Thursday 17 July 2008

The Psychology of Religion! - An Essay

The Psychology of Religion!

To understand my approach to the study of the psychology of religion, I must first have working definitions of what each of the terms mean and what they mean together. After I know what I believe that they mean, then I will know how I will approach this subject. I will define the term's religion and then the term psychology. Then I will attempt to synthesize what the two mean together.

I understand religion to be the synthesis of both the internal and external life. Religion is both personal and corporate; religion is personal in that it should help the individual become what he is capable of being, and corporate in that sustaining or achiev
ing that change can only be done in community. Saint Irenaeus stated, "The Glory of God is man fully alive." That glory is becoming what one was intended to be; maybe even becoming more than what you believe you can be. Religion should help our actions live up to our ideas. It should help us discover our true heart and to learn to live from that heart. Religion should include what one believes, and why one believes what one believes. Those beliefs should enable us to become what we were meant to be; it should affect all of our relationships, and all aspects of our lives. In my opinion, if a person is truly religious, their actions will live up to their beliefs. It should have a positive impact on their relationships, their work and their play. Religion should be viewed as a quest; a lifelong quest to ever be reaching higher and striving harder to achieve the goals of that religion. Religion will incorporate standards that should lead people to have standards of personal behaviour. Religion should also be active; it should impact body, mind and spirit. Religion is mind, in that we study what we believe and how it should influence us. It is body in that it has a creative element, in art, poetry, story, music, painting and sculpture. It has elements of the spirit in prayer, meditation, and the mysteries.

Story is an integral part of all aspects of religion. It can teach and encourage and challenge. The ultimate intent of story is to provide hope. It is to entertain, and challenge the reader to see anew the world around him. Madeline L'Engle sums it up this way: "We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes. In literature the longing for home is found in the many stories of paradise, of the forgotten place where we once belonged." This longing is filled through
story, and as such, story encourages and challenges all aspects of spirituality.

Religion is a glue that is used as a tool of reconnection; reconnecting people with God or the divine; connecting people with community or others, and it should help reconnect people with their true selves. C.S. Lewis in his space trilogy speaks of the human nature as 'bent'. We are people of a broken nature and religion should help us to learn to be straight again.

For me, psychology is the science that deals with mental processes and behavior; the emotional and behavioral characteristics of an individual, a group, or activity. Psychology is an action or argument used to manipulate or influence another. Psychology looks at why people do what they do, and factors that shape the determining factors that drive the person.

Psychology of religion is the field that studies the soul, the mind, and the relationship of life and mind to the body. Psychology of religion is an attempt to understand religious people, religious movements and religious organizations. This study is done through observation and through research. It is done in conjunction with history, sociology, and theology.

I would like to use a story to sum up my understanding:
"The Reason for Religion is not Reason:

A student, clearly troubled by something Jacob had said, followed him as he left the bakery. "Jacob, did you say that what is Holy has no beginning or end?"
"Yes" replied Jacob.
"But that is not possible," said the student. "That is because only the possible can be measured," said Jacob.
The student struggled to understand. "Jacob, you are not making sense."
Jacob nodded in agreement, then placed his hands in front of the student, covering his eyes. "You see," said Jacob, "reason explains the darkness, but it is not a light."

The psychology of religion should help us see the light and be able to understand and explain it.


  1. John Eldredge, Waking the Dead: Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2004. p.10
  2. Madeleine L'Engle, The Rock of Higher: Story as Truth: Wheaton: Shaw, 1993. p.24
  3. Noah benShea, Jacob the Baker: New York, Ballantine Books, 1989. p.20,21


L'Engle, Madeleine The Rock that is Higher: Story as Truth,
Wheaton, Shaw, 1993.

Eldredge, John Waking the Dead
Tennessee, Thomas Nelson, 2004.

Noah benShea, Jacob the Baker:
New York, Ballantine Books, 1989.

(First written for RS 270 The Psychology of Religion Fall 2004.)

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