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MW 10-11 Schorling Aud. McKeachie, Roeser, & Chambon

Discussion Sections:

Dis. Sec. 002; Tue 4:00 - 6:00 2302 Ed.; Roeser
Dis. Sec. 003; Thur 4:00 - 6:00 2302 Ed.; Roeser
Dis. Sec. 004; MW 2:00 - 3:00 Alice Lloyd; Chambon
Dis. Sec. 005; MW 3:00-4:00 Alice Lloyd; Chambon


W.J. McKeachie
e-mail: Wilbert_McKeachie
Office: K407 Lloyd
Phone: 763-0218, 763-1016, 963-2755

Robert Roeser
e-mail: Rob_Roeser
Office: 5201 ISR
Phone: 747-3683

Thierry Chambon
Office: 4225 Couzens Hall


The study of human behavior and experience is, for us, 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:
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:

Goals for the Course

What are your goals for this course? You have to decide for yourself, but here are some that we would like to achieve:
  1. Learn how psychology can help us understand religion and help you decide what you believe.
  2. Understand eastern and western psychological approaches to studying religion.
  3. Develop an understanding of psychological concepts and theories as they relate to religion.
  4. Develop skills in western psychological ways of analyzing and thinking about human behavior and experience and understand eastern traditions where psychology and religion are not separated.
  5. Increase curiosity about human experience and behavior, including religious experience and behavior.
  6. Provide a conceptual framework for further learning.
  7. 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. We hope that this course will help you in that endeavor, and ultimately lead to a better life.
Before the first discussion section, write some of your goals in the space below:







How Can You Achieve These Goals?

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

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 coursepack provide the basic content of the course.

Spilka, B., Hood, R.H. Jr, & Gorsuch, R.L., The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. Prentice-Hall, 1985 is a standard American textbook representing the approach of most American psychologists.

deWit, H.F. Contemplative Psychology. Duquesne University Press, 1991 represents a phenomenological approach more akin to the beliefs of the religions in India and Eastern Asia.

The Coursepack includes a number of readings from the Eastern tradition, some of which have never been published in the United States.

Supplementary Readings

We have put a number of texts on reserve in the Graduate Library to serve as supplements to your regular class reading, and to provide you with resources for your papers. The list includes both western psychological texts (e.g. Allport, Fromm, Jung, Skinner, etc.), as well as eastern texts (e.g. Dhammapada, Yoga Sutras, etc.). The eastern texts in one sense could be considered "scriptures" rather than what we usually think of as "psychological texts." Why "religious" textbooks for the Eastern traditions and not for the Western ones you might wonder. Recall that one of the things we will explore together is how in the Eastern traditions (e.g. Sufism, Buddhism, Yoga Traditions) spiritualities and psychologies are intertwined still. As a great Indian teacher Swami Muktananda remarked: "In India there are a great many holy books...These scriptures speak very little about how to attain God; instead, they are almost entirely devoted to describing means of purifying and stilling the mind." Just as the western psychology texts are about our mental lives, and relations among our thoughts, emotions and behaviors, so too are the "scriptural" works from Hinduism and Buddhism below. We encourage you to explore works from Hinduism and Buddhism below. We encourage you to explore the works from both traditions in an effort to better understand the psychological aspects of religion.


Much of what we would like you to read is not readily accessible or would require you to spend too much time to read. The lectures will present such material as well as elaborating the assigned readings.

Do the reading before you come to lectures. Doing this will ensure that everyone involved will get more out of the course. The lectures 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 you fellow students). In listening and reading try to think about the implications of the lecturer'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

The discussion sections will also include demonstrations and experiential exercises intended to aid your understanding and appreciation of spirituality in western and eastern religions.

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, we 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.

Rob will try to set up visits to the Jewel Heart Buddhist Center, the Zen Buddhist Temple, and the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center if students are interested.

When you go, try to find out answers to some of the questions we suggest below. (We 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, we will ask you to compare the two groups you visit in a written 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, 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? rinpoche? 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 early by your section leader, 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? What about eastern approaches to spiritual practice and the psychological aspects of spiritual life? How might the notion of a "contemplative psychology" be used to investigate 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. Each week, your section instructor will provide you with a quote or phrase or question and will 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 your TA.

Process of Doing the Journal

In the beginning of the course, your section leader will ask you to 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 your TA will collect both your journal entries and the comments you provided to the other person on their entries. The TA will ask you to pick one or two entries that were particularly important to you, and will give you feedback on those entries as well.

Evaluating the Journal

Your TA 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

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

We 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, discussion, journals, etc. 60
Final exam 100

There will be 320 possible points. Grades are based on your point total.
288 - 320 = A- to A+
256 - 287 = B- to B+
208 - 255 = C- to C+
160 - 207 = D- to D+

Lecture Schedule
Psychology 313/Religion 369 - Psychology and Religion

-Revised January 10, 1994-

Week of January 5

Readings: Spilka, Hood, & Gorsuch, Chapter 1 (pp. 1-29)
Wednesday Lecture: Introduction to Psychology and Religion, Instructors' Positions, Course Goals, Student Expectations

Week of January 10


Monday Lecture: Introduction to Mainstream "Psychology of Religion"

Wednesday Lecture: Religious Development in Childhood

Supplementary Readings:

Week of January 17

Readings: Spilka, Hood, & Gorsuch, Chapter 4 (pp.88-92), Chapter 5

Monday Lecture: MLK DAY - NO CLASS

Wednesday Lecture: Religious Development in Adult Life

Supplementary Readings: Wulff, Psychology of Religion, Chapter 8

Week of February 14



Monday Lecture: Mysticism - Western Approaches

Wednesday Lecture: Mystical Experience and Methodology - Eastern Approach

Supplementary Readings: James, Varieties of Religious Experience, Lectures XVI & XVII, "Mysticism"

Week of February 21


Week of February 28



Monday Lecture: Zen Buddhism

Wednesday Lecture: The Social Psychology of Religion

Supplementary Readings: Wulff, Psychology of Religion, Chapter 5

Week of March 28


Readings: Spilka, Hood, & Gorsuch, Chapter 6

Monday Lecture: Religion and Death

Wednesday Lecture: The Near Death Experience (Calvert Rozelle)

Supplementary Readings: Rozelle, C., The near-death experience
To be announced

Week of April 4

Readings: To be announced

Monday Lecture: Bereavement, Loss, Grief and the Church

Wednesday Lecture: Existentialism

Supplementary Readings: Fadiman & Frager, Personality & Personal Growth, Chapter 15

Week of April 11

Readings: de Wit, Chapter 5, "Body and Behavior in Contemplative Psychology"

Monday Lecture: The Body and Spirituality


Supplementary Readings: Fadiman & Frager, Personality & Personal Growth, Chapter 7

Week of April 18


Monday Lecture: Review Section

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