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Psychology of Religion
Dr. Michael Nielsen
Potential Questions Based on The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach
by Hood, Spilka, Hunsberger & Gorsuch
Note to my students: This document will be updated throughout the Fall 1999 semester. Check at https://www.psywww.com/psyrelig/syllabi/classes/classes.htm for the latest version of these questions and other class materials.
Note to others: These questions come primarily from the text, but also include some material discussed in class that does not appear in the text.
Chapter 1: The Psychological Nature and Functions of Religion
Chapter 2: Religion in Childhood
- Discuss the problem of defining religion. In particular, describe the two basic perspectives that definitions tend to take, and what it means to use operational definitions in psychological research on religion.
- Describe the distinction between unidimensional and multidimensional approaches to the study of religion. Illustrate the distinction with specific examples. Which of the multidimensional approaches in Chapter 1 resonates most strongly with you, and why? Which is least appealing, and why?
- Distinguish between the biological and the psychological perspectives regarding religion. What evidence do advocates of each approach take in their attempt to understand religious thought and behavior?
- Imagine that you are describing Allport's view to someone. Explain the distinction that Allport seeks to make, and the modifications to Allport's scales proposed by Batson.
- Use an original example to describe what an attribution is. In the context of your example, explain when people are more likely to use religious (rather than naturalistic) attributions, and the types of situational and dispositional factors that influence our attributions.
Chapter 3: Religious Socialization and Thought in Adolescence and Young Adulthood
- What are the assumptions commonly found in stage theories of religious development? Illustrate your points by describing Piaget's theory of cognitive development, and two theories of religious development. Point out specific similarities between Piaget's theory and the other theories that you discuss.
- Describe attachment theory as it is applied to religious development. What are its main assumptions, and what does research on this subject suggest about religious life?
- According to our textbook's authors, what are the primary problems of developmental approaches to psychology of religion? Do you find their arguments convincing? Why or why not?
Chapter 4: Religion in Adult Life
- What is religious socialization? According to the research described in this chapter, in what ways do parents, peers, and education affect religious socialization?
- Compared to other age groups, are adolescents and young adults religious? Characterize the religious life of people in this age group.
- What factors does research suggest are associated with doubt? In what way have psychologists considered doubt to be good? Do you agree with this viewpoint, or do you disagree? Why?
Chapter 5: Religion and Death
- How would you characterize the role of religion in adults' lives? Cite research to support your view.
- Summarize the research that has been conducted regarding the ways that religion affects marital relationships. Include in your discussion how religion affects marital happiness, sexuality, and divorce rates.
- Describe religion's role in both exacerbating, and reducing, conflict in political life.
Chapter 6: Religious Experience
- How common is belief in an afterlife, and what factors appear to contribute to people's belief in the existence of an afterlife? Does research suggest that religious commitment reduces one's anxiety about death?
- How do people cope with the death of a loved one? Describe the roles that religion plays, focusing particularly on religious schemas and rituals. Illustrate your points with examples not mentioned in the text.
- Describe how religious belief and the social context can combine to affect death rates. Cite specific examples.
Chapter 7: Mysticism
- Describe the main features of religious experience outlined by James. How does Boisen modify James's idea? What does the Hardy Centre research suggest about religious experience, and how do they speak to James's factors?
- What role does physiological arousal appear to play in religious experience? Describe three additional ways that the body may play a role in religious experience. Use examples to illustrate your key points.
Chapter 8: Conversion
- Compare the three major views of mysticism presented in this chapter. What do they have in common, and where do their paths diverge? Which do you find more persuasive, and why?
Chapter 9: Social Psychology of Religion Organizations
- Describe the charactersitics of the following conversion models: (a) sudden vs. gradual conversion; (b) Lofland and Skonovd's "conversion motifs"; and (c) Rambo's "systemic stage" model? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach to understanding conversion?
Chapter 10: Religion and Morality
- Describe the development of church-sect theory. Use it to distinguish among different kinds of sects, and address the question of what factor(s) keep a sect distinct from a church. How does research using the New Morality Scale illustrate these factors?
- What does research say about the factors that make someone likely to become a follower in a new religious movement? Describe them, and contrast them with the developmental process that Len Oakes suggests occurs with leaders of new religious movements.
Chapter 11: Religion, Coping, and Adjustment
- How does religion impact morality? Describe the two basic positions that people take on this question, and relate them to the research described in this chapter concerning moral behavior. In particular, address the relationships between religion and behaviors relevant to sexuality, prejudice/stereotyping, and helping.
Chapter 12: Religion and Mental Disorder
- What does religion offer people in terms of meaning and control? Discuss the theoretical and empirical work that has been done regarding religion and control? Why would this be important to the psychologist?
- How might prayer be seen as a coping mechanism? Describe the various ways that prayer might contribute to one's coping abilities.
- Dr. Ken Pargament has developed an extensive theory and set of research studies on religion and coping. Summarize his theory, and use examples drawn from his research to illustrate the role of religion in coping.
- The authors present several different ways of viewing religion: as an expression of a mental disorder; as a socializing and suppressing agent; as a haven; as therapy; and as a hazard to mental health. Summarize these viewoints, along with the research relevant evidence. Which of these do you find most convincing, and why?
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