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Unformatted text preview: J.M. Nelson, Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, DOI 10.1007/978-0-387-87573-6_12, @ Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009 391 Chapter 12 Practices and Religious Communities For most people with a religious orientation, religion is not a thing but it is some- thing that they do , a set of individual and communal practices that they perform to develop and express their spiritual nature (cf. Section 6.3.4). Thus, no consideration of the topic of religion and psychology is complete without a thorough examina- tion of the individual and communal actions performed in pursuit of religious or spiritual goals. 12.1 Religious and Spiritual Practices in Community There are two ways of approaching the study of religious and spiritual practices. In the modernist and positivist view, practices are a technique or technology engaged in for a particular purpose. These techniques can be learned and performed regard- less of the beliefs and lifestyle of the person performing them. In this view, a person can practice Buddhist meditation without holding any Buddhist beliefs or engaging in any other Buddhist practices or community life. This is quite different from a postmodern perspective (see Sections 6.3.1 and 6.3.4), which holds that all activity is contextual and thus assumes a particular set of beliefs or worldview. In this view, any single practice cannot be understood apart from other practices and the com- munity life that supports them. Studying or using a practice in an isolated way, even if possible, is somewhat like taking an electronic part out of a cardiac pacemaker and expecting it to work on its own, or inserting it into an entirely different device like a computer and supposing that it will perform the same function. The part may (or may not) function in its new context; it may even have a helpful effect, but its function is likely to be different. In the postmodern view, any attempt to understand religious practices outside of their context may lead to fundamental errors. There is value in both modern and postmodern approaches to practice. In support of the modernist perspective, it is true that people can and do engage in spiritual practices while divorced from the communities and traditions that produced them, such as in the use of Buddhist approaches to the treatment of psychological prob- lems (see Section 11.4.2). It is also true that research in a positivist framework has helped us understand some biological and psychological factors connected with practices like meditation (see Section 13.6). 392 12 Practices and Religious Communities However, the postmodern approach has particular advantages when considering practices because of the inherently contextual nature of spirituality (cf. Section 1.2.2)....
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