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Psychology of Religion

An attempt to apply scientific methods to the study of the facts of the religious consciousness. Interest in and concern for “religious affections” has always been present in the Christian Church, but the Romantic Movement, coming in the wake of Kant's* denial of the possibility of the knowledge of God, led to a concern for “religion” considered as a postulation or projection of the existence of God (for a variety of reasons) and for a delineation of those states of consciousness that ought properly to be called “religious.” The views of Schleiermacher* and Feuerbach are of importance here.

Besides offering phenomenological accounts of religious experiences such as conversion, sanctification, and mystical experience, psychology of religion has been concerned also to offer explanations of such phenomena in causal terms correlating, e.g., conversion with factors such as age, sex, various personality traits, family upbringing, and so on. William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience is notable for his antireductionism, but usually the thrust of such explanations has been to show that religious experiences are nothing but compensatory devices, wish-fulfillment (Freud), etc. Another line of inquiry, more sympathetic to religion, attempts to isolate those features that all and only genuine religious experiences have-a feeling of absolute dependence (Schleiermacher), an awareness of the numinous (R. Otto*). But it may be that such attempts are doomed to frustration if it is denied (as it usually has been in post- Kantian Protestantism) that religious experiences have characteristic objects. Work in the psychology of religion has also been stimulated by comparative religion.*

Although students of religious psychology have unquestionably turned up much interesting data, and offered engaging hypotheses as explanations of religious phenomena, serious psychological explanation has often been vitiated by naturalistic and anti- Christian ideological assumptions.