Psychology S3625Q

The Psychology of Religion

Israela Silberman

Summer Session II, 2001

TuTh 5:30-8:40


I. Course description

Prerequisites: An introductory psychology course or the instructor's permission.

Introduction to the major issues, theories and empirical approaches to the psychology of religion through critical analysis of both classic and modern texts. The course illuminates the role of religion as a powerful meaning system that can affect the lives of individuals in terms of their beliefs, motivations, emotions and behaviors, and can influence their interactions on both interpersonal and intergroup levels.

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II. The rationale for giving the course.

This advanced undergraduate seminar will meet the Group III (Social, Personality, and Abnormal) distribution requirement for the major, minor, or concentration in psychology. Currently the psychology department offers only few advanced courses in Group III at the 3000 levels (specifically for undergraduates).

Religion has been a vital and pervasive feature of human life throughout history (Smart, 1984) and in current societies, where most people regard themselves as followers of a religious tradition (Beit-Hallachmie et. al., 1997). Predictions for the future made by lay Americans suggest that the 21st century could be the most religious and spiritual century in 500 years (Gallup, 2000).

Considering the prevalence of religious beliefs and the importance of religion as a meaning system that can shape every aspect of people's lives, the relative neglect of the study of religion in academia and particularly in psychology is surprising (see Emmons, 1999 for a review). We need to follow the steps of major psychologists from the beginning of the twentieth century, like William James (1902), and continue to investigate the complicated and fascinating phenomenon of religion -- its positive as well as negative impact on individuals and on societies at large -- and to utilize the results of these investigations to increase individual and societal well being. This course is presented as a step in this direction. The course may be of particular interest to students of psychology, religion and sociology.

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III. Course Objectives.

The purpose of the course is to introduce the students to the psychology of religion through critical analyses of both classic and modern texts. The course approaches religion as a powerful meaning system that can affect the lives of individuals in terms of their beliefs, motivations, emotions and behaviors and influence their interactions on both interpersonal and intergroup levels. It illuminates the processes through which religion as a meaning system impacts individuals and societies, the positive and negative ways in which religion has influenced individual and societal well-being and the resiliency of religion despite globalization and modernization. In its discussion of these issues, the course highlights the role of religion in a variety of important social issues such as social change, coping, forgiveness, human rights, women rights, prejudice versus tolerance and pluralism, as well as conflicts and their resolutions.

The lectures and discussions, which are based on the assigned readings, will highlight the practical difficulties and challenges, as well as the excitement, of doing research in the area of the psychology of religion. It is important to stress that this is NOT a course in theology and that it does NOT attempt to prove or disprove the claims of any religious approach. Rather, the focus is on what we can learn about religion when we examine it from one particular perspective, the psychological.

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IV. Course Requirements (tentative)


In depth religious coping interview





Team project:



Team paper



Team presentation


Class participation:



Weekly participation



Expert participation


In depth religious coping interviews

This assignment requires each student to interview a person of her/his own faith tradition and a person of a different faith tradition about the role religion plays in their coping with adversity. These interviews, which can be both challenging and rewarding, need to be summarized in a 10-15 page paper.


In the take home midterm exam, the students will be given an essay topic or will be asked to choose from among several essay topics. The essay, which will typically be about 5 pages long, will require students to compare and integrate the materials of the first 6 classes and the relevant readings (whether or not they are discussed in class).

Team project

1) Team paper:

Working in small assigned teams, the students will write a comprehensive paper on thought provoking issues such as "The impact of religion on individual and societal well being", "How can the resiliency of religion be explained?" or "Religious related policy implications for the new millennium". The students will be encouraged to integrate relevant information from the class presentations and readings, as well as additional sources of information.

2) Team presentation:

Each team will give a presentation of its' paper.

Class participation

1) Weekly participation:

Active participation during class helps the individual students and the class at large.

Good participation includes but is not limited to concise and clear contributions to class discussion, and regular attendance (10%).

2) Expert participation:

In each class, a "discussion leader" will be responsible to presenting one of the readings for that class and lead the discussion regarding that reading (10%).

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V. Course outline: Reading list and weekly syllabus (Tentative).



Class 1:

Overview of the Course

Class 2:

Religion as a Meaning System: Introduction

Pargament, K. I. (1997). The psychology of religion and coping. New York: Guilford Press. Ch. 1,2. Pp. 34-42.

McIntosh, D.N. (1995). Religion-as-schema, with implications for the relations between religion and coping. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 5 (1), 1-16.


Also Recommended

Ellis, A. (1986). The case against religion: A psychotherapist's view and the case against religiosity. Austin: American Atheist Press.

Freud, S. (1927/1961). The future of an illusion. New York: London.

Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of culture. New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers. Pp. 87-125.

Spilka, B., Hood, R.W.Jr., & Gorsuch, R.L., (1985). The psychology of religion: An empirical approach. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. (Ch. 1, Pp. 1-29)

James, W. (1902). The varieties of religious experience. New York: Longman.

Wulff, D.M. (1991). Psychology of religion: Classic and contemporary views. New York: John Wiley and Sons.



Religion as a Meaning System in a Person's Life

Class 3:

Religion and Coping

Pargament, K.I. (1997). Th psychology of religion and coping. New York: Guilford Press. Ch. 6, 7, 8 &10.

Pargament, K.I., Poloma, M.M., & Tarakeshwar, N. Methods of coping from the religions of the world: Spiritual healing, Karma, and the Bar Mitzvah. In C.R. Snyder (Ed.). Coping and copers: Adaptive Processes and People. Oxford University Press.

Kushner, H.S. (1989). When bad things happen to good people. New York: Avon Books.

Class 4:

Religion and other Aspects of Well-being

Emmons, R. A., Cheung, C., & Tehrani, K. (1998). Assessing spirituality through personal goals: Implications for research on religion and subjective well-being. Social Indicators Research, 45, 391-422.

Ventis, W. L. (1995). The relationship between religion and mental health. Journal of Social Issues, 51(2). 33-48.

Class 5:

Religion and Value Systems

Roccas, S., & Schwartz, S. (1997). Church-state relations and the associations of religiosity with values: A study of Catholics in six countries. Cross-cultural research, 31, 356-375.

Schwartz, S.H., & Huismans, S. (1995). Value priorities and religiosity in four Western Religions. Social Psychology Quarterly, 58, 88-107.

Class 6:

Religion as a Call for Change

Pargament, K. I. & Park, C. L. (1995). Merely a defense? The variety of religious means and ends. Journal of Social Issues, 51(2), 13-32.

Silberman, I., Higgins, E. T., & Dweck, C. S. (2000). The relation between Religiosity and openness to change. Paper presented at the 108th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. Washington, DC.


Religion and Interpersonal Relations: Vision versus Actuality

Class 7:

Religion and Forgiveness

McCullough, M. E., & Worthington, E.L., Jr. (1999). Religion and the forgiving personality. Journal of Personality, 67, 1141-1164.

Rye, M. S., Pargament, K. I., Ali, M. A., Beck. G.L., Dorff, E.N., Hallisey, C., Narayanan, V., & Williams, J.G. (2000). Religious perspectives on forgiveness. In M.E. McCullough, K.I. Pargament, and C. E. Thoresen (Eds.), Forgiveness (pp. 17-40). New York: Guilford Press.


Class 8:

Religion, Prejudice, & Human Rights

Allport, G.W. (1966). Religious context of prejudice. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 5, 447-457.

Batson, C.D., & Burris, C.T. (1994). Personal religion: Depressant or stimulant of prejudice and discrimination. In M.P. Zanna & J.M. Olson (Eds.), The psychology of prejudice: The Ontario Symposium, Vol. 7 (pp. 149-169). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Griffin, G.A., Gorsuch, .L., & Davis, A.L. (1987). A cross cultural investigation of religious orientation, social norms, and prejudice. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 26, 358-365.

Hunsburger, B. (1995). Religion and prejudice: The tole of religious fundamentalism, quest, and right-wing authoritarianism. Journal of Social Issues, 51(2), 113-129.

Also Recommended

Carrol, J. (2001). Constantine's sword: The Church and the Jews- a history. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.


Class 9:

Religion as a Factor in Conflicts and their Resolution I

Mahoney, A., Pargament, K.I., Jewell, T., Swank, A., Scott, E., Emery, E., & Rte, M. (1999). Marriage and the spiritual realm: The role of proximal and distal religious constructs in marital functioning. Journal of Family Psychology, 13(3), 321-338.

Swank, A.B., Mahoney, A. & Pargament, K.I. (2000). A sacred trust: Parenting and the spiritual realm. Paper presented at the 108th Annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington D.C.

Class 10:
Religion as a Factor in Conflicts and their Resolution II

Gopin, M. (2000). Between Eden and Armageddon: The future of religion, violence and peacemaking. New York and London: Oxford University Press.

Struch, N. & Schwartz, S.H. (1989). Intergroup aggression: Predictors and distinctiveness from ingroup bias, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 364-373.


Class 11


Class 12

Presentations and course conclusions.

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This page was created by Lois Putnam. It was last updated by Tamar Kornblum on Nov.29, 2001.