Beginning the Study of Religion: wk 6

This seminar was all about the psychological study of religion. We learnt that the psychology of religion investigates: religious behaviour, thinking and experience; the function of faith in a person’s world (individual, social, cultural); the individual (although it does take into account the social context); empirical evidence; intersections with (socio)biology, anthropology, sociology. Psychology is so concerned with religion, because the study of psychology is concerned with human behaviour and how it can be affected in different contexts. We also looked at how there are different ‘schools’ of psychology in different cultures. For example, Anglo-Saxon is different from “continental”, and European/American is different from oriental or Islamic. In this seminar, we focused just on the Anglo-Saxon school of psychology.

Psychologists will look at things like whether religious people are happier, healthier, more moral etc. They will also look at whether religion has negative effects on people, looking at things like suicide pacts, cults, end time theology and so on.

We moved onto the idea that some psychologists have that certain people have more capacity to be religious due to their DNA. We watched a video*, which showed why some psychologists are seriously considering the argument of ‘the God Gene’. The video showed the storied of two people who had both had very ‘real’ religious experiences due to the way temporal lobe epilepsy can affect a minority of people. One man had a hallucination in which he believed that he had died and been sent to hell because he had not been a devout Christian. Although in his normal life, the man was a confirmed atheist, he still had this vision as a result of the temporal lobe epilepsy. The documentary also showed a woman, who unlike the man, was religious – she was a devout Roman Catholic – and had been having visions and the like, for many years. Her first was after her honeymoon when she was in hospital. She believed a woman on the same ward as her to be the devil, and described her as having green skin. Another experience came when she gave birth to her son. The woman believed that she was Mary, her husband was Joseph, and that their new born son was Jesus Christ. The documentary was extremely eye-opening, and made it clear why religion is such a studied subject within psychology around the world. For example, with information and science at the standard it is today, psychologists could even begin to question the likes of Saint Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus, Moses and the burning bush, stories like those of Ellen White and her visions etc. *

We then moved onto our own personal research to look at individual people and their views on religion. We looked at key thinkers on religion such as: Freud, who stated that religion was simply a form of obsessional neurosis resulting in our need for a father figure and guidance; William James who says that religious experiences are ‘psychological phenomena’ – although this is not against the validity of the experience for the person; Erik Erikson, who tends to link religion with culture, and so on.

All in all, this seminar was very interesting, and gave new insight into a study of religion that not many of us had considered and has allowed me to look at other things I have studied from another angle, which I believe can only be beneficial as part of my course.


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