Back to Psychology of Religion Home Page
Back to Psychology of Religion Syllabus Index Page

PSY/RS 475: Psychology & Religion

Spring 1999

Elizabeth Weiss Ozorak (Psych) Helene Russell (Rel Studies)
Carnegie 203
Carnegie 217

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 we expect to surface many times throughout the course. What are human experiences of God like? 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? Our central question for this spring is: What is the relationship between redemption and psychological health? Many of the readings have been chosen to address some aspect of this question. You will have many of your own questions as well. Our experience is that more study leads to more questions, rather than answers, but that the questions themselves become more useful.

This course will be run as a seminar. There will be very little lecturing, although we will always be happy to respond to your 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.


You will need 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, there should be 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 one of us to respond to later. We 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 in February and we'll get it back to you promptly with any comments or suggestions we have. This is so everyone has a feasible project mapped out in plenty of time.

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. Last year these were offered four afternoons a week. Contact the library for times.

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. It is fine to use class sources in addition. You will present material from your term projects to the rest of the class, working in teams based on topic.


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 us). Both will be integrative and cumulative. Each 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). We are confident that you can be virtuous. If you foresee a problem, please consult us well in advance. In case of unforeseen crisis, contact one of us as soon as possible.


There is a lot of reading in this course. Hang tough; it's worth it. We are 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 (wecannot legally make them for all of you, but you can all legally make them for yourselves). It is wise 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. We may also occasionally assign passages that we think will be helpful in conjunction with the other reading. Probably many of you have, or can get your hands on, a suitable Bible and so we have not had the bookstore buy a lot of them. By "suitable" we 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 us first.

Required books:

Recommended book: Reserve readings: Class schedule:

Back to Psychology of Religion Home Page ...or.... Top of this file