The psychology of religion and spirituality

Authored by: Ralph W. Hood

The Routledge International Handbook of Spirituality in Society and the Professions

Print publication date:  March  2019
Online publication date:  March  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138214675
eBook ISBN: 9781315445489
Adobe ISBN:


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Religion and spirituality have long been topics of concern to Western scholars but have emerged only recently to be a focus of concern by psychologists as a disciplinary specialty. Many date the contemporary psychology of religion to the turn of the 19th century when American psychologists focused upon empirical methods and turned away from largely philosophical discussions of religion. While firm definitions of religion and spirituality are likely to be acceptable only to those who propose them, there is a consensus that these are interrelated terms. Religion is more focused on explicit beliefs expressed in communal and institutionally supported structures, while spirituality is more focused upon individual experience and private rituals. Both terms suggest an individual’s engagement with transcendence whether expressed in vertical or horizontal terms. It has become common to make reference to ultimate reality suggestive of either explicit religious language for vertical transcendence (such as God) or in purely secular language for horizontal transcendence suggestive of a purely natural or cosmological understanding of ultimacy. Thus, contemporary psychologists view religion and spirituality as largely interdependent terms with individuals identifying variously as both religious and spiritual, neither religious nor spiritual, more religious than spiritual, or more spiritual than religious. Much of empirical psychology can be classified within this fourfold classification created by the simple binary formed from these the two terms: religion and spiritual.

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