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FALL 2000


Thursday evenings 6-9PM, Hall of Letters, Room 103

Don McCormick, Ph.D.


Office: 206 Williams Conference Center

Phone: (909) 748-6249

Fax: (209) 396-9135

Office Hours: To be announced

Syllabus last revised 3/31/00 8:06 PM




The study of human behavior and experience is, for many, the most fascinating topic in the world, and what aspect of human experience could be more challenging and interesting than religion? Since the beginnings of human thought human beings have wondered:


     "Why am I here."

     "Where did I come from?"

     "How did the world around me come into existence?"

     "Is there a purpose we should be striving for?"

     "What happens after death?"


These questions are among those that religions attempt to answer. Different cultures have asked and answered such questions in different ways. Psychologists studying religion attempt to make progress in answering such questions as:


     How do religious beliefs and values develop throughout life?

     What psychological variables are involved in the function of such features of religion as ritual, mystical experiences, prayer, conversion, worship, meditation?

     How do individual differences in motivation and personality relate to differences in religion?


Goals for the Course


What are your goals for this course? You have to decide for yourself, but here are some that I would like to achieve:


1.   Learn how psychology can help us understand religion and help you decide what you believe.

2.      Understand psychological approaches to studying eastern and western religion.

3.   Develop an understanding of psychological concepts and theories as they relate to religion.

4.   Increase curiosity about human experience and behavior, including religious experience and behavior.

5.   Provide a conceptual framework for further learning.

6.   Increase understanding of (and respect for) other people's religious beliefs and practices.

8.   Deepen our understanding and integration of our own values and religious beliefs, through greater awareness of factors that have shaped them. One of the assumptions of this course is that each of us has some set of values (in our terms, a religion). We struggle throughout life to achieve a deeper and more meaningful understanding that will help us both in making decisions in everyday life and in making sense of our lives as we approach death. I hope that this course will help you in that endeavor, and ultimately lead to a better life.


Write some of your goals in the space below:


How Can You Achieve These Goals?


The course will provide a variety of activities and resources designed to help you learn:





     Team project




      Experiential exercises

      Supplementary readings

      Observation of other religious traditions


Your active, mindful involvement in these activities will determine how much you get out of the course. The more you put into the course, the more you will get out of it.


Textbooks and Readings


Your textbooks and course reader provide the basic content of the course.


Wulff, D. W. (1997) The Psychology of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Views, 2nd Edition. (New York:Wiley) is an award winning textbook that takes a very broad international and historical approach. It is also very up to date and research based. It is not a quick, easy read. It will require effort, but it is effort well spent. It is expressly written for “undergraduate students in a survey course on the psychology or religion, many of whom have little or no academic background in either psychology or religion.” (p. ix).


Walsh, R. & Vaughan, F. (eds) (1993) Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision. Los Angeles: Tarcher. This is a good, widely used introductory textbook for courses in transpersonal psychology.




Do the reading before you come to discussion. Doing this will ensure that everyone involved will get more out of the course. The discussions will be more comprehensible to you (which is good for you), and therefore you will be more likely to ask interesting questions (which is good for us and your fellow students). In listening and reading try to think about the implications of the speaker's or author's words. (Don't just memorize them!)


Discussions are intended to give you a chance to raise questions, to try out your ideas, and to learn from your classmates by getting their reactions to your thoughts and comparing their experiences with yours. Discussions are particularly important in a course such as this where one is trying to understand religious beliefs of others as well as clarify one's own beliefs. It is particularly important to communicate respect for your classmates' spiritual views and practices (or lack of same).


Discussion Questions


1. Discussion Questions


For each class session, you need to come in with a typed question, comment or idea for discussion. It has to be related to the readings. Please note the part of the readings it refers to. For example, “This refers to the statement on page 47 about veeblefetzers” or “This refers to the authors’ attitude toward spiritual leadership.” Write the question or comment on the board at the beginning of class and then hand in the written copy.


A good discussion question or comment is one that you want to discuss with the class. It should be one that you regard as important—one that you actually care about. You should be interested in it, and it may be provocative; it may even cause an argument. Questions should be open-ended.


A poor discussion question or comment is one that you chose just to show that you did the reading. A poor question is closed ended (like a multiple choice quiz question), one where you are not really interested in the answer, or one that you already know the answer to.


The purpose of these questions is to stimulate your interest in the readings by encouraging you to relate the readings to your everyday life and to issues that you care about—to help you to become more engaged with the ideas in the course. Many students have told me that bringing in a discussion question changes the way they read. As they read an article, they have this discussion question assignment in the back of their minds and are asking themselves what it is that they want to discuss about the reading. They report that it makes them read more carefully. It helps them think about whether the readings are important to them, how they are important, or what aspects of them are important. The discussion question works best if you reflect on the reading and come up with the question right after completing the week’s reading. I ask that you type it because when I haven’t required that, some students began putting off coming up with a question until five minutes before class started and then dashing one off. That defeated the purpose of the assignment.


Questions are graded on the quality of thought put into them, whether or not they are late, whether or not they are typed, and whether or not they include a clear reference to the source of the question in the readings (including page number where appropriate).


First Paper


The first paper (4-7 pages) is to be a comparative analysis of the functioning of two religious groups. You are asked to visit the services of two different traditions or denominations within a tradition (e.g. Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu) that are significantly different from one another. Before you go, I will set up teams of three or four students with whom you will be sharing your experiences. Your team should make sure that as a group you visit at least 3 or 4 different communities. If possible, it might be best to go with a member of the organization or a member of your team.


When you go, try to find out answers to some of the questions I suggest below. (I believe that most people in a spiritual community will be happy to tell you something about their organization). In essence, try to understand how the particular community operates, what beliefs are present, what practices occur, and what the meanings of that community and its practices are to its participants. In addition, you will be asked to reflect on your experiences in those communities. Finally, I will ask you to compare the two groups you visit in a paper. Here are some of the questions you might investigate:


1.   Why do the people of this group attend religious service? What function do these services/meetings serve for those who participate in them?

2.   How did these people come to chose this particular group? How is this group different from others (e.g. social class, age and race of members, friendliness, intellectual content, emotional climate, social action component, training of spiritual leaders, participation of congregation in service, emotion, ritual, organizational structure)?

3.   How does the religious leader function? Is the leader a priest? counselor? intellectual leader? evangelist? administrator? roshi? What else did you notice about the leadership position?

4.   What are the "objectives" of the meeting or service? How well do you think the practices and rituals meet these objectives? How does the community assess whether or not people are benefiting from the services/meetings?

5.   Is there a religious education program? How effective is it?

6.   How did you feel/experience the meeting/service? What do you think the regular worshippers were experiencing? How were your experiences similar to or different from prior experiences you have had in your own religious community?

7.   What were some of the core beliefs and practices in the service you attended?


The paper should be structured in such a way so that you can compare "ethnographic" stories in two different churches or communities you visited.


Second Paper - Team Project


In the groups of three or four that were set-up earlier, get together with the other team members and compare your experiences in the visits you made. Your team should make sure that as a group visit at least 4 different religious groups. The team is then to prepare a team report comparing and contrasting the groups visited by your team.


The goal of this project is to provide you with a broader perspective on different religious traditions that is deeper than you could gain by yourself. Although not a focus of your paper, this might also be an opportunity to share with your group members what you know of your own tradition. This will be especially useful if you have chosen to take another group member to your organization as a part of their experience of a new tradition. By planning and carrying out this project, you will not only gain a better understanding of the concepts of the course, but also gain experience and skills in working in cooperative groups--skills that are important for learning in college and afterwards as well.


After you have shared your experiences try to discover several "core" or main questions you all had in visiting different organizations. For instance, you might wonder what kinds of "religious experiences" members in the community have. After you have identified one or two main questions you might have about the different communities, discuss how you might conduct a scientific investigation into that question. Could empirical methods as developed in the western science of psychology be used to aid in answering your questions? Describe the questions, assumptions about the "psychology of religion", and the methods you might use to investigate your questions.


The Weekly Journal


Purpose of the Journal


The weekly journal is a means of reflecting on your own religious experiences, thinking critically about issues relating to psychology and religion, and integrating these things with the readings and material from lecture, and discussions in class and out of class. I may provide you with a quote or phrase or question and ask you to briefly reflect on it. In addition, you should feel free to provide any other insights you may have gained or questions that have come to mind during that week. The journal will serve as a means of dialoguing with a classmate and me.


Process of Doing the Journal


In the beginning of the course, you will pair up with another student. Each week you and your partner will exchange the SINGLE PAGE journal entries, and will provide A SEPARATE SHEET with some comments/thoughts/feedback to that person on the entry. At three times during the semester I will collect both your journal entries and the comments you provided to the other person on their entries. Pick one or two entries that were particularly important to you, and I will give you feedback on those entries as well.


Evaluating the Journal


I will assign points based on the completion of weekly journal entries and the provision of feedback to your partner. These journals are meant for your personal exploration and sharing with another of your classmates.


Commenting on Another Person's Journal


When you read your partner's journal entries, your purpose is not to evaluate it. Rather, give your own reactions, ideas, suggestions, understandings, etc. Think of it as a conversation from which you both will share and learn.


Tests and Grading


The tests are intended primarily to help your learning and memory, but also to provide a basis for grading. It will test not only basic knowledge, but also your ability to apply and think about psychology and religion.


I do not grade competitively on a curve. It will pay to help your classmates and to work cooperatively with them. Your grade will be determined by the total points you earn.


Points will be awarded as follows:

First paper             80

Team paper    40

Mid-term             40

Quizzes 36

Journals 36

Discussion Questions             36

Final exam           100

TOTAL           368

There will be 368 possible points. Grades are based on your point total.

331 - 368 = A- to A

294 - 330 = B- to B+

240 - 293 = C- to C+

184 - 239 = D- to D+




Week 1 September 7

Introduction to Psychology and Religion, Introductions, Course expectations


Week 2 September 14

Read: Wulff: Ch. 1 Introduction

Read: Walsh & Vaughan: Ch 1 Consciousness


Discussion Question Due


Week 3 September 21

Read: Wulff: Ch. 2 The Formal Beginnings


Discussion Question Due


Week 4 September 28

Read: Wulff: Ch. 3 Biological Foundations of Religion


Discussion Question Due


Week 5 October 5


Read: Wulff: Ch. 4 Behavioral and Comparative Theories of Religion


Discussion Question Due


Week 6 October 12

Read: Wulff:  Ch. 5 Religion in the Laboratory

Read: Walsh & Vaughan: Ch. 2 Meditation, Ch. 3 Lucid


Discussion Question Due



Week 7 October 19

Read: Wulff: Ch. 6 The Correlational Study of Religion

Read: Walsh & Vaughan: Ch 4 Mind


Discussion Question Due


Week 8 October 26

Mid Term Examination


Discussion Question Due


Week 9 November 2

Read: Wulff: Ch. 9 Erik H. Erikson: Religion in the Human Life Cycle

Read: Walsh & Vaughan: Ch. 5 Development,


Discussion Question Due



Week 10 November 9

Read: Wulff: Ch. 10 C. G. Jung and the Analytical Tradition

Read: Walsh & Vaughan Ch. 6 Clinical, Ch 7 Therapies


Discussion Question Due


Week 11 November 16

Read: Wulff: Ch. 11 William James and His Legacy


Discussion Question Due



Week 12 November 23



Week 13 November 30

Read: Wulff: Ch. 13 The American Humanistic Synthesis

Read: Walsh & Vaughan Ch 8 Science


Discussion Question Due


Week 14 December 7

Handout: McCormick: Introduction to Spirituality in the Workplace

Read: Walsh & Vaughan Ch 9 Philosophy, Ch 10 World, Ch 11 Future


Discussion Question Due



Week 15 Final Examination

To Be Announced


[1] Much of this syllabus comes directly from or is adapted (with permission) from the syllabus of Professor Wilbert McKeachie’s Psychology of Religion course at the University of Michigan.