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Psychology and religion – truce time

Ralph Hood, Professor of Psychology and distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), spoke to Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications after his presentation on Mysticism and the Relationship between Religion and Spirituality. He was speaking at the international conference on Spirituality in Society and the Professions, which took place in the Waterford Institute of Technology from 16-18 May 2019. Professor Hood discussed the relationship between psychology and religion and how their abrupt divorce came about, focussing particularly on the work and influence of American philosopher and psychologist William James.

In James’ The Principles of Psychology, Professor Hood notes that the author originally started out calling psychology a ‘natural science’, advocating that religion should be treated from that standpoint. But later, with the growing trend to reduce the natural sciences to narrow and empirically verifiable criteria, James abandoned that assumption. According to Hood, James wrote his classic, The Varieties of Religious Experience, and in it said that one of the tasks of the psychologist is to uncover religious experience and then explore the way people interpret it in various traditions.

Professor Hood disagrees with psychologists who reduce the transformative religious experiences of figures such as Saint Paul and Martin Luther to potentially apparent medical conditions. He asserts that even if their medical condition were part of the context this does not mean that the experiences in their entirety were not valid religious experiences. Their meaning and worth should be assessed and judged particularly by their fruits. He notes that James distinguished between meaningful religious experiences and ones that were destructive. Moreover, Hood points out that spiritual guides in religious traditions have an important role to play in helping people to make this distinction and to discern wisely.

He believes that greater collaboration is needed between mental health professionals such as psychologists and psychiatrists and religious. “That’s why you need psychology and religion. It’s not psychology or religion.”

Listen to the interview above for the full story.

Photo: George Goulding (WIT)