The History and Current State of Research on Psychology of Religion

Ralph W. Hood

in The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Spirituality

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199729920
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 The History and Current State of Research on Psychology of Religion

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Religion and spirituality were major concerns of the early American psychologists. Largely influenced by the American Protestant experience of revivals, psychologists focused upon conversion using the biblical narrative of Paul as a prototype of sudden radical transformation. Many of the early psychologists sought to give reductionist explanations for both religion and spiritual phenomena as they sought to dissociate psychology from the popular cultural view of parapsychology and spiritualism. William James was the most notable exception, insisting on the possible ontological reality of the objects of both religious and psychic phenomena. Psychoanalysis influenced by the French medical tradition continued exploring religion, with Sigmund Freud offering an explanation of religion first simply as an illusion but finally as a mass delusion, thereby linking religion and madness. As American psychology sought to emulate the German tradition of experimental psychology within the limits of natural science, interest in religion waned. The reemergence of a psychology of religion came in the 1960s, partly influenced by interim concerns with authoritarianism and prejudice and cognitive dissonance theory, all of which had a marginal concern with religion. The cultural unrest of the 1960s sparked renewed interest in new religious movements and psychedelic states of consciousness, both of which fueled the psychology of religion. The field is now well established with a division in the American Psychological Association (APA) and an APA journal. Numerous other journals assure that the psychology of religion and now spirituality will continue to be identifiable areas of specialty within psychology.

Keywords: authoritarianism; cognitive dissonance; conversion; deconversion; entheogens; mysticism; ontological; parapsychological; religious orientation; spiritual transformation

Article.  10055 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; History and Systems in Psychology

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