Back to Psychology of Religion Home Page
Back to Psychology of Religion Syllabus Index Page

PSYC 485/R S 490 Psychology of Religion -- Spring 1997 -- Course Syllabus

Mondays, Wednesdays, & Fridays -- 10:00 A.M.-10:50 P.M.

Instructor: Christopher T. Burris, Ph.D.

Office: 215 Barry; Phone 321-3357; FAX: 321-4340; e-mail:

Office Hours:11:00-1:00,4:45-5:45 P.M. (M, W); 2:30-4:30 P. M. (T,Th)

Required Text: Hood, R. W., Jr., Spilka, B., Hunsberger, B., & Gorsuch, R. (1996). The psychology of religion (2nd edition). New York: Guilford.

Additional readings: Additional readings will be assigned, and will most likely be placed on reserve in the library for reading and/or photocopying. Due dates, location, and titles of supplementary readings will be announced in class.

Supplementary resources: For those of you who are familiar with web-browsing, I strongly encourage you to consult the Psychology of Religion homepage maintained by Dr. Michael Nielsen at Georgia Southern University. It offers a very nice introduction to research methods, current and historical figures, graduate study, books, journals, and other content areas in the psychology of religion, plus a truckload of related links. You are particularly encouraged to look at the research methods section for a brief "refresher," given the strong emphasis on research in this class.

Course Description: (from Spring course notes) "This is an in-depth, research-based survey of the study of the origins, development, and consequences of religion from a psychological perspective. The relationship between religion and social-psychological variables in particular (e.g., adjustment, prejudice, and prosocial behavior) will be investigated. Foundational assumptions necessary for a behavioral science of religion will also be considered."

Course Purpose and Structure: This is a senior-level course, and it also happens to be in my area of expertise. As such, although I will do some lecturing to introduce material not presented in your readings, I will also encourage you to take a more active learning role by utilizing a seminar structure for much of the course--which means that each of you will be responsible for leading (or co-leading) in-class discussions over the assigned readings. Keep in mind that this is a research-based, psychological examination of religion; it is explicitly NOT intended to be a theology or apologetics course. Thus, the appropriate question is not "What does the (fill in name of sacred text) say?", but "What do the data say?"

Rough Course Schedule (subject to revision):

1/13 Self and Syllabus
1/15 Foundational Assumptions 1; CHAPTER ONE
1/17 Foundational Assumptions 2
1/22 History
1/24 Research Methods
1/27 Religious Orientation I
1/29 Religious Orientation 2
1/31 Religious Orientation 3
2/03 Developmental Issues 1: Childhood 1; CHAPTER TWO
2/05 Developmental Issues 1: Childhood 2;
2/07 Developmental Issues II: Adolescence 1; CHAPTER THREE
2/10 Developmental Issues II: Adolescence 2
2/12 Developmental Issues III: Adulthood 1; CHAPTER FOUR
2/14 Developmental Issues III: Adulthood 2
2/17 Developmental Issues IV: Death 1; CHAPTER FIVE
2/19 Developmental Issues IV: Death 2
2/21 On-line Issues I: Religious Experience 1; CHAPTER SIX; MIDTERM GIVEN
2/24 On-line Issues I: Religious Experience 2
2/26 On-line Issues Il: Mysticism 1; CHAPTER SEVEN; MIDTERM DUE
2/28 On-line Issues II: Mysticism 2
3/05 BREAK
3/10 On-line Issues III: Conversion 1; CHAPTER EIGHT
3/12 On-line Issues III: Conversion 2
3/14 On-line Issues III: Conversion 3
3/17 On-line Issues IV: Religious Groups 1; CHAPTER NINE
3/19 On-line Issues IV: Religious Groups 2
3/21 On-line Issues IV: Religious Groups 3
3/24 Consequential Issues I: Religion and Morality 1; CHAPTER TEN
3/26 Consequential Issues I: Religion and Morality 2
3/31 Consequential Issues I: Religion and Morality 3
4/02 Consequential Issues I: Religion and Morality 4
4/04 Consequential Issues I: Religion and Morality 5
4/07 Consequential Issues I: Religion and Morality 6
4/09 Consequential Issues II: Religion and Coping 1; CHAPTER ELEVEN
4/11 Consequential Issues II: Religion and Coping 2
4/14 Consequential Issues III: Religion and Mental Disorder 1; CHAPTER TWELVE
4/16 Consequential Issues III: Religion and Mental Disorder 2
4/18 Consequential Issues III: Religion and Mental Disorder 3
4/21 Grandiose Issues I: So What? Now What? 1: CHAPTER THIRTEEN
4/23 Grandiose Issues I: So What? Now What? 2; PAPER DUE
4/25 Grandiose Issues I: So What? Now What? 3
4/28 Grandiose Issues II: Discussion of Student Papers I
4/30 Last Day of Classes; Grandiose Issues Il: Discussion of Student Papers 2


Written Midterm Examination: There will be a written midterm consisting of one or more essay questions intended to facilitate critical analysis and synthesis of the material covered in class up to that point. To that end, the midterm will be take-home, and you will have about 5 days to complete it. It will be open text, open notes, open outside resources, and open mind, but NOT open classmate. Test answers will be typed and references will be cited as appropriate.

Paper: There will be a minimum 10-page (not including references or title page) typed (doublespaced) paper due near the end of the semester. It may take one of two forms: 1) presenting a metaphor for religion, e.g., religion as art (this has already been used), that can help make sense out of a variety of research findings, as well as suggest new psychological understandings of religion (recommended for non- psych majors); 2) reviewing an area of psychology of religion research, pointing out one or more gaps, and proposing one or more studies that will help fill these gaps (recommended for psych majors). I strongly encourage you to begin scanning your text to identify possible topics that interest you early on, and to consult me regularly for direction as your ideas develop. Additional details regarding the paper will be discussed throughout the semester.

Class Facilitation: On at least one occasion (possibly more than once, depending on eventual class size), you will be expected to function as a class facilitator--that is, to share with me the responsibility for leading discussion over the assigned readings. This will require particular acquaintance with the readings, in order to summarize them and identify essential issues and questions emerging from them. You are strongly encouraged to meet with me to go over the material beforehand. We will discuss the mechanism for assigning topics/readings in class.

Class Participation: Due to our decentralized, seminar class structure, the quality of this course is largely dependent upon your willingness to engage thoughtfully the assigned material prior to each class, and to participate actively in class discussions: Do the readings, think about them, and be ready to talk about them. I certainly don't expect you to be Ph.D. level psychologists of religion, but the entire point of the class is to sharpen your skills and take you further than you've been before.

Oral Final Examination: The final examination in here will be oral and individual by appointment in my office. You will come in prepared to respond to any of a number of broad, open-ended questions about the psychology of religion that I have prepared beforehand. It's sort of like an essay final, but I have the luxury of probing you for further information or clarification--which hopefully benefits you!

Final course grades will be based on a combination of written and oral exam performance, paper quality, skill as a class facilitator, and quality/quantity of class participation as follows:

Written Midterm Examination 50 points
Oral Final Examination 50 points
Paper 50 points
Class Facilitation 25 points
Class Participation 25 points
Total: 200 points
The scale is: 186-200 = A; 170-185 = B; 150-174 = C; 133-149 = D; 0-132 = A certificate of participation. You are encouraged to keep track of the points you earn throughout the semester.

Attendance: (Standard Behavioral Sciences statement) "Students are expected to attend class. Any student who is absent, even for a legitimate cause, is responsible for the material covered and assignments given during the class that is missed. Students who miss in excess of 5 classes (MWF) or 4 classes (TTh) will receive a one-letter lowering of their final grade. Consistent with the university-wide policy, students who miss in excess of 20% of the total classes scheduled for the course (9/MWF or 7 TTh) will be dropped from the course with a grade of 'F.' Class attendance will be a factor in determining final grades in borderline cases." Let me be as clear as possible: THIS POLICY WILL BE ENFORCED.

In this class, there is no question that missing class adversely affects your ability to grasp the material and contribute meaningfully to this class, as reflected in the "participation" component of your grade. Moreover, poor class attendance is a warning sign that your motivation is not what it should be. My sincere hope is that you will find the class engaging enough that you will want to be here.

Random Suicide Skills: Failure to take responsibility for your own learning is the key to failing this course. Given the seminar format of much of this class, this can be accomplished in part by adhering to a strict vow of silence during class discussions. Another option is to assume an attitude of entitlement in here--that is, to assume that I owe you a certain grade in exchange for as little effort on your part as possible, as demonstrated by giving insufficient attention to course readings, for example. Entitlement can also be demonstrated by cheating or plagiarizing: (Standard School of Arts plagiarism statement) "Plagiarism is taking the work of others and offering it as one's own. Plagiarism is a major breach of the responsibility of students and scholars and is unacceptable in any community of learning. As such, plagiarism is cause for automatic failure for the course in which the assignment, paper, project, text, experiment, or oral presentation has been plagiarized." (If there is any doubt about this, please consult me BEFORE the situation arises; do not put me into a position where I have to "consult" you after).

Practice any/all of these skills, and I guarantee you that we'll have a miserable semester together.

Random Survival Skills: This is a senior-level, seminar-oriented course. If somewhere you have learned that it is not polite to speak up in class, 'UNLEARN IT--Ask questions, try out ideas, GET INVOLVED! This is absolutely essential for this class to be a worthwhile learning experience for you. Read the textbook and other assigned readings more than once with a pencil--that is, jot down notes, questions, criticisms, observations. Let me know when needs arise that might affect your performance in here. Take advantage of office hours and/or appointments to resolve confusion (or even to double check things you think you understand but might not). Practice common courtesies--like arriving on time, refraining from preparing for other classes during this one, etc.

Practice any/all of these skills, and life in this class holds considerably greater promise.

A Cautionary Note: We are about to engage in an in-depth exploration of one of the topics (along with politics) that, in North American society, is not to be discussed in polite company: religion. Moreover, we are about to examine religion, not as "insiders" (followers), but as critical "outsiders" (research-oriented psychologists). It is unrealistic to think that you or I have not formed some opinions, if not deeply held convictions about the various forms of religion that we will encounter. It is therefore absolutely essential that we (I include myself) strive to maintain an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for differing viewpoints in here. In this regard, it is worthwhile to remember that our goal in this class is neither to establish nor abolish any given theological truth(s), but to ascertain as best we can the psychological "truths" about religion.

A Personal Note: I strongly believe that the student-instructor relationship should be based on mutual respect. I also believe that the respect of which I speak must be earned by both of us, not taken for granted. I must show you that I am serious about teaching--challenging you and assisting you as appropriate. In turn, you must show me that you are serious about learning--challenging yourself and seeking out assistance. Let's show each other our best.

Back to Psychology of Religion Home Page ...or.... Top of this file