Psychology/Religious Studies 475
Elizabeth Weiss Ozorak
Psychology & Religion
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.
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)
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
- Showing disrespect for another person's religious beliefs,
practices, or lack of same.
- Coming to class unprepared.
- Coming to class late or leaving early, unless previously
arranged with me.
- Not talking in class.
- Missing class.
- Turning in late work.
- Hogging library sources.
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.
- Bondi, R. (1995). Memories of God: Theological reflections
on a life. Nashville, TN: Abingdon.
- Goldberg, M. (1991). Jews and Christians: Getting our
stories straight. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International.
- Hostetler, J.A. (1993). Amish society (rev. ed.).
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- James, W. (1902/1958). The varieties of religious
experience. New York: NAL.
- Keck, L.E. (1988). Paul and his letters. Philadelphia:
- Kushner, H. (1993). To life!: A celebration of Jewish
being and thinking. Boston: Little, Brown.
- Placher, W.C. (1994). Narratives of a vulnerable God.
Louisville, KY: Westminster/ John Knox.
- The Holy Bible--preferably New Revised Standard Version
- Greeley, A.M., & Neusner, J. (1996). Common ground: A
priest and a rabbi read scripture together. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim
- Crites, S. (1971). The narrative quality of experience.
In S. Hauerwas & L.G. Jones (eds.; 1989), Why narrative? Grand
Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
- Hildegard of Bingen (1994). The letters of Hildegard of
Bingen, Vol. I (translated by J.L. Baird & R.K. Ehrman). New York:
Oxford University Press. Selected letters.
- Hildegard of Bingen (1990). Scivias (translated by C. Hart
and J. Bishop). New York: Paulist Press. Excerpts.
- Kertzer, M.N. (1993). What is a Jew? (revised by L.A.
Hoffman). New York: Macmillan. Excerpts.
- Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. (1994). Katie Cannon: The fruit of
my labor. In I've known rivers: Lives of loss and liberation.
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. Pp. 195-287.
- Leavy, S.A. (1988). In the image of God: A
psychoanalyst's view. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Ch. 6:
- Newman, B. (1987). Sister of wisdom: St. Hildegard's
theology of the feminine. Berkeley, CA: University of California
Press. Ch. 1: "A poor little female"; Ch. 6: The bride of Christ;
Ch. 7: Sister of wisdom.
- Niebuhr, H.R. (1941). The story of our life. In The
meaning of revelation. New York: Macmillan. Pp. 43-81. Also in
S. Hauerwas & L.G. Jones (eds.; 1989), Why narrative? Grand Rapids,
MI: William B. Eerdmans.
- Ozorak, E.W. (1996). In the eye of the beholder: A
social-cognitive model of religious belief. In B. Spilka & D.
McIntosh (Eds.), The psychology of religion: Theoretical approaches.
Boulder, CO: Westview.
- Plaskow, J. (1989). Jewish memory from a feminist
perspective. In J. Plaskow & C. Christ, Weaving the visions. San
Francisco: Harper & Row, pp. 39-50.
- Strassfeld, M. (1985). The Jewish holidays: A guide and
commentary. New York: Harper & Row. Rosh Hashanah (pp. 95-109);
Yom Kippur (pp. 111-123).
- Watts, F., & Williams, M. (1988). The psychology of
religious knowing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chs. 1,
2 & 3.
- Williams, D. (1989). Womanist theology: Black women's
voices. In J. Plaskow & C. Christ, Weaving the visions. San
Francisco: Harper & Row, pp. 179-186.
- 9/2 Introduction to the class
- 9/4 What does it mean to be Jewish? Kertzer; Kushner
- 9/9 The Jewish master story Goldberg (Intro. & Part I)
- 9/11 Goldberg
- 9/13 (evening) Rosh Hashana begins
- 9/16 Living the Jewish story: The High Holidays Kushner;
- 9/18 Sacred stories: Inside, outside Crites; Niebuhr
- 9/22 (evening) Yom Kippur begins
- 9/23 The Christian master story Goldberg (Part II)
- 9/25 Can Jews and Christians communicate? Goldberg; Greeley/Neusner
- 9/30 The Christian master story: A second opinion Placher
- 10/2 [cont'd] Placher
- 10/7 [cont'd] Placher; term project proposal due
- 10/9 The vulnerable God: Catholic and Jewish responses
Take-home midterm exam handed out
- 10/14 Paul and Christianity Keck
- 10/16 Paul reconsidered Keck; Greeley/Neusner
- 10/18 Take-home midterm exam due by noon
- 10/21 Midterm break -- no class
- 10/23 Religious experience James
- 10/28 Temperament and experience James
- 10/30 But is it true? James
- 11/4 Religious knowing: contemporary cognitive work Watts &
- 11/6 Religious feeling: contemporary psychoanalytic work W&W; Leavy
- 11/11 Hildegard of Bingen Hildegard: Scivias
- 11/13 Hildegard: Letters & Newman
- 11/18 The Amish people Hostetler
- 11/20 Hostetler
- 11/25 Hostetler
- 11/27 Thanksgiving break -- no class
- 12/2 Two contemporary theologians: (1) Roberta Bondi Bondi
- 12/4 Bondi/Chanukah
- 12/5 (evening) Chanukah begins
- 12/6 by noon: term project due
- 12/9 (2) Katie Geneva Cannon Cannon; Williams
Take-home final exam handed out
- 12/11 Lawrence-Lightfoot (on Cannon)
complete journal due
- 12/18 Take-home final exam due by 7 p.m.
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