Psychology of Religion:
      A Valid Subject?

        Is there anybody out there?
        Just nod if you can hear me.
            Roger Waters



Many, in these final moments of the twentieth century, believe that religion itself is a non-event, a vestigial irrelevance, an opiate of the people. What then does Science examine when it turns to Psychology of Religion? Is Psychology of Religion a valid subject? Some people question its legitimacy for reasons that include:

  1. Psychology itself is not a valid subject -- some claim that it has betrayed the purpose inherent in the word's etymology. Psyche means the soul or the spirit. As spiritual matters are no longer the focus of modern psyschology, some believe that psychology is a poor lens with which to examine humankind's understanding of spiritual matters.

  2. Another semantic objection argues that religion itself is not a valid subject because it is based on a false assessment of reality and therefore study or discussion of human behavior about God is meaningless because religious statements themselves are meaningless.

  3. Psychology, as the study of behavior, does not need to study a meta subject such as religion because such higher order subjects as art, music, poetry, and religion are more than adequately explained within such existing psychological constructs as child development, motivation theory, attitude formation, and psychopathologiy.

  4. Some theologians, notably Karl Barth, claim that God is totally "other" and that neither God nor religious behavior are valid objects of empirical observation.

Psychology of Religion responds to these objections with a principle, the Principle of the Exclusion of the Transcendent (Theodore Flournoy). It is not Psychology of Religion's place to verify or disprove, were it possible, the existence of a religious object. Theology and philosophy address that matter. But the feeling of transcendence and the observation of behaviors associated with it fall within Psychology of Religion's purview.





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