Psych 3231 Fall 2000


Dr. Michael E. Nielsen

Office: MPP 2031

Phone: 681-5344


Class Meets: M, W 2:00 – 3:15 p.m.

Office Hours: M, W, F 11:00 - 11:50 p.m., and by appointment



Course Description & Objectives


This course is a survey of psychological perspectives on religious experience. We will examine the psychological research concerning religion and human development, mystical experience, conversion, new religious movements (cults), and mental health. Throughout the course, we will hear from several guest speakers about their diverse personal religious experiences. At the conclusion of the semester, students will understand the major research trends regarding religious experience, conversion, personality and religion, and religious behavior, and the theories on which the research is based. These objectives will be assessed by examinations, in-class activities, discussions, student presentations, and written projects.



                                                        Requirements and Grades


Required Texts


Argyle, M. (2000). Psychology and religion: An introduction. New York: Routledge.

Nielsen, M. E. (1994, rev. 2000). Psychology of religion [World-Wide-Web resource pages]. Available


Stone, J. R. (2000). Expecting Armageddon: Essential readings in failed prophecy. New York: Routledge.


Grades will be based on the following exams and projects. More details on each of these will be given in class.


Exams (worth 55% of course grade)


Three exams will be given during the semester, together comprising 55% of the course grade. The first two exams will include a combination of item types, such as multiple choice, short-answer, and essay items. The final exam will be a take-home essay exam focusing on the chapter that you selected from Stone’s text. It is essential that students make every effort to take exams on the scheduled date. If you are on a university athletic team, are participating in a religious observance, or miss an exam for some other reason recognized by GSU, you must alert me to this conflict prior to the event in order to take the exam at an alternative time. If you do not discuss this with me prior to the exam, you will need to take the exam during the make-up exam date listed on the schedule. Likewise, if you are ill, mourning the death of a loved one, or miss an exam for any other reason, plan to take the exam during the make-up exam date shown on the schedule.  Note that make-up exams may use a different format than regularly scheduled exams.


Project (worth 20% of course grade)


A brief (5-6 page) research paper on a subject relevant to psychology of religion will be worth 20% of your course grade. Alternatively, after approval from me, students may substitute an oral presentation for a written paper. Students who opt for an oral presentation will host a 10 – 15 minute presentation on their project to the class, and discuss the outcome of the project with me privately afterwards.


The project should summarize the results of research relevant to the class, or provide an illustration of a theory discussed in class or in our text. The focus of the paper should be on psychological research and theory, but you may illustrate points with personal interviews. If you opt to include interviews, you must submit a written request outlining the kinds of questions you will discuss and the people you expect to interview. Do not begin any interviews before submitting your request.


Although the project is brief, it is weighted 20% of your grade. Use this project to illustrate your ability to synthesize and integrate material. Think of it as an entry in an encyclopedia, in which your task is to represent a broad body of knowledge succinctly and with clarity. This isn’t as easy as it might seem. Einstein recognized this when he told a correspondent “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have enough time.” With some effort, though, you will find the finished product to be very satisfying.


If you would like to conduct an alternative type of project, discuss it with me before the “Project Idea Due” date on the schedule. I am open to alternative projects that help us accomplish our objectives for the class, but which do not involve papers or presentations. Regardless of the form your project takes, I must have a brief written summary of your intended project by the date listed on the schedule.


Personal Reflection Paper (worth 15% of course grade)


For the personal reflection paper you will describe your views regarding psychology and religion. In this paper, you will describe how these two fields of inquiry have affected you personally, and how they relate to each other. Be aware that in order to complete this paper, you should have developed solid conceptualizations of (a) psychology, (b) your own religious beliefs, whatever they may be, and (c) how the two domains affect one another. This will be of primary importance for grading purposes.


The focus of the second paper is self-exploration. I will grade papers based on the evidence students provide that they have seriously and strenuously dealt with the subject. These are personal and important questions for which there is no single “right” answer, and it is not my intent to impose such an answer on students. It is, however, most important that students in this class grapple with the issues surrounding the thoughtful engagement of science and religion.


The personal reflection paper is due in two stages, shown on the schedule. By writing it in two parts, you will be able to reflect on how your ideas may have changed over the semester. Each part of the paper will be 3-5 pages in length. Papers will be typed, double-spaced, in a manner consistent with the APA style guide. More guidelines for the papers will be given during the second week of the course. Be aware that the due dates, shown on the schedule, are the last possible dates to submit the assignment.  I welcome papers before this due date. I DO NOT accept late papers for any reason.  I strongly recommend that you do not procrastinate.


Participation (worth 10% of course grade)


In this class we will learn from each other, as well as from our readings. Of course, we can’t learn from someone who isn’t here and contributing to the class. One-half of your participation grade will be gauged by attendance and by respectful contributions to class discussions. The other half of your participation grade will consist of your class summary of one of the chapters in Stone’s book of readings on failed prophecy. You, and possibly a partner, depending on enrollment, will summarize for the class a chapter in Stone’s book. Your summary will help us begin a discussion of that material, and your preparation (by thinking of questions and issues relevant to the chapter) will facilitate your preparation.




The GSU Catalog describes undergraduate grades in the following terms:

The “A” grade may be interpreted to mean that the instructor recognized exceptional capacities and exceptional performance.

The grade of “B” signifies that the student has, for any combination of reasons, demonstrated a significantly more effective command of the material than is generally expected in the course.

The “C” grade is the instructor’s certification that the student has demonstrated the required mastery of the material.

The student is graded “D” when his/her grasp of the course is minimal.

The “F” grade indicates failure to master the essentials and the necessity for repeating before credit may be allowed.      


Course grades will be calculated by the weighted sum of your exams, project, reflection paper, and participation points. Grades are assigned according to the schedule below.

          A = 90 – 100

          B = 80 – 89.9

          C = 70 – 79.9

          D = 60 – 69.9

          F =  0 – 59.9


Use this space to record your scores:

        ________  Exam 1

        ________  Exam 2

        ________  Final Exam

        ________  Project

        ________  Paper  (Part 1 ____; Part 2 ____)

        ________  Participation



                                                            Other Course Policies




If you have a documented learning disability or some other special need that requires accommodation of some type, be sure to discuss it with me before a problem arises. 


Policy on Honesty


I have found that students sometimes do not understand what plagiarism means.  If you have a question about plagiarism, ask me. This is one area where it is especially true that there is no such thing as a stupid question! The following excerpt from the Student Conduct Code summarizes important guidelines that you are expected to follow.


            [I]f a student writes while looking at a source or while looking at notes taken from a source, a [citation to that source] should be given.  Whenever any idea is taken from a specific work, even when the student writes the idea entirely in his [or her] own words, there must be a [citation] giving credit to the author responsible for the idea....  The student is entirely responsible for knowing and following the principles of paraphrasing.  The student should never retain a sentence pattern and substitute synonyms for the original words.  The student should never retain the original words and alter the sentence pattern.


In other words, academic dishonesty includes giving or receiving assistance on an exam, unauthorized use of notes or books during an exam, falsifying information on an assignment or project, or claiming credit for an idea or statement that belongs to someone else. Academic dishonesty may result in an "F" for the course, and the student may be referred to the Office of Judicial Affairs. If you have questions about whether or not a specific act would be considered dishonest, please read the student conduct code and then discuss the matter with me!


Classroom Conduct


In this course we will examine a large amount of material in a fairly short time frame.  Many students feel intimidated by the amount of material. As I outline in the section on study habits, it is best to read daily before class, and to follow class by rereading the material.  You will do better if you keep up than if you procrastinate. If you have difficulty reading and studying many pages daily, I recommend that you (a) consider enrolling in a different course and (b) contact the Learning Resource Center, located in the library, for help.


I expect active participation in class. Come prepared every day to answer questions based on the previous day’s lecture and on the readings for the class.  We will have activities, view videotapes, and do other activities that are designed to help you learn procedures, concepts or facts that are relevant to the class. Learning is an active process, not a passive one, and your involvement in these activities will help you understand the subject better.  In the process, you may learn interpersonal skills that will serve you well in other contexts.  If you prefer a class that allows you to quietly sit back and take notes, I recommend that you find another professor.


A good learning environment is one without distractions.  Beepers, cellular phones, and other devices that make noise are disruptive, and are not welcome in class.  If you have some unusual need for such a device, please discuss its use with me.  Other practices that may be disruptive and are disallowed from class include such things as reading newspapers, books or other material unrelated to the course; writing letters or notes to someone; or copying someone’s class notes from days that you missed.  Although I recommend that you obtain notes for days that you missed, copying them during class disrupts those around you, it limits your ability to pay attention during class, and I will ask you to refrain from doing this during class.  Please do this outside of class, rather than during class.  Likewise, I strongly discourage you from reading the text while you are listening to the lecture.  I rarely lecture “from the book,” and I have found that the students who use this technique do more poorly than those who keep their books closed during lectures. Of course, I encourage you to ask questions and offer comments about the text, but habitually reading from the text during class is associated with lower exam performance. Use class time to focus on the lecture and activities, and use your individual study time to review the text.


If class is canceled because of bad weather or for some other reason, assume that we will continue with the material when class resumes. You also should be prepared with the regularly scheduled material when class resumes.  If class is canceled on a day that an exam is scheduled, plan to take the exam on the first day that class resumes. (Do you see the pattern here?)


It is both distracting and disrespectful if you gather your things, close books, put on a jacket, etc., before class is over.  If you need to leave class early, discuss this with me before class so that the disruption is minimal.


I reserve the right to change or add to assignments, and to make changes to this syllabus, with adequate notice, for good reason.  I also reserve the right to move students from one seat to another, and to dismiss students whom I believe to be disruptive.


In sum, I expect you to treat your classmates, our guest speakers, and me with respect and consideration. Although you may not agree with someone, you should strive to phrase your view without attacking that person. Students who find this to be too difficult will be asked to leave so that others can enjoy the class.


Office Hours


If you have any difficulty with the course content, feel free to stop by my office during the hours indicated above, or by special appointment. Particularly after the first exam, but well before the last day to withdraw, be sure to see me if you are having problems. The week of final exams is obviously not the time to get serious about the course, so see me early. I am here to help! I use e-mail frequently, so you may find it convenient to contact me via e-mail. I will respond to your e-mail as quickly as I am able, usually within a few hours of receiving it.


Grading Disputes


I strive to grade projects and exams fairly and consistently. In order to ensure that each student’s work is graded in accordance with standards that apply to the entire class, if you have a question regarding a grade, you must meet with me within two weeks after the work in question is graded. No exceptions will be made to this policy. If the exam or assignment is re-scored, the entire exam or project will be graded again. This means that your score may increase or decrease.



Study Habits



A typical course load is considered to be 15 credit hours per semester. National accreditation committees--the people whose "stamp of approval" gives meaning to a university degree--base this on the assumption that students study at least two hours outside of class for every hour that they are in class. I base the course on this assumption. Thus, for a 3-hour class such as this, you should expect to work at least 9 hours each week (3 hours in class, 6 hours studying outside of class). Notice that a person who takes a standard, 15 hour course load is committing to be involved in school 45 hours each week, which is why 15 hours represents a full schedule--it is the equivalent of a full-time job, plus overtime. Each day, you should devote at least two hours to studying for this course. In order to be successful in this course, you should do the following:

          1.       Read the assigned readings before we discuss them in class. This way, you can ask questions when we are talking about the material.

          2.       Come to class every day. Pay attention, ask questions, and enjoy yourself.

          3.       Reread the material following class. This will help you improve your understanding of nuances you may have missed earlier.

          4.       Spend at least 9 hours studying for this class each week. Students who do this are much more likely to succeed than students who do not do this!

          5.       Study consistently. Don't rely on "cramming" to get you through the class. You will recall the material better if you study every day.

          6.       Remember that learning is fun! Ask questions about the material as you study. Become involved with the subject. Learning is exciting, and you are fortunate to be in school. There are millions of people throughout the world who wish they had the opportunity that you now have. Enjoy it, and take advantage of your chance!



While we're on the subject, here's something to think about. A colleague sent this to me, and although I do not know the original source, I believe the statistics are sound. If we could, at this time, shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look like this:


          The village would be made up of 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western Hemisphere

                    (both North and South), and 8 Africans

          70 would be non-white; 30 white

          70 would be non-Christian; 30 Christian

          6 people would control 50% of the entire wealth, and all 6 of them would be from the U.S.

          70 would be unable to read

          50 would suffer from malnutrition

          80 would live in substandard housing

          1 would have a college education


As you can see, being in college is a rare privilege. Make good use of this opportunity!




                                                              Tentative Schedule


The following schedule is an outline listing the topics that we will discuss, and the order in which we will discuss them. Be aware that this sequence may change in order to keep the class schedule flexible so that we can meet with our guest speakers, etc. Note that in order to know the details of the reading assignments, it is essential that you attend class. I will make any announcements that are necessary at the beginning of class.  Such announcements might be regarding the details of our reading assignments, schedule modifications that might arise, or changes in exam dates. Be sure to ask a classmate what you missed if you do happen to come late to class.


Important Dates


Aug 23         Begin Argyle, Nielsen as assigned

Sep 6           Personal Reflection Paper, part 1, due by beginning of class

Sep 13         Project idea due

Sep 27         Exam 1 (Argyle chapters 1-8; Nielsen as assigned)

Oct 3           last day to withdraw without academic penalty

Nov 8          Exam 2 (Argyle chapters 9-16; Nielsen as assigned)

Nov 13        Begin Stone, student summaries and discussions

Nov 27        Project due by beginning of class

Dec 3           Personal Reflection Paper, part 2, due by beginning of class

Dec 6           Last class meeting – Get final exam (Stone); Do make-up exam, if necessary

Dec 12         11:00 a.m. Final Exam Due


Remember, due dates for papers and projects reflect the last day that they will be accepted. I welcome them any time before the due date, and I strongly encourage you to submit them early.

Psychology 3231, Psychology of Religion, Fall 2000



I have received a copy of the syllabus for Psychology 3231, Psychology of Religion.   I have read the syllabus and have been offered an opportunity to ask questions.  I understand and agree to the requirements in this syllabus. I also have considered the benefits of academic honesty, and agree to the standards and procedures outlined in this syllabus.




Signed ________________________________                Date ______________



Name (Printed) _________________________



I would like my alias for posting grades to be: _____________