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Psychology of Religion, Psychology of Spirituality

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Translation from: Psicologia della Religione-news, n. 22,1, p.1

The forthcoming congress to be held by IAPR (International Association for the Psychology of Religion) in Hamar, Norway, will offer a further opportunity to examine the psychology of religion in depth under two major headings: which psychology and which religion? In congresses as well as in books and international journals, the psychology of religion is interwoven with or accompanied by the concept of spirituality, as if they were the same, or similar, or fell within a common area of research. (Read more)

The mantra “Religion and Spirituality”, which some writers (mostly American) consider politically correct, was endorsed by the recent (2011) renaming of Division 36 of the APA as Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spiritually, and was also used in the Division’s two lengthy manuals published in 2013. In Hamar a group of SIPR members will play an active and critical role in defending the distinctiveness of the discipline in a panel discussion significantly named Does the Psychology of Religion Really Need the Concept of Spirituality? Their underlying thesis is that religion is more than a system of meanings, an ideology or a form of spirituality. As a matter of fact, spirituality is a characteristic feature of human beings who – without exception – have a spirit. Atheists, too, have their own form of spirituality, their own experience of the absolute and often their own form of mystical experience. Being an atheist doesn’t mean abandoning the search for answers to the most profound existential questions, or renouncing ethical values. As human beings we all have values, search for meaning, elaborate explanatory narratives and myths. From this point of view, being “spiritual” means being human and, more specifically, psychology of religion (reduced to psychology of spirituality) would be identified with psychology in general. Religion is not a question, it is an answer. The question – and search for meaning - is universal, a characteristic of the human psyche, and religion’s response is historically and culturally determined in the various religious narratives available to us. The psychology of religion asserts its distinctiveness as a discipline by safeguarding the object of its study. As ordinary people understand it, religion is a concrete historical phenomenon: a set of institutionalised beliefs, forms of worship and ethical behaviours that seek to establish a relationship with the Transcendent, which believers generally experience as a Person, an interlocutor in a dialogue between two subjects. This narrowing of the field emphasises the distance that separates the psychology of religion from a hypothetical “psychology of spirituality”. More clearly still, it distinguishes the psychology of religion from mindfulness, positive thinking, the search for meaning, resilience and “religious coping”. All these concepts, which have no clear, unambiguous form and status in psychology, may well refer to functional correlatives or derivatives of religiosity, but they do not express the idea of religion as ordinary people understand and experience it. As regards methodology, studies of religion over the past twenty years have employed new models, theories and procedures, and correctly so: as with language, art, politics and so on, religion involves more than one psychic process. However, what distinguishes the Psychology of Religion is not the uniqueness of its methodology but the uniqueness of its content: the relationship (felt as real) with the Transcendent. Psychological understanding of believers’ religious experience means empirical and phenomenological observation of real, concrete manifestations of religion: metaphorically speaking (though not overmuch) entering churches, entering synagogues, entering mosques. (Mario Aletti)