Vol 31 No. 2 (2012)
Finding one’s bearings in the welter of claims and counter-claims in the history of the psychology of religion is a daunting task; this article attempts to survey the field through a historical analysis of critical phases in the relationship between religion and psychology. From a position of rejection to that of embraced complexity, psychology’s encounter with religion reflects the difficult terrain over which the discipline itself has traversed—indicating not only self-definition issues but also its own ambiguous perspective within a ‘scientific’ model of reality. The modus operandi of today offers the potential of a positive outcome in the future.
We present a chronological overview of the history of psychology of religion. The focus is upon American psychology with an emphasis on a scientific model informed by measurement and to a lesser extent experimental methods. The rise and fall of the psychology of religion is documented as is the re-emergence that began in the 1960’s and continues today. We also briefly document the psychology of religion in various European countries. Space limitations force us to explore the history of the psychology of religion primarily in chronological terms. A broader history would necessarily include in depth exploration of major figures in the history of the psychology of religion in countries other than America and Europe and focus upon various assumptions of method and procedure that define the diversity of approaches to the psychology of religion throughout history.
This article develops and illustrates a hermeneutic approach to the psychology of religion derived from C. G. Jung’s psychological theory of archetypes. The point of departure is the “dis-integrative dynamics” of the failed historical collaboration between Jung and Catholic theologian Victor White. The Jung-White impasse motivates a distinction between the conceptual analysis of theological constructs and a non-conceptual hermeneutics of religious symbols. The latter form of inquiry is based on a reworking of Jung’s archetypal approach in terms of the hermeneutic notion of background understanding. This approach is then illustrated through a hermeneutic amplification of the symbolic motif of the healing serpent and its application to the theological disagreement between Jung and White. It is concluded that an archetypal hermeneutic approach is uniquely valuable for an understanding of perennial aspects of the lived experience of religious meaning.
Spirituality and religion are acknowledged as playing a vital role in psychological coping within monotheistic (especially Christian) and American populations. Other traditions, however, remain largely absent from the coping literature. In addition, the bulk of the work consists of quantitative methods, so the examination of the constructs remains limited. In the present study, a 49-year old Caucasian woman living in northern Indiana in the U.S. is interviewed about her use of shamanistic beliefs and rituals to cope with bulimia. Content analyses reveal that over the course of the interview, she identifies shamanic rituals as facilitating a change from feeling powerless to feeling empowered to alter the bulimic behaviors. Related themes concerning energy and strength also emerge and stand in relation to an expression of the importance of an internalized system of beliefs. These observations align with the predominately monotheistic American literature, suggesting that principles of religious and spiritual coping may be meaningful in the context of other traditions.
Soul-Loss, the Sacred and Secularity [+] 181-197
Drawing primarily on the work of Otto Rank and Christopher Bollas, I argue that the soul in its many objectifications is at least as much the cause of ontological anxiety as it is the cure. In its earliest embodiments as a shadow or reflection, Rank observes, the soul or psyche was inherently insubstantial. Attempts to keep the soul, objectified in some form or image of the sacred fail to protect the psyche from anxiety or even terror of dissolution because even these are also subject to desacralization and decay, destruction and sacrilege. Especially in complex and modern societies subject to both sacrilege and secularity, the soul is increasingly left far more to its own protective devices to ward off or overcome the threat of soul-loss.
Jesus Christ for Contemporary Life: His Person, Work, and Relationships, by Don Schweitzer. Cascade Books, 2012. X + 308pp., pb. US$35. ISBN-13: 9781556351075. 199-201