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Book Review: an Introduction to Psychology of Religion
An Introduction to Psychology of Religion is not a religious book. It is a book of psychology about religion. Although religion and theology were touched on and covered, it was not the focus.
Part I: The Psychological Study of Religion.
Part one includes the first two chapters. Crapps attempts to tackle the problems and possibilities of the scientific methods used to analyze behavior. Over the last century, psychology and religion have remained in touch with each other. The boundaries are not always clear. Crapps developed An Introduction to Psychology of Religion from his experiences in the classroom and interactions with students.
The concerns of religious behavior are ancient. People have long contemplated the meaning and behavior related to divinity. Theologians and psychologist initially regarded the psychological study of religion as an invasion of holy places and left it to the supernatural for explanations.
For some, religion means going to church, a temple or a synagogue. For other it is a sense of order in their life. Religion is faith and feeling, organism and organization, doing and being (Crapps, 1986). According to Crapps, there is no precise, normative definition of psychology and religion. Religion has many formal, institutional and organizational faces. Traditions, sects, and denominations further subdivide the organizational structures. Religion also has a personal component with experiences within the institutional settings. Another facet of religion acknowledges the holistic approach that is beyond the fragmented experiences of individuals. In other words, religion is more than just individual experiences; it is a collective. Crapps used the contrasts and comparisons to illustrate the nuances of the psychological study of religion. Theologians and psychologist share the common goal of exploring the deeper meaning of religion.
Psychology of religion is the scientific study of religious people and their behaviors. It is the effort of scientists to study and quantify religious behaviors. Psychology of religion introduces in specific terms the long-standing general question of the relationship of sciences and religion (Crapps, 1986). Some try to compartmentalize science from religion. Psychology of religion cannot survive such separation.
Abraham Maslow challenged the neutral notion of value-free science. He called it dangerous. Scientists have intuition, opinions, and subjective views. These expressions may stimulate and investigation of an idea. Intuition and speculation might have set disciplined observation in motion; but after the study had begun, the scientific method would attempt to exclude all personal elements (Crapps, 1986). Systematic methods attempt to decrease and block personal biases. Therefore, theologians and psychologists can successfully apply scientific methods of observations to religious behaviors.
There are many approaches to science and scientific studies. The common western thinking includes the fundamental, methodical step-by-step process of 1) description, 2) analysis, 3) hypothesis, and 4) testing. However, there are some of the inherent problems with the scientific approach when applied to religious behaviors.
Part II: Psychological Interpretations of Religion.
Chapters three through five of part two focuses on the contributions of psychological traditions such as psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanistic psychology as a means to explain our understanding of religious behavior.
Sigmon Freud is known as the father of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is a method for treating certain types of mental illness. Freud was train as a physician. He specialized in the treatment of nervous disorders. Freud focused his attention on the power of the unconscious mind. Moreover, how the mind affects behavior. He spent his career developing skills and techniques to help clients manage and control unconscious behaviors.
Freud believed the personality was made of three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. As he explains it, the id is the primitive, pleasure seeking part. The superego is the voice of reason that keeps us in balance. It is restricts and regulates through anxiety. The ego is the executive part that makes its judgment based on the id and superego. Freud thought of religion as an obsession and the fulfillment of infantile wishes. For Freud, religion was just another pattern of behaviors. He looked to science for answers and discounted religion as an illusion.
Conversely, for Carl Jung, religion was significant. He saw the collective unconscious as more important than the individual unconscious. He believed the collective unconscious continued from generation to generation through archetypes. According to Jung, archetypes are the stuff that makeup religion. It is important to note that Jung never affirmed the existence of God.
According to Crapps (1986), Erik Erikson is the most widely discussed and influential of recent psychologist. Erikson developed the eight stages of development. Stage 1) is oral sensory, 2) muscular-anal, 3) locomotor-genital, 4) latency, 5) adolescence, 6) young adulthood, 7) adulthood, and 8) old age-maturity. Erikson made no claim to understand religion but sought to shed light on the process. Erikson saw man's religious destiny as a part of the maturation of personal virtues.
Psychoanalysts have served well in clarifying "natural" religion, that is, that kind that emerges from within the inner character and resources of persons, but has not managed revealed religion very well (Crapps, 1986). Psychoanalysts have merely looked at one dimension of religion. Crapps ended the chapter with a quote from Freud's friend, Oscar Pfister, who was a Swiss pastor. "Psychoanalysis is the most fruitful part of psychology, but is not the whole of the science of the mind, and still less a philosophy of life and the world."
Psychology as a scientific study has been criticized and rejected by some religionist as an illegitimate method for studying religion (Crapps, 1986). They insist that psychology needs be become more experimental and empirical with analysis of human behavior. Empirical meaning testing and measuring. Behaviorism has neglected the study of religion. Behaviorism assumes religion is a behavior like all other behaviors. Behaviorists are motivated by the notion of a "pure" science. They develop methods and instruments for measuring behaviors.
Conditioning lies at the heart of behaviorism. Conditioning is the process whereby neurological patterns become sufficiently established to make a response more frequent or predictable as a result of reinforcement (Crapps, 1986). It the process of developing habits. BF Skinner and William Sargant believe religion is a conditioned behavior. Skinner believed religion institutions served as reinforcement agents.
Humanistic psychology became known as the "Third Force". Although the roots are the same, humanistic psychology took a different approach. It was a separate movement distinct from psychoanalysis and behaviorism. Do not confuse humanistic psychology with humanism. In short, humanism seeks to discount God and elevate man above God. This discussion is limited to the humanistic element of psychology.
Humanistic psychology included researchers such as William James, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Gordon Allport. James was a pioneer in the field as he insisted on interpreting religion as deeply personal. His views on religion were admittedly, pragmatic. Rogers revolutionized to the field of psychology with his client-centered approach to therapy.
Maslow presents his concept of hierarchy of needs. The fully mature person attains self-actualization. For Maslow, all institutional religious systems are at their core, the same. Religion resides in the human ability to tap inner resources and transcend baser needs (Crapps, 1986).
Allport's focus was on the development of personality and becoming. He sees religion as a significant factor in the on-going development of personality. Crapps (1986) quotes Allport as saying "Psychologically, religion belong to the order of sentiment. It cannot be explained by a single factor, instinct, or emotion but designates a wide divergent set of experiences that may be focused upon a religious object." James, Maslow and Allport stress the importance of individuals' potential to evaluate and assign meaning to religious phenomena (Crapps, 1986). Humanistic psychology assigns more meaning and importance to religious behaviors than previous psychological traditions.
Part III: Psychosocial Development and Religious Growth.
Part three explores the development of religion over a lifespan. It looked at the formation, development, and relationship of religion on thinking, emotion, and volition. Development stages of development express and experience religion differently. Lewis Sherrill was a Presbyterian theologian that tracked religious growth from infancy through old age. He looked at three broad classifications of development: childhood, youth, and adulthood.
Childhood religion is characterized by its egocentric orientation, concreteness, and experimentation. Children form their ideas of God in the image of their parents and environment. Children have an incredible ability to imitate adult behavior, and religious institutions may appropriately provide models for imitation (Crapps, 1986).
The youth is a period of cognitive and identity development. The developing mind of the youth makes it possible for them to accept responsibility for their behavior and actions. Abstract reasoning begins to develop around eleven and twelve. The youth are caught in the struggle of not being a child and not quiet an adult.
Adulthood bears the responsibility of making life choices. The young adult explores issues of intimacy and isolation. According to Erik Erikson, middle adulthood is the most productive time of life and character emerges during this stage. A good understanding of developmental stages will provide insight into how religion is experienced over a lifespan. Psychosocial development may not provide definitive answers to the theological issues of human existence, but it does clarify the forms and structures by which those issues take shape in human experiences (Crapps, 1986).
Part IV: Religious Lifestyles.
Through chapters ten through thirteen, part four covers the religion of authority, religion of becoming, and religion of spontaneity. Lifestyle is a pattern of living and behaving. A religious lifestyle is a pattern of religious behaviors. Religion may offer individuals a structure, meaning, and purpose. A religious lifestyle helps to solidify the many parts of a person's life. It goes beyond the religious aspect of an individuals like as it can be seen in political and economic choices.
The final chapter discusses the criteria and journey toward a mature religion. First, it leaves room for further growth, 2) it enhances the order of a persons life with limiting or binding it, 3) it includes a whole range of experiences, 4) it encourages the freedom of the individual without flaunting responsibility, and 5) it is certain enough to allow commitment and action without demanding absoluteness. Two other important aspects of maturity to note are balance and patience.
An Introduction to Psychology of Religion is not a religious book. It is a book of psychology about religion. Although religion and theology were touched on and covered, it was not the focus. The text is presented as an introduction, but it is far more than an introduction. Crapps provided in-depth discussion of the material presented.
He admits in the preface that beginning students will struggle with the vocabulary and technical jargon from the fields of theology and psychology. However, he does take time to explain technical concepts. Overall, Crapps addressed the psychology of Religion well. I thought it was wise of him to include some of the founding fathers of psychology. I appreciate how he handled the subject of human development. I like the inclusion of Erik Erikson's stages of development.
I understand the text is large and cannot possibly contain all aspects of the psychology of religion. However, I was disappointed that he did not spend more time addressing religion and end of life issues and human sexuality. I did not like how he handled the subjects of emotions and volition. Both areas lacked the high quality psychology backdrop that was included in previous chapters.
Crapps theoretical approach to psychology of religion was linier and one-dimensional. I would have preferred see a systemic approach as in the general systems theory. The general systems theory is dynamic as it looks beyond the cause-and-effect relationships. However, that is more telling of my theoretical preference. On a scale of one to ten, I give An Introduction to Psychology of Religion a six.
Crapps, R. W., (1986). An Introduction to Psychology of Religion. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.