One of the definitions of psychology as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is that it is the study of mind and behavior in relation to a particular field of knowledge or activity. Religion, on the other hand, is defined as the service and worship of God or the supernatural (Merriam-Webster Online). Their definitions may be simple yet the impact that they create in one’s personal life is no doubt great and has been affecting the way society has evolved during the past years. It is also without a doubt that conflicts have existed between the said topics which often lead to criticisms of either field due to confusion as to how one has to apply the concepts of psychology and religion in everyday living.
During the more conservative times, it is a given fact that many strongly religious people tended to reject the views of psychology because of the latter’s compelling points of arguments that would sometimes attack, go against, or minimize the significance of the views or concepts of religion. One example where religion was taken for granted was with the coming forth of psychotherapy, which is the treatment of mental or emotional disorder or of related bodily ills by psychological means. The idea that one can be capable of healing one’s sickness through mind skills is a matter sensitive enough for religious groups whose belief or faith that only God is capable of such powerful healing. The people’s doubt or suspicion with psychology remained with the passing of time until the people behind the said field decided to take on a different approach by tapping the interest of the religious.
That is why in the early 1990s, by beginning to show or take a more active interest in religion and spirituality especially the healthy and healing aspects of religion, together with the advocacy for respecting the beliefs of individuals. Unfortunately, these efforts were not sufficient enough to take away the suspicions against psychology (The Relationship of Psychology, Spirituality, & Religion). Psychological Views of Religion Two famous psychologists had two opposing views of religion. One is that of Sigmund Freud’s (1856-1939).
Freud is the founder of psychoanalysis as well as such theories related to psychosexual development, the id, ego, and superego. One of his major contributions to the field of psychology is how his works strengthened the idea that not all mental illnesses have psychological causes. He also provided evidence that a person’s psychological impact and behavior is affected by the cultural differences surrounding him or her. He also made significant contributions related to important things like personality understanding, clinical psychology, human development, and abnormal psychology (Sigmund Freud Biography). Freud was one of the powerful critics or religion as shown in his book The Future of an Illusion. According to him, religion is but an illusion which however served a good purpose in history. It is through religion that a person is able to control himself against natural negative tendencies and impulses such as suicidal attempts in serious cases.
But Freud believed that as time goes by, people will learn to live independently of this illusion and is the need for it decreases, it would become more of a destructive illusion and there is where science, specifically psychoanalysis, would take the place of religion. Contrary to Sigmund Freud’s beliefs, another psychologist provided his views of religion with regards to psychology. According to William James, religion is necessary in obtaining better psychological health. William James is often referred to as the father of American psychology. In the year 1902, his book titled Varieties of Religious Experience was released and is still recognized as a classic. James also believed that religion could be studied scientifically.
From the earlier years to the year 1990s however, several negative opinions regarding religion continued to emerge which caused an enduring tension between psychology and religion. Developmental Events One of the remarkable developments related to this was occurred in the 1950s when a lecturer named John Finch shared his views regarding psychotherapy at Fuller Theological Seminary. This lecture paved the way for the development of Fuller's Graduate School of Psychology. This was said to be the first graduate program with the main objective of incorporating the concepts of psychology and religion primarily by providing scholarly information about the relationship of both fields from point of view of Christianity. This lead to the coming forth of other related programs which initially had difficulty in getting accreditation from the American Psychological Association but was later on accepted after successful deliberations.
The triumph of this program lessened the tensed relationship between psychology and religion. Not only was there an integration between the two fields but as well as opening of possibilities for more religious approaches to psychology together with the existing number of journals, training resources, and books. In the year 1996, the American Psychological Association published the book Religion and the Clinical Practice of Psychology by Edward Shafranske. The book was widely accepted and thus created a much better psychological view of religion. Furthermore, similar books were published which showed the acceptance of this integration. Still in the 1990s, the American Psychological Association also began its support in providing an outlook at religion and spirituality as a matter of multiformity. This meant that therapists should respect religious and spiritual differences in their therapy practices and that relevant training is required when dealing with religious issues during therapy. Significant researches were also made in order to help professionals obtain a better grasp or distinguish the relationships between religion, spirituality, and psychological health.
This research led to the suggestion of small, positive relation between religion and psychological health with regards to some religious belief. In the meantime, researches also show that some religious belief tend to be harmful or has negative effects in promoting psychological health, therefore leading to a sometimes complex relationship between religion, psychology, and spiritual health. However, it is good to know that up to the present, many psychologists as well as other mental health professionals are becoming more open to the idea that both religion and spirituality have indeed something very positive to offer (The Relationship of Psychology, Spirituality, & Religion).
As proof, through media help many such endeavors are being undertaken in modern day society in order to spread information on the benefits of psychology and religion integration. One example was from a press release made by the Kent State University as lead by Dr. E. Thomas Dowd, a professor of psychology. His objective stems from the fact that a great number of religious beliefs continue to exist and mental health practitioners will be more able to relate with their clients once if they understood the latter’s religious beliefs. He also affirms the good health benefits that religious people acquire compared with less religious individuals (Religion and Psychology: Can They Work Together?)
Spirituality in Everyday Life With scientific developments occurring in the twentieth century, a great number of scientists and psychologists conducted intensive studies and convincing the world that spiritual experiences may be encountered in one’s daily living and not only in churches, mosques, and monasteries. To present a more realistic approach between spirituality and the reactions of the human brain, Dr. Robert Buckman, a neurologist, the important role of the temporal lobe in recognizing a person’s experiences with mysterious encounters as proven by EEG or electroencephalograph studies which has been used in studying epilepsies and sleep problems. According to Dr. Buckman, the left lobe deals with language and motor skills while the right lobe has something to do with one’s perception of the self and the surrounding reality.
Based on the EEG research, Dr. Buckman presented three classification of human groups with regards to sensitivity of their temporal lobes. (1) First, people with highly sensitive temporal lobes and who tend to suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy with the presence of spontaneous firing of the neurons of the temporal lobe. According to Dr. Hughlings Jackson, epileptics experience auras, hallucinations and out of body experiences similar with that of the saints during their mystic experiences.
The following sensations are said to be experienced such as: auditory hallucinations (hearing voices), dejavu ( the feeling of seeing something before), visual hallucinations, experiencing funny smells, a feeling of particular peace, a sensation of deep understanding or of profound and significant knowledge and a feeling of being outside one’s body. (2) Second, people with temporal lobes more sensitive than the average but less sensitive than those of epileptics. These are people who tend to be creative and include the likes of poets, artists, and actors. They have talents in creating imaginary worlds as well as characters and play roles of other people by being involved in drama, poetry and other creative acts. (3) Lastly, people with average temporal lobes who do not suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy nor have the skills of poets or actors.
Stimulation of their temporal lobes by electrodes in the laboratory may result in the same experiences. These people also get to have perceptual and sensory experiences like that of the mystics. An individual named M.A. Persinger once conducted experiments on volunteers by stimulating their temporal lobes. The volunteers pronounced to experiencing: a feeling of peace, of serenity, of being one with nature and often of being in the presence of another consciousness (another being). There were also those who felt being near the presence of alien beings while others underwent deeply spiritual or religious feelings. Some even claimed being under the presence of God while some heard His voice.
With regards to this, Julian Jynes provided an explanation of the said experiences from the concept of Right/Left Brain functioning. He said that the temporal lobe of the Left Brain is related with language while the temporal lobe of the Right Brain is related with sensory, perceptual and aesthetic experiences. He explains that creative and mystic experiences come from the Right Brain and when those messages are sent to the left Brain, the Left Brain creates a feeling like those were from independent entities.
The interpretation now lies on the individual’s personality and culture and may sometimes be recognized as coming from angels, spirits or God and not the subconscious. Dr. Robert Buckman further concludes in this experiment that in his opinion, “If the limbic system is activated by means of the temporal lobe, a person will have an experience of the spiritual or divine type. God is…literally…a state of mind.” (Science, Psychology and Spirituality) Another author, William James also made a description regarding religious experiences as being “second hand” with regards to famous figures regardless if it is under Christianity, Buddhism or Islam.
He further established this as something that has only been passed on for imitation and therefore does not originally come from an individual and so great are the influences of these religious legacies that they stood the test of time. He also described the religious as people who have undergone struggles in their personal lives and have also had mystic experiences like falling into trances, hearing voices, seeing visions, and other strange display of actions which were not considered normal however, became a way in strengthening their influence to of their subjects (The Varieties of Religious Experience).
Carl Jung Perhaps one of the most remarkable views on the integration of psychology and religion was that of Carl Jung’s. Jung was a therapist born in the year 1875 from a father who was a Lutheran pastor and a Spiritualist mother. His spiritual views and understanding were deeper compared to Freud’s and other therapists which therefore earned him better acknowledgement especially from the Catholic Church. Jung obviously had a strong religious inclination however the realities of life he underwent, specifically his frustration with his father and other marital problems, lead him to question God.
Several experiences also exposed him to Gnostic thinking which stimulated his interest of the spiritual world. He thus created a religion of his own which was said to be inspired by the practice of alchemy which tolerated the thought of “unconscious fantasies.” These concepts were able to satisfy Jung’s psychological confusions and became his form of expressing his personal religious beliefs. This gave rise to the word individuation which is the process of bringing wholeness into a person whose faith is being challenged through the support of symbols like the Holy Trinity, Mass, and the existence of Christ.
Jung obviously remained an open door for Christianity however his position in regards to this was not absolute. He emphasized the term “wholeness” as being more important than “holiness” which Christianity defines as living a life of goodness. This, according to Jung, is one limitation of Christianity in exploring humanity which focuses only on the spirit and not on the psychological aspect which is important in order for its members to have a better grasp of Christian principles.
Furthermore, he presented three things which would define the wholeness of a person. (1) First, a person must be able to recognize and deal with the dark side of his personality or be able to identify the extent of his negative acts. (2) Second, he must get in touched with his archetypes or symbolic images that will serve as his or her guide in going through life. And (3) third is the stage when a person is already able to know his true self (Carl Jung's Journey from God).