ch15 - Chapter 15 Looking Back What kind of conclusions can...

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J.M. Nelson, Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, DOI 10.1007/978-0-387-87573-6_15, @ Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009 507 Chapter 15 Looking Back What kind of conclusions can we draw from the dialogue between psychology and religion? As we have seen, the field is rich and complex so that any simple answer to this question will be inadequate. However, it is worthwhile to reflect on general trends as they have much to teach us. 15.1 Lessons from Dialogue A first conclusion that must be drawn is that many views of religion held by psychol- ogists in the 20th century were very wrong. Freud and many others viewed religious participation as psychologically unhealthy and viewed organized religious commu- nities with disdain. These positions were advanced by well-meaning psychologists who viewed them as scientific facts. However, the evidence is that (1) religious participation is generally associated with positive physical and mental health, and (2) this positive effect is more related to participation in communal activities than individual devotional activity or spiritual seeking (see Chapters 10 and 11). Science is a human enterprise and accordingly makes mistakes. Nevertheless, the fact that psychologists missed the mark by such a wide margin for many decades is an embarrassment for science in general and psychology in particular. We have much to learn from this failure. It teaches us about the limits of science, the value of nonscientific ways of knowing and the dangers of scientism that can lead us to wrong and hasty conclusions. Such conclusions are obviously bad for religion, if people wrongly perceive that there is something inherently problematic in religious participation. However, it is also the case that this kind of mistake is bad for science, as it undermines its credibility as well as places psychologists on the wrong side of the evidence. Despite these problems, another conclusion that quickly presents itself is that psychological science has much it can offer to religious traditions. While religion is more than psychology, it is also true that every member of a religious tradition is an embodied, psychological being who is subject to the biological, relational, and social forces that are studied by psychologists. Failure to recognize this fact and take advantage of the knowledge and critical perspective provided by psychology would
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508 15 Looking Back be unfortunate. For instance, it is largely because of psychology—not religious thought—that we now understand the crucial role of childhood in the development of spirituality and religion in the individual (see Chapters 5, 7 and 8). Problems with prejudice and authoritarianism among religious individuals that have been revealed in psychological studies provide a healthy challenge to religious organiza- tions to make sure they are moving toward the goals that they want to reach (see Section 12.5). A final conclusion that is evident in recent dialogue is that religious traditions
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ch15 - Chapter 15 Looking Back What kind of conclusions can...

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