phenomenological, and existential psychology

The extension of previous attempts at developing phenomenological, existential, and humanistic elements in the psychology of religion received impetus from a variety of figures, of which three should be singled out. Gordon Allport's (18971967) central contribution, found in his The Individual and His Religion (1950), was the distinction between mature, intrinsic forms of religious orientation and more immature forms of extrinsic religious orientation. In the former case, individuals treated religion as an end in itself. Allport listed the guiding characteristics of such an orientation as being differentiated, dynamic, directive, integral, heuristic, and comprehensive. In extrinsic forms of religious orientation, Allport thought that individuals treated religion as a means, often exhibiting egoistic, wish-fulfilling forms of behavior. Allport's typology led to an immensely influential empirical, correlational scale, the Religious Orientation Scale, which measured extrinsic and intrinsic forms of religious behavior. Victor Frankl (b. 1905), influenced by phenomenological philosophy, existentialism, and his own experiences in Nazi concentration camps, was the founder of the therapeutic system known as logotherapy (see Man's Search for Meaning, 1962). Deeply religious, eschewing the total determinism of childhood development, and stressing the uniqueness of every individual and the intimate relation of the self to a personal God, Frankl highlighted issues pertaining to individual freedom, responsibility, self-transcendence, conscience, and will to meaning. Abraham Maslow (19081970) spent his life articulating a psychology which, over and against classical psychoanalysis and behaviorism, detailed the development of higher forms of consciousness. Maslow distinguished between basic needs for physiological sustenance, safety, belonging, and self-esteem, and the higher need for self-actualization. The latter, a general designation for experiences of joy, completeness, and unity, reached their culmination in peak-experiences, Maslow's most famous term and one crucial to his understanding of religion. In his Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences (1964) Maslow espoused a perennialism based on peak-experiences, distinguishing between "legalists" (nonpeakers and curators of a bureaucratic understanding of religion) and "mystics" (peakers who experientially grasped the essence of religion). Mystical states and peak-experiences, now understood as the psychological core uniting all religions, could be accessed through scientific, technical means. Maslow thus advocated a naturalistic, unchurched religion that was commensurate with the scientific, psychological enterprise.

Empirical and behavioral studies

B. F. Skinner, the central theorist of behaviorism, viewed religion in generally negative terms. Skinner thought religion was a determined form of social behavior whose continued existence can be attributed to "operant conditioning" (that is, because religious behavior is reinforced) and the need of religious authorities to maintain power and control. Although behaviorism, at least at the outset, was the most powerful new form of psychological theory during this period, it met with multiple competitors. As mentioned above, the theories of Allport and Jung impacted empirical studies through the development of the Religious Orientation Scale (Allport) and the MBTI (Jung). In addition, the meteoric rise of interest in Eastern religions gave creative impetus to laboratory science. Experimental studies of meditation measured the physiological effects of practices such as Zen and yoga on respiration, heart rate, skin resistance, and cerebral activity. Similarly, the interest in altered states of consciousness accessed through psychedelics (or entheogens, a word which means "containing God") such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), peyote, and mescaline resulted in numerous studies measuring their effect on faith and religiousness. Insofar as these studies occurred during a volatile cultural atmosphere in the 1960s, it should be noted that many of these empirical studies were conducted and advanced by figures and psychologists associated with the human potential movement. As a group, the movement championed the values of receptivity, spontaneity, nowness, and the cultivation of an essentially unchurched, mystical-experiential form of religiousness.

Pastoral psychology

In the prewar period, pastoral psychology had been practiced by figures such as Oskar Pfister (18731956), the Swiss pastor, lay analyst, and confidant of Freud, and Anton Boisen (18761965), a minister who parlayed his own bout with schizophrenia into establishing a form of clinical pastoral psychology. However, it was not until the postwar period that pastoral psychology became a powerful social institution. As ably detailed by Peter Homans in his The Dialogue between Theology and Psychology (1968), its aim was to formulate a mature, psychologically sophisticated form of faith by investigating the relation between developmental determinants, existential issues (such as freedom, choice, and responsibility) and theological issues (such as faith, sin, morality, and redemption). Many of its proponents (e.g., Albert Outler, Seward Hiltner, David Roberts) engaged in dialogue with proponents of existential, humanistic, psychoanalytic, and analytical psychology. Several noted philosophers and theologians entered this debate, including Reinhold Niebuhr (18921971), who utilized psychological insights to nuance the Christian distinction between nature and spirit, and Paul Ricouer (b. 1913), who, in respecting the depth-psychological "hermeneutics of suspicion," argued for a more mature form of faith he called a second naiveté. Of the theologians, however, none was more important than Paul Tillich (18861965). As his "correlational method" made abundantly clear, psychology was American culture's mode of formulating the central existential questions about the nature of the human condition. Any theological system, then, could not dispense with active dialogue with psychology. In over two dozen essays, later published in The Meaning of Health (1984) and in major works such as The Courage to Be (1952), Tillich proceeded to integrate the insights of numerous therapeutic frameworks to show how pastoral psychology could help overcome the "heteronomous" God; reveal the universal, structural anxieties of guilt, death, and meaninglessness; and mediate the only God (who he called the God "above" the God of "theological theism") who could truly heal the plight of the modern person. In many ways Tillich was the central architect of pastoral psychology and, as is so evident in his essays, the religious intellectual most responsible for fermenting a bona fide dialogue between theologians and psychologists of all stripes.

1970 to 2005

As may be evident from the foregoing, the developments of the 1950s and 1960s began a process of blurring the understanding of psychology as a value-neutral methodological tool independent of and objective with respect to its subject (in this case the contents, practices, and ideation of religious traditions). Although the value-neutral, objective stance of psychology vis-à-vis religion remains a desired end, ongoing developments in culture studies and the postmodern deconstruction of any perspective claiming to possess objective, absolute truth has further necessitated an analysis of the relativity, selectivity, and implicit scale of values harbored within psychological theories of all kinds. The net effect has been the opening of the tent of the psychology "of" religion to include "religious psychology" and studies whose orientation consists of a dialogical enterprise between psychology and various humanistic and social scientific perspectives (e.g., philosophy, theology, comparative/cultural studies). The introduction of new terms that reflect this inclusion (e.g., religion and the human sciences; religion, person, and culture; psychology "and" religion ) have become, for many, accepted parts of the nomenclature when designating the field. Although it is fair to say that debates over designation and inclusion still rage (some would like to narrowly circumscribe what constitutes the psychology "of" religion, omitting religious psychology and dialogical enterprises), it is also fair, in detailing the contours of this period, to mention not only developments in the psychology "of" religion but also those developments signaling the move towards a wider, more inclusive understanding of the field. Although the framework and typology utilized to conceptualize the latter can be debated, the use of alternate categorization schemes cannot safely neglect object-relations theory, transpersonal psychology, empirical and behavioral studies, practical theology, the psychologycomparativist dialogue, and psychology of religion and culture studies.

Object-relations theory

Although Freud's own emphasis was on the Oedipus complex, he also offered a preliminary framework for considering the pre-Oedipal, narcissistic (used as a descriptive, not pejorative term) phase of development. Several subsequent theorists, including Melanie Klein, D. W. Winnicott, Ronald Fairbairn, and Heinz Kohut (founder of "Self psychology"), added clinical and theoretical contributions that have increased our knowledge of the developmental line of narcissism. In contrast to Freud's emphasis on instinct and conflict, these theorists emphasized relational issues of separation and merger, the processes of idealization and identification/internalization, and the development of a cohesive self, self-esteem, and creativity. Although studies of this genre proliferate, particularly successful is Ana-Maria Rizzuto's The Birth of the Living God (1979), which, in utilizing Winnicott's notion of a "transitional object," elaborated a clinically based understanding of belief in a "God Representation." This is created by individuals from a variety of representational objects (the pre-Oedipal mother, the Oedipal father, siblings, relatives, and significant others), is capable of evolving with changes in the life cycle, and functions to insure adaptation to life's exigencies. With respect to Eastern religions, Sudhir Kakar, in books such as The Inner World (1981) and The Analyst and the Mystic (1991), illuminates how Hindu forms of religious ideation and practice are especially conducive to a pre-oedipal theoretical analysis. On the whole, object-relations theory allows for a marked sympathy towards religion that is absent in Freud. Several originative theorists in this tradition come close to Jung in their metapsychological conceptualization of a religious dimension to the personality (e.g., Kohut's "cosmic narcissism," Wilfred Bion's "O," Jacques Lacan's "The Real"). In this respect it is noteworthy, as is evident in Peter Homans's Jung in Context (1979), which sees Jung as anticipating Kohut's Self psychology, that theories concerning the developmental line of narcissism have become for many the long-awaited bridge linking the often contentious battle between Jungians and Freudians.

Transpersonal psychology

Late in his life, Abraham Maslow took his formulations on humanistic psychology and peak-experience one step further by initiating the formation of a full-blown religious psychology. Called transpersonal psychology, its proponents frame it as part of a tradition in the psychology of religion which includes the researches of James, Jung, and R. M. Bucke. Influenced by Eastern religions, its essence is devoted to the study of all higher forms of psychological and religious consciousness, including peak experiences, unitive forms of mystical consciousness, and feelings of bliss, awe, and wonder. Starting in the late 1960s, advocates of transpersonal psychology created professional, academic outlets for their work, including programs for transpersonal psychotherapy and a journal, the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. A number of scholars during this period, including Charles Tart, Ken Wilber, Stanislav Grof, and Michael Washburn, have utilized a variety of psychological approaches to advocate the scientific study of mystical and paranormal phenomena. Tart has written extensively on paranormal phenomena, and Grof is known for his work on entheogens and their ability to illumine structural elements of religious consciousness, including Jungian archetypes. Wilber has articulated a version of the perennial philosophy, drawing from maps of consciousness found in Western psychotherapies and the world's mystical traditions. He argues for a "spectrum of consciousness" ranging from the lower egoistic forms to the dissolution of self characteristic of various forms of Buddhism and the Hindu Vedanta tradition. Each level can be addressed, both metapsychologically and therapeutically, by various kinds of Western psychologies. Washburn, also drawing on a variety of psychotherapeutic frameworks, argues that spiritual development has a spiral path, and his work has concentrated on elucidating characteristic forms of experience which unfold during the course of this spiraling upwards.

Empirical and behavioral studies

Arrays of studies in the empirical and behavioral category have appeared since 1970. Utilizing Allport's distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic religious orientations, several theorists have added developments to empirical analysis, including the following: the Quest Scale (a more nuanced view of intrinsic forms of religious orientation); the Religious Viewpoints Scale (which distinguishes between committed [personal religious style] and consensual [socially generated forms] of religiousness); general attribution theory (which links religion with matters of self-esteem, meaning, and control); attachment theory (which examines the strong relational bonds religion fosters); and coping theory (which seeks to analyze religion as a means of coping with the existential and social exigencies of life). Social role theory has proved useful in analyzing how motivation, behavior, and learning proceed through identification with religious role models. Sociobiology, relying on the researches of physiology, ethology, and evolutionary biology, looks at the biological basis for all social behaviors, concentrating in particular on the relationship between religion, society, and altruistic forms of relating. The continued interest in Eastern religious practices has spawned a vast assortment of laboratory analysis. Particularly significant are those researchers who have used the findings of work in bihemispheric studies to show how the myths, symbols, and practices of religious traditions signify the working of the right (devoted to spatial orientation, art, and holistic mentation) and left (involved with analytic reasoning, language, and math) hemispheres of the brain. Additionally, with the advent of brain imaging, and drawing on the researches of evolutionary psychology and biology, many in cognitive neuroscience have endeavored to locate with greater precision which areas of the brain are responsible for specific forms of religious experience and behavior.

Practical theology

The dialogue between psychology and theology and the development of pastoral psychology has continued in practical theology. Indeed, programs in pastoral education and counseling have thrived since the 1970s in many seminaries and universities. Building on the efforts of theologians and religious intellectuals of the previous period, practical theology continues to involve proponents of Christianity and Judaism, evincing a marked theoretical sophistication over previous attempts at dialogue. A noted example is James Fowler, who, in his Stages of Faith (1981), offers a stage approach to the maturation of faith based on the ego psychology of Erikson, the cognitive developmental framework of Piaget, and the developmental theory of morality found in the works of Lawrence Kohlberg. Don Browning, whose substantial oeuvre in this area includes Religious Thought and the Modern Psychologies (1987), has utilized a revised version of Tillich's method of correlation to tease out the religious and ethical horizons of various psychological theories. Having established that psychology is not simply a neutral science but, with respect to its effects on culture and individuals, has implications for religion and ethical theory, Browning brings the results of such an analysis into dialogue with Protestant cultural values and attendant notions of virtue and selfhood.

The psychology-comparativist dialogue

The continued influx and popularity of Eastern religions, scholarly advances in the exegesis of non-Western religions, and the rise of academics familiar with both psychological and indigenous religious psychophysiological techniques has given rise to a "psychology-comparativist dialogue" (see Jonte-Pace and Parsons, 2001). Germinal elements of this dialogue can be found in previous eras, although to speak of a true dialogue is problematic. The well-intended researches of Jung, James, and Pratt did much to elevate the status of Eastern religions in the eyes of psychologists in the early 1900s. However, they were marked by orientalism and marred by faulty translations, reductionism, and the lack of engagement with scholars within Eastern traditions. Studies of the 1950s and 1960s, intent on creating dialogue and tolerance, were too often inclined to level differences, succumbing to a naive perennialism. After 1970 there was more accurate exegesis of alternate understandings of self, world, and other found in Eastern religions. Although there is some overlap with humanistic, empirical, and transpersonal approaches, the psychology-comparativist dialogue is marked by a synthesis of interdisciplinary methods (i.e., psychological, cultural, philosophical, comparative) in arriving at an appreciation of real differences and attempts at respectful dialogue. Examples can be found in Luis Gomez's careful evaluation of a Jungian approach to the texts of Indian Buddhism in Curators of the Buddha (1995) and Jeffrey Kripal's Kali's Child (1995), which performs a classic Freudian interpretation by seeing symptoms of repressed homoeroticism in the visions and acts of Ramakrishna (18361886), but then, in exemplifying the interdisciplinary approach of this dialogue, legitimates Ramakrishna's religious visions by situating psychoanalytic discourse in a wider Tantric worldview. Jack Engler, another theorist in this category, draws on his expertise as a psychologist and meditation teacher in arguing that Western psychotherapy and Buddhist abhidharma each have different, legitimate aims if viewed in their proper cultural contexts (see Transformations of Consciousness [1986]). According to Engler, psychotherapy aims at helping to grow a cohesive, healthy sense of self; Buddhist meditation, presupposing a healthy self, aims at "losing" it. Jeffrey Rubin, in his Psychotherapy and Buddhism (1996), includes a careful consideration of culture in his attempt to steer a middle path between "Orientocentrism" (the privileging of Asian thought and practice) and Eurocentrism. In the period under consideration, this dialogue is also marked by an increasing number of interdisciplinary studies critiquing Western psychological attempts at creating dialogue with Eastern religions, notably J. J. Clarke's analysis of Jung and comparative studies (Jung and Eastern Thought, 1994) and William B. Parsons's evaluation of psychoanalytic interpretations of comparative mysticism (The Enigma of the Oceanic Feeling, 1999).

Psychology of religion and culture studies

Although many of the above-cited studies deal in some way with culture studies, there are several types of studies that can be directly subsumed under the category psychology of religion and culture studies. Among the most important is psychology, religion, and gender studies. As Diane Jonte-Pace (in Jonte-Pace and Parsons, 2001) has carefully pointed out, the feminist critique of psychological studies of religion is an ongoing enterprise that has incorporated three kinds of scholarship: (1) feminist critics have sought to uncover the androcentric biases of theory; (2) feminist analysts have exposed the gender imbalance and prejudice constructed by culture; and (3) feminist inclusivists have proposed creative new ways of reframing women's experiences.

Another important subcategory is psychology, religion, and the social sciences. There is a growing 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 that cannot afford to dispense with the findings of sociology and anthropology in analyzing religious phenomena. In addition, such collaboration helps to actualize a self-reflective movement through which those that utilize psychological theory may become more aware of the ethnocentric assumptions and values embodied in psychological metapsychology. Cases in point are the work of sociologist Michael Carroll, whose The Cult of the Virgin Mary (1986) weds social theory with psychoanalysis; the work of anthropologist Gananath Obeysekere, who, in works such as Medusa's Hair (1981) and The Work of Culture (1990), uses culturally sensitive psychological, anthropological, and philosophical theory to interpret Hindu ideation and practice; and the work of social scientist Peter Homans, who, in The Ability to Mourn (1989), has fashioned an integration of social-scientific disciplines, focusing 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, Freud, and Max Weber.

Another group of studies that can be categorized as psychology of religion and culture studies deals with psychology "as" religion. The term psychology as religion is understandably anathema to many scholars in the psychology of religion, given that it undermines the seemingly objective character of psychology as a method for the analysis "of" religion. Nevertheless, since the time of Philip Rieff's The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966), culture theorists have increasingly written about the ways in which psychology not only analyzes religion but also, culturally speaking, has acted "like a religion." As is evident in the case of Jung and the transpersonal psychologists, psychological theory is often utilized for purposes of organizing and expressing the existential search for wholeness, numinous experiences, and individuation. Ostensibly a method for the analysis of religion, psychology has its own scale of values, and it not only seeks to interpret religious phenomena but also offers itself, at times quite intentionally, as a modern, nontraditional way to map one's religiosity. With respect to popular culture, this is illustrated by the success of books that rely on Jungian theory and its derivatives in promoting a version of unchurched, psychological spirituality (e.g., M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled [1978]).

See Also

Freud, Sigmund; Hall, G. Stanley; James, William; Jung, C. G.


The below bibliography is divided into two sections: (1) general, which lists textbooks, annotated bibliographies, and other general surveys of the field; and (2) specific, which catalogs studies treating individual authors and central debates in the field.


Argyle, Michael. Psychology and Religion: An Introduction. New York, 2000.

Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin. "Psychology and Religion: 18801930: The Rise and Fall of a Psychological Movement." Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 10 (1974): 8490.

Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin. Psychoanalytic Studies of Religion: A Critical Assessment and Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Conn., 1996.

Capps, Donald, Lewis Rambo, and Paul Ransohoff. Psychology of Religion: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit, Mich., 1976.

Crapps, Robert W. An Introduction to the Psychology of Religion. Macon, Ga., 1986.

Dyer, Donald R. Cross-Currents of Jungian Thought: An Annotated Bibliography. Boston, 1991.

Fuller, Andrew R. Psychology and Religion: Eight Points of View. Lanham, Md., 1994.

Hood, Ralph W., Jr.; Bernard Spilka; Bruce Hunsberger; and Richard L. Gorsuch, eds., The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. New York, 1996.

Jonte-Pace, Diane, and William B. Parsons, eds. Religion and Psychology: Mapping the Terrain. New York, 2001. A selection of essays summarizing recent dialogical trends, including the intersection of psychology, religion, and gender studies; the psychology-comparativist dialogue; the dialogue between theology and psychology; and psychology "as" religion.

Murphy, Michael, and Steven Donovan. The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation: A Review of Contemporary Research with a Comprehensive Bibliography, 19311996. 2d ed. Sausalito, Calif., 1997.

Spilka, Bernard, and Daniel M. McIntosh, eds. The Psychology of Religion: Theoretical Approaches. Boulder, Colo., 1997.

Wulff, David. The Psychology of Religion: Classic and Contemporary. 2d ed. New York, 1997. The most complete and definitive survey of the field.


Allport, Gordon. The Individual and His Religion. New York, 1950.

Barnard, G. William. Exploring Unseen Worlds. Albany, N.Y., 1997. A constructive analysis of the views of William James.

Barnard, G. William. "Diving into the Depths: Reflections on Psychology as a Religion." In Religion and Psychology: Mapping the Terrain, edited by Diane Jonte-Pace and William B. Parsons, pp. 297318. New York, 2001.

Browning, Don. Religious Thought and the Modern Psychologies. Philadelphia, 1987.

Bucke, R.C. Cosmic Consciousness. Philadelphia, 1901.

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, N.J., 1949.

Carroll, Michael. The Cult of the Virgin Mary. Princeton, N.J., 1986.

Clarke, J. J. Jung and Eastern Thought. London, 1994.

Eliade, Mircea. Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries. New York, 1960.

Engler, Jack. Transformations of Consciousness. Boston, 1986.

Erikson, Erik. Young Man Luther. New York, 1958.

Erikson, Erik. Gandhi's Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence. New York, 1969.

Ferrer, Jorge. Revisioning Transpersonal Theory. Albany, N.Y., 2002.

Fingarrette, Herbert. The Self in Transformation. New York, 1965.

Fowler, James. Stages of Faith. New York, 1981.

Frankl, Victor. Man's Search for Meaning. New York, 1962.

Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo. New York, 1913.

Freud, Sigmund. Future of an Illusion. New York, 1927.

Fromm, Erich. Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. New York, 1960.

Gomez, Luis. Curators of the Buddha. Chicago, 1995.

Hall, G. Stanley. Jesus, the Christ, in the Light of Psychology. Garden City, N.Y., 1917.

Heisig, James W. Imago Dei: A Study of C. G. Jung's Psychology of Religion. Lewisburg, Pa., 1979.

Homans, Peter. The Dialogue between Theology and Psychology. Chicago, 1968.

Homans, Peter. Jung in Context. Chicago, 1979.

Homans, Peter. The Ability to Mourn. Chicago, 1989.

James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York, 1902.

Jones, James. Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Religion. New Haven, Conn., 1991.

Jonte-Pace, Diane. "Analysts, Critics, and Inclusivists: Feminist Voices in the Psychology of Religion." In Religion and Psychology: Mapping the Terrain, edited by Diane Jonte-Pace and William B. Parsons, pp. 129146. New York, 2001.

Jonte-Pace, Diane. Speaking the Unspeakable: Religion, Misogyny, and the Uncanny Mother in Freud's Cultural Texts. Berkeley, Calif., 2002.

Jung, Carl. Answer to Job. London, 1952.

Kakar, Sudhir. The Inner World. Delhi and New York, 1981.

Kakar, Sudhir. The Analyst and the Mystic. Chicago, 1991.

Kripal, Jeffrey J. Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna. Chicago, 1995.

Kripal, Jeffrey J., and T. G. Vaidyanathan. Vishnu on Freud's Desk: A Reader in Psychoanalysis and Hinduism. Delhi, 1999.

Leuba, James. The Psychology of Religious Mysticism. London and New York, 1925.

Maslow, Abraham. Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences. New York, 1964.

McDargh, John. Psychoanalytic Object-Relations Theory and the Study of Religion: On Faith and the Imaging of God. Lanham, Md., 1983.

Molino, Anthony, ed. The Couch and the Tree: Dialogues in Psychoanalysis and Buddhism. New York, 1998.

Newberg, Andrew, Eugene D'Aquili, and Vince Rause. Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. New York, 2001.

Obeysekere, Gananath. Medusa's Hair. Chicago, 1981.

Obeysekere, Gananath. The Work of Culture: Symbolic Transformation in Psychoanalysis and Anthropology. Chicago, 1990.

Ornstein, Robert. The Psychology of Consciousness. New York, 1986. A classic work utilizing bihemispheric studies to analyze religious phenomena.

Parsons, William B. The Enigma of the Oceanic Feeling: Revisioning the Psychoanalytic Theory of Mysticism. New York, 1999.

Peck, M. Scott. The Road Less Traveled. New York, 1978.

Rieff, Philip. The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud. New York, 1966.

Rieff, Philip. Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. Chicago, 1979. A substantial and still useful study of Freud's psychology of religion.

Rizzuto, Ana-Maria. The Birth of the Living God. Chicago, 1979.

Rubin, Jeffrey. Psychotherapy and Buddhism. New York, 1996.

Starbuck, E. D. The Psychology of Religion. London, 1899.

Stein, Murray. Jung's Treatment of Christianity. Wilmette, Ill., 1986.

Tillich, Paul. The Courage to Be. New Haven, Conn., 1952.

Tillich, Paul. The Meaning of Health. Chicago, 1984.

Vitz, Paul C. Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1991.

Zock, Heddy. A Psychology of Ultimate Concern: Erik H. Erikson's Contribution to the Psychology of Religion. Amsterdam, 1990.

William B. Parsons (2005)

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