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Psychology/Religious Studies 475
Elizabeth Weiss Ozorak
Psychology & Religion

Carnegie 213/332-2394
Fall 1996

It is hard to talk about religion without considering psychology. After all, people can only experience the holy through their own human capacities, and many Jews and Christians believe that human beings can, or do, reflect the nature of God in some way. Theology, for its part, has plenty to say about human nature. This course, then, is not just "psychology of religion" (although it is partly that); it is an attempt to examine some of the possible kinds of dialogue between psychology and religious studies. In some cases these dialogues will have been set up for us by the authors whose work we are reading; in other cases, we will have to draw the connections ourselves, in discussion.

There are a number of questions that I expect to surface many times throughout the course. What are the human experiences of God? What do these experiences suggest about human nature -- as it is and as it should be? What is the role of the individual in religion? What is the role of the community? --of Scripture? --of ritual? How can these things best be studied and understood? Does it matter whether the person studying them is inside or outside the religion itself? Why? You will have many of your own questions as well. My experience is that more study leads to more questions, rather than answers, but that the questions themselves become more helpful.

This course will be run much like a seminar. I will do very little lecturing, although I will always be happy to field questions. Most of the class time will be spent in discussion of the texts, sometimes with members of the class leading the discussions. You will need to complete the reading before the class for which it is assigned and bring your book or copy of the reserve reading and your journal to each class. This will allow us to have informed, specific discussions and will become increasingly necessary as the term goes on and memories get overtaxed.


I am asking you to keep a reading journal for this course. This is not a personal diary, but rather a place to work out your thoughts and record your questions while doing the readings. For each reading you do, I would like at least a page of response: comments and questions that you would like to raise in class. Your careful preparation for discussion in the journal will make a huge difference in the quality of class time. The journal is also a place for us to have more individualized conversations about the readings and the issues they raise. Questions we don't get to in class, or which you feel awkward raising with the whole group, can go in your journal for me to respond to later. I will try to look at the journals at least once a month.

Term project

You will have the opportunity to do one major project on a topic of your choice, subject to approval. The only absolute requirements are: 1) that it integrate psychology and religion; 2) that it draw on at least two different theoretical perspectives; and 3) that it include some original analysis on your part, not just description. You will submit a proposal with a tentative bibliography early in October. This will ensure that everyone has a feasible project in plenty of time to obtain necessary sources.

Pick a topic or issue that interests you. This can be anything from a particular portion of Scripture (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) or aspect of Scripture (e.g. women in the gospels) to a set of practices (e.g. kosher dietary laws) to some aspect of a particular community of faith (e.g. the understanding of sickness and healing among Christian Scientists) or demographic group (e.g. the relation of faith to emotional coping and well-being in adolescents from two or three different religions). Whatever the topic, be sure you consider both religious significance and psychological impact. It is worth doing a search before you get too attached to a topic, just to be certain that there is enough material available. There is nothing more frustrating than inconclusive searches, so if you are not extremely familiar with use of the CD-ROM databases and on-line searches, do yourself a favor and attend the help sessions offered by the library staff. I will let you know when these will be.

Length and number of sources will depend partly on the nature of the project, but I have in mind something 12-15 pages (in a standard 11 or 12 pt. font with default margins), drawing on at least ten sources other than those used for class.


There will be two take-home exams, a mid-term and a final. These will be essay exams with page limits specified. Both will be open-book and open-notes, but not open-person (i.e. you can consult anything you have read or written down, but you should not consult any other person, except me). Both will be integrative and cumulative. The exam will be handed out over a week before it is due to give you plenty of time to think about it.

The seven deadly sins (with respect to this course)

  1. Showing disrespect for another person's religious beliefs, practices, or lack of same.
  2. Coming to class unprepared.
  3. Coming to class late or leaving early, unless previously arranged with me.
  4. Not talking in class.
  5. Missing class.
  6. Turning in late work.
  7. Hogging library sources.
Remember that, according to theologian Donald Capps, each deadly sin is matched by a saving virtue (in this case, respect, preparation, punctuality, engagement, reliability, discipline and neighborliness). I am confident of your ability to be virtuous. If you foresee a problem with any of these, please consult me well in advance. In case of unforeseen crisis, please contact me as soon as possible.


There is a lot of reading in this course. Hang tough; it's worth it. I am asking you to buy the books that we will read most or all of, so that we can have them to refer to in class. The recommended book is one from which we will use shorter selections, but since we are using it three times, you may find it most convenient to buy your own copy. You are encouraged to make your own photocopies of the reserve readings (I cannot legally make them for all of you, but you can all legally make them for yourselves). I would urge you to do this early since there is likely to be heavy last-minute demand for the reserve copies. Most of these are books and you should have no trouble making a nice clean copy for yourself.

Many of the readings refer to specific passages in the Bible. For this reason, you will need to have constant access to a Bible and to keep it with you when you read other things. I will also occasionally assign passages that I think will be helpful in conjunction with the other reading. I'm assuming that many of you have, or can get your hands on, a suitable Bible and so I have not had the bookstore buy a lot of them. By "suitable" I mean the New Revised Standard Version or other current translation that includes all of the books -- preferably also the Apocrypha -- and is faithful to the original languages. If you are using something other than the RSV, please check it out with me first.

Required books:

Recommended book:

Reserve readings:

Class schedule:

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