Become a contributor: email@example.com
The study of religion is one of the oldest academic disciplines known to man. The most ancient of universities were established upon schools of Theology. However, the study of religion is no longer constrained to the lecture rooms of the faculties of Divinity. Anthropologists, sociologists, and philosophers to name a few, pursue the question as to what religion is, how it plays out in our society, and why we believe in something that is not necessarily physically observable. More importantly, the question of how religion impacts the psyche and visa-versa has become, from the dawn of the 20th Century, an ever prominent question.
William James (1) in 1902, who in his Gifford Lectures entitled “Varieties of the Religious Experience,” was the first tangible “psychologist” to tackle the question of how the psyche and religious phenomena interact. If we look back over the last sixty years the study of religion within psychology has become an emerging school of thought that has extrapolated a philosophical approach into a valid scientific and experimental study of an everyday human phenomenon.
Why study religion from a psychological perspective you might ask? Well, think carefully about how religion plays a role in everyday life. It provides individuals with a way through which to lead life. It acts as a mechanism of psychological solace in times of need. It also helps people interpret and understand the world around them that can seem chaotic and threatening. It is also important to consider how religion can play a very negative role psychologically on its followers. Religion across time has led to wars of great passion. It has inspired individuals to commit terrorist acts in defence of their beliefs, and on an individual level it has caused people internal turmoil striving to be the good person that their faith dictates. From considering these few points it is easy to see why we need to study religion within the context of psychology.
Allport and Ross (2) were the first psychologists to systematically study religion using social psychological methods that were to change the face of the study of religion. They found that it was not good enough to categorise an individual as simply religious, but that there were specific and differentiated types of religious individual. They established two types of religious person: the intrinsically motivated, and the extrinsically motivated. “Intrinsics” saw religion as an end in itself, and fully embraced the teachings of their faith as a guiding light in life. The “Extrinsics” on the other hand were less committed to their faith, and used it as a tool, either for social or personal gain. Over 20 years after the publication of the original Allport and Ross (2) paper this psychological religious typing was hailed by Kirkpatrick (3) as a “boon and bane” in the psychology of religion.
The Intrinsic/Extrinsic dichotomy is a boon in that it made us think carefully about the religious person and how religion is motivated by life goals and desires. Research on religious coping spearheaded by Pargament (4) and explored further by theorists such as Park (5) who notes “religion is a tool”, lends itself to both the intrinsic and extrinsic psychological conceptions of religion. Faith can act as a guide in life (a hallmark of the intrinsic individual) and can help us to deal with crises that fall before us. However, it also can be adopted, as Park rightly points out, as a tool that can be picked up, utilised, and then put to one side until we need it again. A good example of extrinsic use of religion that stands out is how individuals flood into churches or other religious buildings in times of crises. On September 11th many people spoke of how they felt the need to go into a church, or pray for hope in light of the unexpected and inhuman terrorist attacks that besieged Manhattan. Many of those people spoke of how the hope that religion can provide was helpful during that time, but they would not call themselves “truly religious.” But what of the dichotomy being a bane to the study of psychology? Many theorists believe that the I/E concept was conceptually narrow and whilst it provided a fruitful spark to research in our area, it had begun to pigeonhole work.
Where do we go from here? First of all, we need to take a fresh look at how we approach our questions in the psychology of religion. Theorists have in the last two decades begun to theoretically branch out and examine how religiosity can be understood through the wide lens that is modern psychology. Interpretations and experimentation have begun to emerge from attachment theory likening the relationship between God and the faithful as comparable to a parent and child relationship, such as in the work of Kirkpatrick (6). Understanding religion from a cognitive approach has established links between religion and schema theory, and more specifically as McIntosh (7) points out, how religious concepts actually work as schema to help us interpret our surroundings. Applications have also been applied to a clinical perspective, especially with reference to understanding the benefits religion and spirituality provide in response to crisis. First in adult populations by Pargament et al. (8), and later in child populations in the work of Pendleton et al. (9) and Shelton et al. (10, 11) focusing on severe childhood illness, and Griffiths (12) focusing on day-to-day crisis.
In the development of this approach from different theoretical perspectives, we can see that psychology provides us with a diverse theoretical lens to understand religion. However, religion also provides psychology with a diverse and important aspect of the human disposition that needs to be explored. By taking a step back and really thinking about how psychology can understand the role of religion in people’s lives we can bear great fruit both experimentally and theoretically. The main departure from this article is that we need to continue thinking creatively about where we can take this already vibrant discipline, and develop theory and experimentation that helps us discover more about its role in life. Indeed whilst religion belongs in the Church as a form of spiritual guidance and support, it also belongs in life and impacts individuals as an everyday phenomenon. Subsequently, the contributions psychology can make to our understanding of religiosity as a phenomenon in our lives also gives it a place in the psychology lab.
(1) James, W. (1902). The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh 1901-02. London & Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co.
(2) Allport, G. W., & Ross, M. J. (1967). Personal Religious Orientation and Prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5, 432-443.
(3) Kirkpatrick, L. A. (1989). Intrinsic-Extrinsic Religious Orientation: The Boon or Bane of Contemporary Psychology of Religion. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 29, 442-462.
(4) Pargament, K. I. (1997). The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice. New York: The Guilford Press.
(5) Park, C. (2006). Religiousness and Religious Coping as Determinants of Stress-Related Growth. Archive for the Psychology of Religion, 28, 287-302.
(6) Kirkpatrick, L. A. (2006). Precis: Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion. Archive for the Psychology of Religion, 28, 3-47.
(7) McIntosh, D. N. (1995). Religion as Schema, With Implications for the Relation Between Religion and Coping. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 5, 1-16.
(8) Pargament, K. I., Koenig, H. G., & Perez, L. (2000). The many methods of religious coping: Initial development and validation of the RCOPE. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56, 519-543.
(9) Pendleton, S. M., Cavalli, K. S., Pargament, K. I., & Nasr, S. Z. (2002). Religious/Spiritual Coping in Childhood Cystic Fibrosis: A Qualitative Study. Pediatrics, 109, 1-11.
(10) Shelton, S. F., Linfield, K, Carter. B, & Morton, R. (2005). Spirituality and coping with chronic life-threatening paediatric illness: Cystic fibrosis and severe asthma. Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society (PATS), 2, Abstract Issue, 520.
(11) Shelton, S. F., & Mabe, P. A. (2006). Spiritual Coping Among Chronically Ill Children. In S. D. Ambrose (Ed.), Religion and Psychology: New Research. (pp. 52-71). New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.
(12) Griffiths, A. I. (2010). “God the Father”: Religious Coping to Compensate for Primary Attachment Figures during Childhood Crises. Thesis for the Degree of MPhil in Social and Developmental Psychology, University of Cambridge, 1-100.
Melanie discusses psychopathic tendancies and their presence in the work place.
This month Samantha focuses on co-dependency, an unhealthy love which exists across a spectrum of relationships
Jayanthiny shows the influence oratory, using some of the world's most famous leaders as examples
In this insightful article Helen turns our attention to the often overlooked issue of male eating disorders
Appropriate to our burst of good weather, Claire discusses SAD - a form of depression induced by the changing seasons
Georgina contributes to the nature versus nurture debate with this discussion on the social construction of gender
Ever had an 'out of body experience'? Jules highlights the case of dissociative disorders
Daniel discusses the conflict between the rational and the logical, with emphasis on real-life situations
Daniel discusses the conflict between rationality and logic, with a focus on real-life situations
In this insightful article, Daniel discusses the conflict between the rational and the logical
Liila discusses whether Absolute Pitch is hereditory as the innate model suggests, or something which is attainable to us all.
Amy explores whether shopping induces therapeutic effects or simply hurts the pocket
Wayne continues his series with "Liberation Psychology", a closer interaction between theory and practice.
Mairead discusses the relationship between and distinguishing features of ADHD and conduct disorder
Phillip joins the team this month to give a critical appraisal of the diagnostics and statistics manual of mental disorders
This month Emma critiques the so-called 'Mozart Effect' and presents several perspectives on the influence of music during the formative years
Grace explores our counter-intuitive attraction to all things horror..
Alan writes on schizophrenia, giving an account of the historical developments within this field leading to what we know today