S/T in Social Psychology: Psychology and Religion

College of General Studies, University of Pennsylvania

Summer Session II, 2001


Course time:            Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6:00 – 9:10 PM

Course room:            Stiteler Hall, room B30


Coffee hour:     Wednesdays, 3:00 – 4:00 PM.  This is a time for us to sit and chat about the course or anything else at Buck’s County Coffee on Sansom St. between 34th and 36th.  (This is optional.  Note: I will not buy your coffee for you.)


Instructor:             Adam Cohen

Email:               acohen2@psych.upenn.edu

Office phone:             (215) 573-0657


§         I'm not so sure you need such a conversational overview on the syllabus, since you can say most of this on the first day of class (although it's a stylistic point, and obviously your prerogative)

§         The assignment topics are generally good, although I'm one who likes a little more freedom -- I think you should give them the question/suggestion as a guide, but be very clear that if they want to talk about something totally different, e.g. an issue that really struck them in the readings, then they should do that INSTEAD... otherwise, people aren't going to read and just give you a bunch of crap answering the question with little reference to the readings (it's an easy way out for them).  I just took a class in which we had to do a reaction paragraph or two each week, same as here, but we were totally free to talk about whatever we wanted as long as it was SPECIFICALLY the readings... it was part of our class participation grade, and the one thing that really kept a fire under my ass to actually do the reading

§         speaking of class participation grade, you do not clearly break down how the students are graded, something they *always* want to know...

§         re: having "too much reading" this is a problem for any good social science instructor, since there's so much good stuff out there.  the problem here is that you're meeting twice a week, and need to fill up 6 hours... I realize that's difficult, but don't give people too much to read and then expect them to have a good conversation for 3 hours.  My advice is give less reading (e.g. a really relevant chapter or two from a book, vs. the whole book, or 1 chapter versus 4 chapters) and do more preparation by making a set of notes for questions to ask, points to cover (which you'd probably do anyway, but...)

§         How many people are enrolled for this seminar?


General overview


This may be a very different course from what you expect.  An informal survey by me of other people’s psychology of religion courses shows a few crucial differences.  First, such courses are often offered in religion departments, not psychology departments.  Second, the courses are often called “Psychology of religion”, not “Psychology and religion”.  These two factors, put together, to me reflect that such courses are usually focused on such questions as “What’s wrong with those crazy religious people?” and “What is the psychoanalytic basis of religion?” People in these courses read Freud and Jung and call it a day.

We will engage such questions after a fashion.  But this course is called “Psychology and religion” because it is aimed at creating a constructive, respectful dialogue between psychology and religion, a two-way street.  We will as much as possible attempt not only to discuss what psychology can offer as far as understanding religion, but what religion can offer psychology; for example, why religious people are a little healthier and happier than nonreligious people.

Thus, at the conclusion of this course, we should have a sense of what important figures in the social sciences said about religion, such as Freud, James, and Durkheim; have a sense of the kinds of questions that religion raises for psychologists; in increased appreciation of different religious traditions; and a good sense of how psychologists interested in religion can proceed.  While this course does not explicitly fulfill any Penn core requirements, it should better prepare students for courses in a number of such areas.

Readings are available in a bulkpack at Campus Copy.  For each session I am trying to assign a classic or general reading as well as a primary research article in psychology, or at least, a review paper which discusses such articles.  Every class, there is a small assignment like a reaction paper in which you will have the opportunity to discuss the readings and relate it to a suggested topic, though you are free to take the assignment wherever you like, so long as it relates meaningfully to the readings.  These should be in the neighborhood of a page or two.  These count for 25% of your grade.

Class participation will count for 25% of your grade.  Class participation is not necessarily the same thing as talking.  It is making thoughtful comments, listening actively, respecting the other seminar participants and instructor, etc.  There is bound to be a variety of views about religion represented in the class.  No doubt some participants will be deeply religious and others skeptical.  It is going to be vital to cultivate an atmosphere of respect for both views. 

For a final paper, in about 10 or 12 pages, you will develop an idea for a research program by reviewing pertinent literature, generating detailed ideas for a study, and developing a methodology.  In our last class, we will jointly kick ideas around for this.  These will be due after the last class to give us a chance to give advice and feedback to each other.  In addition, the instructor will meet with you often to work on this.  You can do this individually or in pairs.  This paper will be worth 50% of your grade.

Take a minute now to look over the topics, readings, and assignments listed below.  As seminar participants, you will be able to suggest other topics, expanding certain topics, or removing certain topics.  Remember - this is joint venture between the class and the instructor. 


Who is your instructor?

            I am a post-doctoral fellow at the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at the University of Pennsylvania where I work on religion and moral judgment, religiosity health and happiness, forgiveness, and the Holocaust.  My B.A. (from Dickinson College) is in psychology and Judaic Studies, and my Ph.D. (from Penn) is in social psychology.  For my dissertation, I studied the importance of mental states (such as faith and immoral thoughts) in different religions.  In the fall I go to Dickinson College to be a professor. 


Course schedule

(subject to change)


Tuesday, July 3rd: What is religion? What is psychology?



            Hood, R.W., Jr., Spilka, B., Hunsberger, B. & Gorsuch, R. (1996).  The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach, Second Edition (pp. 1-12).  New York: Guilford.

Gleitman, H., Fridlund, A.J. & Reisberg, D. (1999).  Psychology, Fifth Edition (pp. 1-11).  New York: Norton.

James, W. (1902/1997).  The Varieties of Religious Experience (pp. 39-43).  New York: Touchstone.

Durkheim. E. (1912/1995).  Elementary Forms of Religious Life (trans. K.E. Fields).  (pp. 33-39).  New York: Free Press.



What is religion and how does it affect you?



Thursday, July 5th: Psychology versus religion?



Freud, S. (1927/1961).  The Future of an Illusion (trans. J. Strachey).  (pp. xxiii, 38-42).  New York: Norton.

Shermer, M. (1997).  Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (pp. 51-55; 59).  New York: MJF Books.

James, W. (1902/1997).  The Varieties of Religious Experience (pp. 27-30).  New York: Touchstone.

Readings from New York Times Magazine and The Pennsylvania Gazette.



Reflect on what would mean to Freud, James, or to you to find a brain area

which becomes active when people think about God. 



Tuesday, July 10th: Religion and food



Kass, L.R. (1994).  Why the dietary laws? Commentary, pp. 45-46.

Rozin, P. (1990).  Social and moral aspects of food and eating.  In I. Rock (Ed.), The Legacy of Solomon Asch: Essays in Cognition and Social Psychology (pp. 97-110).



Reflect on the symbolism of food in your religion or culture.  If you really want to impress me, think about a study you could do to explore this.



Thursday, July 12th: Two kinds of religions/faiths.



            Morris, P. (1996).  Community beyond tradition.  In P. Heelas, S. Lash & P. Morris (Eds.), Detraditionalization: Critical Reflections on Authority and Identity (pp. 238-245).  Cambridge: Blackwell.

            Denny, F.M. (1996).  The structures of Muslim life.  In H.B. Earhart (Ed.), Religious Traditions of the World: a Journey Through Africa, Mesoamerica, North America, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, China, and Japan (pp. 612-613).  San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Neusner, J. (1993).  Judaism.  In A. Sharma (Ed.), Our Religions (pp. 294-297; 306-308).  San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

            Cohen, A.B., Siegel, J.I. & Rozin, P. (2001).  Faith versus practice: Different bases for religiosity judgments for Jews and Protestants.  Manuscript submitted for publication.



Attend a religious service of a type you have never been to before. Write about

your reactions.



Tuesday, July 17th: Morality



            Shweder, R, Much, N.C., Mahapatra, M. & Park, L. (1997).  The “big three” of morality (autonomy, community, divinity) and the “big three” explanations of suffering.  In A.M. Brandt & P. Rozin (Eds.), Morality and Health (pp. 130-140).  New York: Routledge.



Try to think of some ways in which religion affects people’s moral compass – either how different religions produce the same moral ideas, or how different religions produce different moral judgments.  Again, a really impressive paper may have an idea for a study in there.



Thursday, July 19th: Religious belief and world-view



Berger, P.L. (1967/1990).  The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (pp. 19-28).  New York: Anchor Books.

            King, L. (2001).  The hard road to the good life: The happy, mature person.  Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 41(1), 51-72.  Read pp. 54-56; 58-61; 64-68. 

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J. & Pyszczynski, T. (2000).  Pride and prejudice: Fear of death and social behavior.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(6), 200-204.

            Scotton, B.W. (1998).  Treating Buddhist patients.  In H.G. Koenig (Ed.), Handbook of Religion and Mental Health (pp. 263-270).  San Diego: Academic Press.



Think of the last good thing that happened to you and write a narrative about it.  Make it anonymous or otherwise appropriate enough that we could analyze it as a class.



Tuesday, July 24th: Women in religion



            Siegel, R.J., Choldin, S. & Orost, J.H. (1995).  The impact of three patriarchal religions on women.  In J.C. Chrisler & A.H. Hemstreet (Eds.), Variations on a Theme: Diversity and the Psychology of Women (pp. 107-144).

            AuBuchon, P.G. & Calhoun, K.S. (1985).  Menstrual cycle symptomatology: The role of social expectancy and experimental demand characteristics.  Psychosomatic Medicine, 47(1), 35-45.

            Siegel, S.J. (1986).  The effect of culture on how women experience menstruation: Jewish women and mikvah.  Women & Health, 10(4), 63-74.



How does your culture or religion affect people’s views about women,

maybe your own views? How could you study this psychologically/scientifically?



Thursday, July 26th: Conversion



            James, W. (1902/1997).  The Varieties of Religious Experience (pp. 202-210).  New York: Touchstone.

            Paloutzian, R.F., Richardson, J.T. & Rambo, L.R. (1999).  Religious conversion and personality change.  Journal of Personality, 67(6), 1047-1079.   Read 1051-1058; 1073-1074.



Do a small “interview” with a convert, a person who became more or less religious, or a person who was born again and discuss what you found out.



Tuesday, July 31st: Religiosity, health and happiness



Myers, D.G. & Diener, E. (1995). Who is happy? Psychological Science, 6(1), 10-19.

Seybold, K.S. & Hill, P.C. (2001).  The role of religion and spirituality in mental and physical health.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10(1), 21-24.             

Harris, W.S., Gowda, M., Kolb, J.W., Strychacz, C.P., Vacek, J.L., Jones, P.G., Forker, A., O’Keefe, J.H. & McCallister, B.D. (1999).  A randomized, controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit.  Archives of Internal Medicine, 159, 2273-2278.


Seybold & Hill: review paper on health and religionAssignment:  

Come up with an idea for a study to separate effects of different aspects of religion on health or happiness.



Thursday, August 2nd: Evil



Arendt, H. (1963/1992).  Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (pp. 21-27; 277-279).

Baumeister, R.F. (1999).  Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty (pp. 38-47; 72-75).  New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Aronson, E., Wilson, T.D. & Akert, R.M. (1999).  Social Psychology, Third Edition (pp. 317-319). New York: Longman.



Consider: Is Timothy McVeigh evil?



Tuesday, August 7th: Forgiveness



Rye, M.S., Pargament, K.I., Ali, M.A., Beck, G.L., Dorff, E.N., Hallisey, C., Narayanan, V. & Williams, J.G. (2000).  Religious perspectives on forgiveness.  In M.E. McCullough, K.I. Pargament & C.E. Thoresen (Eds.), Forgiveness: Theory, Research and Practice (pp. 17-40).  New York: Guilford.  Read 17-23; 30-35.

Witvliet, C.V., Ludwig, T.E. & Laan, K.L.V. (2001).  Granting forgiveness or harboring grudges: Implications for emotion, physiology, and health.  Psychological Science, 12(2), 117-123.



Write a letter (you don’t have to send it) to a person you have not forgiven for some offense.  Make the copy of it that you turn in anonymous. 



Thursday, August 9th: Wrap-up, catch-up, review, discussion of final papers, up for grabs.