Psychology of religion consists of the application of psychological methods and interpretive frameworks to religious traditions, as well as to both religious and irreligious individuals. The science attempts to accurately describe the details, origins, and uses of religious beliefs and behaviors. Although the psychology of religion first arose as a self-conscious discipline as recently as the late 19th century, all three of these tasks have a history going back many centuries before that.
Many areas of religion remain unexplored by psychology. While religion and spirituality play a role in many people’s lives, it is uncertain how they lead to outcomes that are at times positive, and at other times negative. Thus, the pathways and outcomes that underlie these associations (and sometimes causations) need additional research. Continued dialogue between psychology and theology may foster greater understanding and benefit both fields.
- 1 Overview
- 2 History
- 2.1 William James
- 2.2 Other early theorists
- 2.3 Modern thinkers
- 3 Hypotheses on the role of religion
- 4 Psychometric approaches to religion
- 5 Developmental approaches to religion
- 6 Religion and prayer
- 7 Religion and ritual
- 8 Religion and health
- 9 Evolutionary psychology of religion
- 10 Religion and drugs
- 11 Religion and meditation
- 12 Controversy
- 13 Other views
- 14 Religion and psychotherapy
- 15 Pastoral psychology
- 16 See also
- 17 References
- 18 Bibliography
- 19 External links
The challenge for the psychology of religion is essentially threefold: (1) to provide a thoroughgoing description of the objects of investigation, whether they be shared religious content (e.g., a tradition's ritual observances) or individual experiences, attitudes, or conduct; (2) to account in psychological terms for the rise of such phenomena; and (3) to clarify the outcomes—the fruits, as William James put it—of these phenomena, for individuals and for the larger society.
The first, descriptive task naturally requires a clarification of one's terms, above all, the word religion. Historians of religion have long underscored the problematic character of this term, noting that its usage over the centuries has changed in significant ways, generally in the direction of reification. The early psychologists of religion were fully aware of these difficulties, typically acknowledging that the definitions they were choosing to use were to some degree arbitrary. With the rise of positivistic trends in psychology over the course of the 20th century, especially the demand that all phenomena be measured, psychologists of religion developed a multitude of scales, most of them developed for use with Protestant Christians. Factor analysis was also brought into play by both psychologists and sociologists of religion, in an effort to establish a fixed core of dimensions and a corresponding set of scales. The justification and adequacy of these efforts, especially in the light of constructivist and other postmodern viewpoints, remains a matter of debate.
In the last several decades, especially among clinical psychologists, a preference for the terms "spirituality" and "spiritual" has emerged, along with efforts to distinguish them from "religion" and "religious." Especially in the United States, "religion" has for many become associated with sectarian institutions and their obligatory creeds and rituals, thus giving the word a negative cast; "spirituality," in contrast, is positively constructed as deeply individual and subjective, as a universal capacity to apprehend and accord one's life with higher realities. In fact, "spirituality" has likewise undergone an evolution in the West, from a time when it was essentially a synonym for religion in its original, subjective meaning. Today, efforts are ongoing to "operationalize" these terms, with little regard for their history in their Western context and with the apparent realist assumption that underlying them are fixed qualities identifiable by means of empirical procedures.
American psychologist and philosopher William James (1842–1910) is regarded by most psychologists of religion as the founder of the field. He served as president of the American Psychological Association, and wrote one of the first psychology textbooks. In the psychology of religion, James' influence endures. His Varieties of Religious Experience is considered to be the classic work in the field, and references to James' ideas are common at professional conferences.
James distinguished between institutional religion and personal religion. Institutional religion refers to the religious group or organization, and plays an important part in a society's culture. Personal religion, in which the individual has mystical experience, can be experienced regardless of the culture. James was most interested in understanding personal religious experience.
In studying personal religious experiences, James made a distinction between healthy-minded and sick-souled religiousness. Individuals predisposed to healthy-mindedness tend to ignore the evil in the world and focus on the positive and the good. James used examples of Walt Whitman and the "mind-cure" religious movement to illustrate healthy-mindedness in The Varieties of Religious Experience. In contrast, individuals predisposed to having a sick-souled religion are unable to ignore evil and suffering, and need a unifying experience, religious or otherwise, to reconcile good and evil. James included quotations from Leo Tolstoy and John Bunyan to illustrate the sick soul.
William James' hypothesis of pragmatism stems from the efficacy of religion. If an individual believes in and performs religious activities, and those actions happen to work, then that practice appears the proper choice for the individual. However, if the processes of religion have little efficacy, then there is no rationality for continuing the practice.
Other early theorists
Hegel (1770-1831) described all systems of religion, philosophy, and social science as expressions of the basic urge of consciousness to learn about itself and its surroundings, and record its findings and hypotheses. Thus, religion is only a form of that search for knowledge, within which humans record various experiences and reflections. Others, compiling and categorizing these writings in various ways, form the consolidated worldview as articulated by that religion, philosophy, social science, etc. His work The Phenomenology of Spirit was a study of how various types of writing and thinking draw from and re-combine with the individual and group experiences of various places and times, influencing the current forms of knowledge and worldviews that are operative in a population. This activity is the functioning of an incomplete group mind, where each individual is accessing the recorded wisdom of others. His works often include detailed descriptions of the psychological motivations involved in thought and behavior, e.g., the struggle of a community or nation to know itself and thus correctly govern itself. In Hegel's system, Religion is one of the major repositories of wisdom to be used in these struggles, representing a huge body of recollections from humanity's past in various stages of its development.
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) gave explanations of the genesis of religion in his various writings. In Totem and Taboo, he applied the idea of the Oedipus complex (involving unresolved sexual feelings of, for example, a son toward his mother and hostility toward his father) and postulated its emergence in the primordial stage of human development.
In Moses and Monotheism, Freud reconstructed biblical history in accordance with his general theory. His ideas were also developed in The Future of an Illusion. When Freud spoke of religion as an illusion, he maintained that it is a fantasy structure from which a man must be set free if he is to grow to maturity.
Freud views the idea of God as being a version of the father image, and religious belief as at bottom infantile and neurotic. Authoritarian religion, Freud believed, is dysfunctional and alienates man from himself.
The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875–1961) adopted a very different posture, one that was more sympathetic to religion and more concerned with a positive appreciation of religious symbolism. Jung considered the question of the existence of God to be unanswerable by the psychologist and adopted a kind of agnosticism.
Jung postulated, in addition to the personal unconscious (roughly adopting Freud's concept), the collective unconscious, which is the repository of human experience and which contains "archetypes" (i.e. basic images that are universal in that they recur regardless of culture). The irruption of these images from the unconscious into the realm of consciousness he viewed as the basis of religious experience and often of artistic creativity. Some of Jung's writings have been devoted to elucidating some of the archetypal symbols, and include his work in comparative mythology.
Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler (1870–1937), who parted ways with Freud, emphasised the role of goals and motivation in his Individual Psychology. One of Adler's most famous ideas is that we try to compensate for inferiorities that we perceive in ourselves. A lack of power often lies at the root of feelings of inferiority. One way that religion enters into this picture is through our beliefs in God, which are characteristic of our tendency to strive for perfection and superiority. For example, in many religions God is considered to be perfect and omnipotent, and commands people likewise to be perfect. If we, too, achieve perfection, we become one with God. By identifying with God in this way, we compensate for our imperfections and feelings of inferiority.
Our ideas about God are important indicators of how we view the world. According to Adler, these ideas have changed over time, as our vision of the world – and our place in it – has changed. Consider this example that Adler offers: the traditional belief that people were placed deliberately on earth as God's ultimate creation is being replaced with the idea that people have evolved by natural selection. This coincides with a view of God not as a real being, but as an abstract representation of nature's forces. In this way our view of God has changed from one that was concrete and specific to one that is more general. From Adler's vantage point, this is a relatively ineffective perception of God because it is so general that it fails to convey a strong sense of direction and purpose.
An important thing for Adler is that God (or the idea of God) motivates people to act, and that those actions do have real consequences for ourselves and for others. Our view of God is important because it embodies our goals and directs our social interactions.
Compared to science, another social movement, religion is more efficient because it motivates people more effectively. According to Adler, only when science begins to capture the same religious fervour, and promotes the welfare of all segments of society, will the two be more equal in peoples' eyes.
In his classic book The Individual and His Religion (1950), Gordon Allport (1897–1967) illustrates how people may use religion in different ways. He makes a distinction between Mature religion and Immature religion. Mature religious sentiment is how Allport characterized the person whose approach to religion is dynamic, open-minded, and able to maintain links between inconsistencies. In contrast, immature religion is self-serving and generally represents the negative stereotypes that people have about religion. More recently, this distinction has been encapsulated in the terms "intrinsic religion", referring to a genuine, heartfelt devout faith, and "extrinsic religion", referring to a more utilitarian use of religion as a means to an end, such as church attendance to gain social status. These dimensions of religion were measured on the Religious Orientation Scale of Allport and Ross (1967). A third form of religious orientation has been described by Daniel Batson. This refers to treatment of religion as an open-ended search (Batson, Schoenrade & Ventis, 1993). More specifically, it has been seen by Batson as comprising a willingness to view religious doubts in a positive manner, acceptance that religious orientation can change and existential complexity, the belief that one's religious beliefs should be shaped from personal crises that one has experienced in one's life. Batson refers to extrinsic, intrinsic and quest respectively as Religion-as-means, religion-as-end and religion-as-quest, and measures these constructs on the Religious Life Inventory (Batson, Schoenrade & Ventis, 1993).
Erik H. Erikson
Erik Erikson (1902–1994) is best known for his theory of psychological development, which has its roots in the psychoanalytic importance of identity in personality. His biographies of Gandhi and Martin Luther reveal Erikson's positive view of religion. He considered religions to be important influences in successful personality development because they are the primary way that cultures promote the virtues associated with each stage of life. Religious rituals facilitate this development. Erikson's theory has not benefited from systematic empirical study, but it remains an influential and well-regarded theory in the psychological study of religion.
The American scholar Erich Fromm (1900–1980) modified the Freudian theory and produced a more complex account of the functions of religion. In his book Psychoanalysis and Religion he responded to Freud's theories by explaining that part of the modification is viewing the Oedipus complex as based not so much on sexuality as on a "much more profound desire", namely, the childish desire to remain attached to protecting figures. The right religion, in Fromm's estimation, can, in principle, foster an individual's highest potentialities, but religion in practice tends to relapse into being neurotic.
According to Fromm, humans have a need for a stable frame of reference. Religion apparently fills this need. In effect, humans crave answers to questions that no other source of knowledge has an answer to, which only religion may seem to answer. However, a sense of free will must be given in order for religion to appear healthy. An authoritarian notion of religion appears detrimental.
Rudolf Otto (1869–1937) was a German Protestant theologian and scholar of comparative religion. Otto's most famous work, The Idea of the Holy (published first in 1917 as Das Heilige), defines the concept of the holy as that which is numinous. Otto explained the numinous as a "non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self." It is a mystery (Latin: mysterium tremendum) that is both fascinating (fascinans) and terrifying at the same time; A mystery that causes trembling and fascination, attempting to explain that inexpressible and perhaps supernatural emotional reaction of wonder drawing us to seemingly ordinary and/or religious experiences of grace. This sense of emotional wonder appears evident at the root of all religious experiences. Through this emotional wonder, we suspend our rational mind for non-rational possibilities.
It also sets a paradigm for the study of religion that focuses on the need to realise the religious as a non-reducible, original category in its own right. This paradigm was under much attack between approximately 1950 and 1990 but has made a strong comeback since then.
Allen Bergin is noted for his 1980 paper "Psychotherapy and Religious Values," which is known as a landmark in scholarly acceptance that religious values do, in practice, influence psychotherapy. He received the Distinguished Professional Contributions to Knowledge award from the American Psychological Association in 1989 and was cited as challenging "psychological orthodoxy to emphasize the importance of values and religion in therapy."
Robert Emmons offered a theory of "spiritual strivings" in his 1999 book, The Psychology of Ultimate Concerns. With support from empirical studies, Emmons argued that spiritual strivings foster personality integration because they exist at a higher level of the personality.
Kenneth Pargament is noted for his book Psychology of Religion and Coping (1997; see article), as well as for a 2007 book on religion and psychotherapy, and a sustained research program on religious coping. He is professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University (Ohio, USA), and has published more than 100 papers on the subject of religion and spirituality in psychology. Pargament led the design of a questionnaire called the "RCOPE" to measure Religious Coping strategies. Pargament has distinguished between three types of styles for coping with stress: 1) Collaborative, in which people co-operate with God to deal with stressful events; 2) Deferring, in which people leave everything to God; and 3) Self-directed, in which people do not rely on God and try exclusively to solve problems by their own efforts. He also describes four major stances toward religion that have been adopted by psychotherapists in their work with clients, which he calls the religiously rejectionist, exclusivist, constructivist, and pluralist stances.
James Hillman, at the end of his book Re-Visioning Psychology, reverses James' position of viewing religion through psychology, urging instead that we view psychology as a variety of religious experience. He concludes: "Psychology as religion implies imagining all psychological events as effects of Gods in the soul."
Julian Jaynes, primarily in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, proposed that religion (and some other psychological phenomena such as hypnosis and schizophrenia) is a remnant of a relatively recent time in human development, prior to the advent of consciousness. Jaynes hypothesized that hallucinated verbal commands helped non-conscious early man to perform tasks promoting human survival. Starting about 10,000 BCE, selective pressures favored the hallucinated verbal commands for social control, and they came to be perceived as an external, rather than internal, voice commanding the person to take some action. These were hence often explained as originating from invisible gods, spirits, ancestors, etc. 
Hypotheses on the role of religion
There are three primary hypotheses on the role of religion in the modern world.
The first hypothesis, secularization, holds that science and technology will take the place of religion. Secularization supports the separation of religion from politics, ethics, and psychology. Taking this position even further, Taylor explains that secularization denies transcendence, divinity, and rationality in religious beliefs.
Challenges to the secularization hypothesis led to significant revisions, resulting in the religious transformation hypothesis. This perspective holds that general trends towards individualism and social disintegration will produce changes in religion, making religious practice more individualized and spiritually focused. This in turn is expected to produce more spiritual seeking, although not exclusive to religious institutions. Eclecticism, which draws from multiple religious/spiritual systems and New Age movements are also predicted to result.
In response to the religious transformation hypothesis, Ronald Inglehart piloted the renewal of the secularization hypothesis. His argument hinges on the premise that religion develops to fill the human need for security. Therefore the development of social and economic security in Europe explains its corresponding secularization due to a lack of need for religion. However, religion continues in the third world where social and economic insecurity are rampant. The overall effect is expected to be a growing cultural disparity.
Psychometric approaches to religion
Since the 1960s psychologists of religion have used the methodology of psychometrics to assess different ways in which a person may be religious. An example is the Religious Orientation Scale of Allport and Ross, which measures how respondents stand on intrinsic and extrinsic religion as described by Allport. More recent questionnaires include the Religious Life Inventory of Batson, Schoenrade and Ventis, and the Age-Universal I-E Scale of Gorsuch and Venable. The former assesses where people stand on three distinct forms of religious orientation – religion as means, religion as end, and religion as quest. The latter assesses Spiritual Support and Spiritual Openness.
Religious orientations and religious dimensions
Some questionnaires, such as the Religious Orientation Scale, relate to different religious orientations, such as intrinsic and extrinsic religiousness, referring to different motivations for religious allegiance. A rather different approach, taken, for example, by Glock and Stark (1965), has been to list different dimensions of religion rather than different religious orientations, which relates to how an individual may manifest different forms of being religious. (More on Stark's work can be found in the article on Sociology of Religion.) Glock and Stark's famous typology described five dimensions of religion – the doctrinal, the intellectual, the ethical-consequential, the ritual, and the experiential. In later work these authors subdivided the ritual dimension into devotional and public ritual, and also clarified that their distinction of religion along multiple dimensions was not identical to distinguishing religious orientations. Although some psychologists of religion have found it helpful to take a multidimensional approach to religion for the purpose of psychometric scale design, there has been, as Wulff (1997) explains, considerable controversy about whether religion should really be seen as multidimensional.
Questionnaires to assess religious experience
What we call religious experiences can differ greatly. Some reports exist of supernatural happenings that it would be difficult to explain from a rational, scientific point of view. On the other hand, there also exist the sort of testimonies that simply seem to convey a feeling of peace or oneness – something which most of us, religious or not, may possibly relate to. In categorizing religious experiences it is perhaps helpful to look at them as explicable through one of two theories: the Objectivist thesis or the Subjectivist thesis.
An objectivist would argue that the religious experience is a proof of God's existence. However, others have criticised the reliability of religious experiences. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes asked how it was possible to tell the difference between talking to God in a dream, and dreaming about talking to God.
The Subjectivist view argues that it is not necessary to think of religious experiences as evidence for the existence of an actual being whom we call God. From this point of view, the important thing is the experience itself and the effect that it has on the individual.
Developmental approaches to religion
By far the most well-known stage model of spiritual or religious development is that of James W. Fowler, a developmental psychologist at the Candler School of Theology, in his Stages of Faith. He follows Piaget and Kohlberg and has proposed a staged development of faith (or spiritual development) across the lifespan in terms of a holistic orientation, and is concerned with the individual's relatedness to the universal.
The book-length study contains a framework and ideas considered by many to be insightful and which have generated a good deal of response from those interested in religion, so it appears to have at least a reasonable degree of face validity. James Fowler proposes six stages of faith development as follows: 1. Intuitive-projective 2. Symbolic Literal 3. Synthetic Conventional 4. Individuating 5. Paradoxical (conjunctive) 6. Universalising. Although there is evidence that children up to the age of twelve years do tend to be in the first two of these stages, there is evidence that adults over the age of sixty-one do show considerable variation in displays of qualities of Stages 3 and beyond. Fowler's model has generated some empirical studies, and fuller descriptions of this research (and of these six stages) can be found in Wulff (1991). However, this model has been attacked from a standpoint of scientific research due to methodological weaknesses. Of Fowler's six stages, only the first two found empirical support, and these were heavily based upon Piaget's stages of cognitive development. The tables and graphs in the book were presented in such a way that the last four stages appeared to be validated, but the requirements of statistical verification of the stages did not come close to having been met. The study was not published in a journal, so was not peer-reviewed, and never drew much attention from psychologists. Other critics of Fowler have questioned whether his ordering of the stages really reflects his own commitment to a rather liberal Christian Protestant outlook, as if to say that people who adopt a similar viewpoint to Fowler are at higher stages of faith development. Nevertheless, the concepts Fowler introduced seemed to hit home with those in the circles of academic religion, and have been an important starting point for various theories and subsequent studies.
Religion and prayer
Prayer is fairly prevalent in the United States. About 75% of the United States reports praying at least once a week. However, the practice of prayer is more prevalent and practiced more consistently among Americans who perform other religious practices. There are four primary types of prayer in the West. Poloma and Pendleton, utilized factor analysis to delineate these four types of prayer: meditative (more spiritual, silent thinking), ritualistic (reciting), petitionary (making requests to God), and colloquial (general conversing with God). Further scientific study of prayer using factor analysis has revealed three dimensions of prayer. Ladd and Spilka’s first factor was awareness of self, inward reaching. Their second and third factors were upward reaching (toward God) and outward reaching (toward others). This study appears to support the contemporary model of prayer as connection (whether to the self, higher being, or others).
Prayer appears to have health implications. Empirical studies suggest that mindfully reading and reciting the Psalms (from scripture) can help a person calm down and focus. Prayer is also positively correlated with happiness and religious satisfaction (Poloma & Pendleton, 1989, 1991). Overall, slight health benefits have been found fairly consistently across studies. Three main pathways to explain this trend have been offered: placebo effect, focus and attitude adjustment, and activation of healing processes. (Whether the activation of healing processes explanation is supernatural or biological, or even both, is beyond the scope of this study and this article.)
Religion and ritual
Another significant form of religious practice is ritual. Religious rituals encompass a wide array of practices, but can be defined as the performance of similar actions and vocal expressions based on prescribed tradition and cultural norms. Examples include the Jewish Bar Mitzvah, Christian Holy Eucharist, Hindu Puja, and Muslim Salat and Hajj.
Scheff suggests that ritual provides catharsis, emotional purging, through distancing. This emotional distancing enables an individual to experience feelings with an amount of separation, and thus less intensity. However, the conception of religious ritual as an interactive process has since matured and become more scientifically established. From this view, ritual offers a means to catharsis through behaviors that foster connection with others, allowing for emotional expression. This focus on connection contrasts to the separation that seems to underlie Scheff’s view.
Additional research suggests the social component of ritual. For instance, findings suggest that ritual performance indicates group commitment and prevents the uncommitted from gaining membership benefits. Ritual may aid in emphasizing moral values that serve as group norms and regulate societies. It may also strengthen commitment to moral convictions and likelihood of upholding these social expectations. Thus, performance of rituals may foster social group stability.
Religion and health
There is considerable literature on the relationship between religion and health. Psychologists consider that there are various ways in which religion may benefit both physical and mental health, including encouraging healthy lifestyles, providing social support networks and encouraging an optimistic outlook on life; prayer and meditation may also help to benefit physiological functioning. The journal "American Psychologist" published important papers on this topic in 2003. Haber, Jacob and Spangler have considered how different dimensions of religiosity may relate to health benefits in different ways.
Religion and physical health
Religion appears to positively correlate with physical health. For instance, mortality rates are lower among people who frequently attend religious events and consider themselves both religious and spiritual. One possibility is that religion provides physical health benefits indirectly. Church attendees present with lower rates of alcohol consumption and improvement in mood, which is associated with better physical health. Kenneth Pargament is a major contributor to the theory of how individuals may use religion as a resource in coping with stress, His work seems to show the influence of attribution theory. Additional evidence suggests that this relationship between religion and physical health may be causal. Religion may reduce likelihood of certain diseases. Studies suggest that it guards against cardiovascular disease by reducing blood pressure, and also improves immune system functioning.
Religion and mental health
Religion is certainly not a guarantee for mental health. Evidence suggests that it can be a pathway to both mental health and mental disorder. For example, religiosity is positively associated with mental disorders that involve an excessive amount of self-control and negatively associated with mental disorders that involve a lack of self-control. Other studies have found indications of mental health among both the religious and the secular. For instance, Vilchinsky & Kravetz found negative correlations with psychological distress among religious and secular subgroups of Jewish students.
Yet, overall, religion is positively linked with mental health. This might be due to the guiding framework or social support that it offers to individuals. By these routes, religion has the potential to offer security and significance in life, as well as valuable human relationships, to foster mental health. Religion also provides coping skills to deal with stressors, or demands perceived as straining. Pargament’s three primary styles of religious coping are 1) self-directing, characterized by self-reliance and acknowledgement of God, 2) deferring, in which a person passively attributes responsibility to God, and 3) collaborative, which involves an active partnership between the individual and God and is most commonly associated with positive adjustment. This model of religious coping has been criticized for its over-simplicity and failure to take into account other factors, such as level of religiosity, specific religion, and type of stressor.
Evolutionary psychology of religion
Evolutionary psychology is based on the hypothesis that, just like hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, and immune systems, cognition has functional structure that has a genetic basis, and therefore evolved by natural selection. Like other organs and tissues, this functional structure should be universally shared amongst humans and should solve important problems of survival and reproduction. Evolutionary psychologists seek to understand cognitive processes by understanding the survival and reproductive functions they might serve.
Pascal Boyer is one of the leading figures in the cognitive psychology of religion, a new field of inquiry that is less than fifteen years old, which accounts for the psychological processes that underlie religious thought and practice. In his book Religion Explained, Boyer shows that there is no simple explanation for religious consciousness. Boyer is mainly concerned with explaining the various psychological processes involved in the acquisition and transmission of ideas concerning the gods. Boyer builds on the ideas of cognitive anthropologists Dan Sperber and Scott Atran, who first argued that religious cognition represents a by-product of various evolutionary adaptations, including folk psychology, and purposeful violations of innate expectations about how the world is constructed (for example, bodiless beings with thoughts and emotions) that make religious cognitions striking and memorable.
Religious persons acquire religious ideas and practices through social exposure. The child of a Zen Buddhist will not become an evangelical Christian or a Zulu warrior without the relevant cultural experience. While mere exposure does not cause a particular religious outlook (a person may have been raised a Roman Catholic but leave the church), nevertheless some exposure seems required – this person will never invent Roman Catholicism out of thin air. Boyer says cognitive science can help us to understand the psychological mechanisms that account for these manifest correlations and in so doing enable us to better understand the nature of religious belief and practice. To the extent that the mechanisms controlling the acquisitions and transmission of religious concepts rely on human brains, the mechanisms are open to computational analysis. All thought is computationally structured, including religious thought. So presumably, computational approaches can shed light on the nature and scope of religious cognition.
Boyer moves outside the leading currents in mainstream cognitive psychology and suggests that we can use evolutionary biology to unravel the relevant mental architecture. Our brains are, after all, biological objects, and the best naturalistic account of their development in nature is Darwin's theory of evolution. To the extent that mental architecture exhibits intricate processes and structures, it is plausible to think that this is the result of evolutionary processes working over vast periods of time. Like all biological systems, the mind is optimised to promote survival and reproduction in the evolutionary environment. On this view all specialised cognitive functions broadly serve those reproductive ends.
For Steven Pinker the universal propensity toward religious belief is a genuine scientific puzzle. He thinks that adaptationist explanations for religion do not meet the criteria for adaptations. An alternative explanation is that religious psychology is a by-product of many parts of the mind that evolved for other purposes.
Religion and drugs
James H. Leuba
The American psychologist James H. Leuba (1868–1946), in A Psychological Study of Religion, accounts for mystical experience psychologically and physiologically, pointing to analogies with certain drug-induced experiences. Leuba argued forcibly for a naturalistic treatment of religion, which he considered to be necessary if religious psychology were to be looked at scientifically. Shamans all over the world and in different cultures have traditionally used drugs, especially psychedelics, for their religious experiences. In these communities the absorption of drugs leads to dreams (visions) through sensory distortion.
William James was also interested in mystical experiences from a drug-induced perspective, leading him to make some experiments with nitrous oxide and even peyote. He concludes that while the revelations of the mystic hold true, they hold true only for the mystic; for others they are certainly ideas to be considered, but hold no claim to truth without personal experience of such.
Drug-induced religious experiences
- See main article entheogen on the use of psychoactive substances in a religious or shamanic context.
The drugs used by religious communities for their hallucinogenic effects were adopted for explicit and implicit religious functions and purposes. The drugs were and are reported to enhance religious experience through visions and a distortion of the sensory perception (like in dreams in a state of sleep).
- Cannabis, which grows all over the world except in very cold climates, is used in religious practices in Indian and African communities
- Certain psychedelic mushrooms are used by Indians in Latin America, especially in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico The chief species is Psilocybe mexicana, of which the active principles are psilocin and its derivative psilocybin, in their chemical composition and activity not unlike LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide); the latter is synthesized from the alkaloids (principally ergotamine and ergonovine) that are constituents of ergot, a growth present in grasses affected by the disease also called ergot. Amanita muscaria (fly agaric) is another mushroom having hallucinogenic properties that has not been thoroughly studied. Fly agaric is mildly toxic at high dosages and is said to have, in addition to its hallucinogenic properties, the ability to increase strength and endurance. It is said also to be a soporific. Fly agaric may be extremely important, since it may have been the natural source of the ritual soma drink of the ancient Hindus and the comparable haoma used by the Zoroastrians. However most researchers point toward ephedra as the main ingredient of Soma. Henry Falk stated that "there is no need to look for a plant other than Ephedra, the one plant used to this day by the Parsis."  Ephedra is both a stimulant and a thermogenic; its biological effects are due to its ephedrine and pseudoephedrine content. These compounds stimulate the brain and also body metabolism.
- Peyote used by some Indian communities of Mexico. The chief active principle of peyote is an alkaloid called mescaline. Like psilocin and psilocybin, mescaline is reputed to produce visions and other evidences of a mystical nature. Despite claims of missionaries and some government agents that peyote – from the Nahuatl word peyotl ("divine messenger") – is a degenerative and dangerous drug, there appears to be no evidence of this among the members of the Native American Church, a North American Indian cult that uses peyote in its chief religious ceremony. Peyote, like most other hallucinogenic drugs, is not considered to be addictive and, far from being a destructive influence, is reputed by cultists and some observers to promote morality and ethical behaviour among the Indians who use it ritually.
- Ayahuasca, caapi, or yajé, is produced from the stem bark of the vines Banisteriopsis caapi and B. inebrians. Indians who use it claim that its virtues include healing powers and the power to induce clairvoyance, among others. This drink has been certified by investigators to produce remarkable effects, often involving the sensation of flying. The effects are thought to be attributable to the action of harmine, a very stable indole that is the active principle in the plant. While the Indians themselves attribute the properties of the drink Ayahuasca to B. caapi, this is not the common scientific view; the MAOIs present in the B. caapi instead allow the extremely psychedelic ingredients in other plants added to the brew, noticeably plants containing DMT, to be activated and produce an intense experience.
- Kava drink, prepared from the roots of Piper methysticum, a species of pepper, and seemingly more of a hypnotic-narcotic than a hallucinogen, is used both socially and ritually in the South Pacific, especially in Polynesia.
- Iboga, a stimulant and hallucinogen derived from the root bark of the African shrub Tabernanthe iboga is used within the Bwiti religion in Central Africa. The active ingredient in T. iboga is ibogaine, a drug that has been studied for its use in treating addiction.
- Coca, source of cocaine, has had both ritual and social use chiefly in Peru.
- Datura, one species of which is the jimsonweed, is used by native peoples in North and South America; the active principle, however, is highly toxic and dangerous. A drink prepared from the shrub *Mimosa hostilis, which is said to produce glorious visions in warriors before battle, is used ritually in the ajuca ceremony of the Jurema cult in eastern Brazil.
- Salvia divinorum, a member of the sage family of plants, is a hallucinogen used by Mazatec shamans for "spiritual journeys" during healing.
Religion and meditation
The large variety of meditation techniques shares the common goal of shifting attention away from habitual or customary modes of thinking and perception, in order to permit experiencing in a different way. Many religious and spiritual traditions that employ meditation assert that the world most of us know is an illusion. This illusion is said to be created by our habitual mode of separating, classifying and labelling our perceptual experiences. Meditation is empirical in that it involves direct experience. However it is also subjective in that the meditative state can be directly known only by the experiencer, and may be difficult or impossible to fully describe in words. Meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness characterised by a loss of awareness of extraneous stimuli, one-pointed attention to the meditation object to the exclusion of all other thoughts, and feelings of bliss.
Many psychologists reject religion. For instance, Sigmund Freud viewed religion as an illusion, a sign of psychological neurosis. Additionally Eric Fromm’s humanistic psychology centers on man and rejects authoritarian religion. However, religious scholars and psychologists advocating the study of religion have contested such views. Paul Vitz critiqued Fromm’s self-centered approach to psychology and labeled humanist psychology as a religion, unsupported by scientific inquiry. Reber asserted that exclusion of the study of religion only limits psychology’s understanding of human behavior. Others argue that a psychological study of human personality necessitates, at minimum, an acknowledgment of the impact religion has on many humans.
A 2012 paper suggested that psychiatric conditions associated with psychotic spectrum symptoms may be possible explanations for revelatory driven experiences and activities such as those of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Saint Paul.
Religion and psychotherapy
Various forms of explicitly religious psychotherapies that maintain the traditional psychological framework have recently become more prevalent. Clients’ religious beliefs are increasingly being considered in psychotherapy with the goal of improving service and effectiveness of treatment. A resulting development was theistic psychotherapy. Conceptually, it consists of theological principles, a theistic view of personality, and a theistic view of psychotherapy. Following an explicit minimizing strategy, therapists attempt to minimize conflict by acknowledging their religious views while being respectful of client’s religious views. This opens up the potential for therapists to directly utilize religious practices and principles in therapy, such as prayer, forgiveness, and grace.
One application of the psychology of religion is in pastoral psychology, the use of psychological findings to improve the pastoral care provided by pastors and other clergy, especially in how they support ordinary members of their congregations. Pastoral psychology is also concerned with improving the practice of chaplains in healthcare and in the military. One major concern of pastoral psychology is to improve the practice of pastoral counseling. Pastoral psychology is a topic of interest for professional journals such as Pastoral Psychology, Journal of Psychology and Christianity, and Journal of Psychology and Theology. In 1984, Thomas Oden severely criticized mid-20th century pastoral care and the pastoral psychology that guided it as having entirely abandoned its classical/traditional sources, and having become overwhelmingly dominated by modern psychological influences from Freud, Rogers, and others. More recently, others have described pastoral psychology as a field that experiences a tension between psychology and theology.
- Altered state of consciousness
- Cognitive science of religion
- Issues in Science and Religion
- Journals for the Psychology of religion
- Magical thinking
- Philosophy of religion
- Social Evolution
- Sociology of religion
- Attachment theory and psychology of religion
- Transpersonal Psychology
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- Psychology of religion pages
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- Psychology of Religious Doubt
- Psychology of religion in Germany
- International Association for the Scientific Study of Religion