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  1. Turhan Canli
  2. ISBN 13: 9781554521005
  3. A Brief Introduction to the Psychology of Religion - AbeBooks:

The society is nonsectarian and does not espouse or endorse any particular religious positions or beliefs.

The Cognitive Science of Religion (Part 1)

It welcomes psychologists and others from around the world interested in the psychology of religion and spirituality. What are we aiming for? And how might our work connect the realms of theory, research and practice? But also, in doing so, how are we to serve the public? What do we wish to accomplish with our knowledge?

What are we serving: our philosophical agendas or mere knowledge as knowledge? That we seek clinical applications implies that we want to use our knowledge in some way. But toward what end? The first part of the discussion will be around the explanatory aspects of the psychology of religion and spirituality. We will consider the value of science, look at some of the limitations of science in general and then in studying the spiritual as well, and then I will offer some thoughts on a fresh perspective on this. We begin with some thoughts on the value of science. A commitment to science is the glue that holds Div.

Turhan Canli

A problem arises, though, when we use one view of epistemology to study people and groups that may not share it or who may see knowledge as stemming from other sources of authority, e. Indeed, science is the best way to obtain objective knowledge, and it is the sine qua non of a healthy PRS. Nothing that follows is intended to replace or disparage science, but only to broaden and nuance how we approach it.

Science can be a vital bridge to connecting with religious experience and belief. This value is clearly seen in the ongoing project of Ralph Hood who has given us such phenomenal and phenomenological insight into serpent handlers e. Indeed, most religious traditions value and promote science — particularly when it is done without prejudice to the religious community. This certainly has led to mistakes — Galileo being a prime example. Still, most religions value science. Science has done great things for humankind, and we are forever indebted, but it has its limitations.

ISBN 13: 9781554521005

It is designed to consider things that are objective — observable and measurable. That is no problem if we are studying chemistry or biology or geology. We can break apart, weigh and in various other ways explore the nature of the physical world and how it operates. Still, in this there is some subjectivity, as we will see shortly.

It is very helpful as witnessed by our field and its body of knowledge. We can measure religious behaviors and to some extent, belief. Measurement has been a focus of PRS for quite some time and rightly so. But science is not as well equipped to explore the ephemeral world of religion and spirituality, much less to address the question of whether the transcendent exists.

The current context of science is an historical anomaly, as most all of human history has been colored by some form of religious or spiritual belief. But in practice that can mean they are simply ignored Hood, ; Porpora, Undoubtedly this is difficult, but I believe a stronger PRS may depend on grasping more the subjectivity of faith.

After all, it is a bit ironic to study faith with reason and rely on our faith in reason as we do so. It may be that we need to spend a bit more time on theory, even though that is not rewarded as much in our institutions. Let me reiterate: We have to pursue objectivity, but the point I hope to develop is that in doing so we must be humble that we cannot truly and fully explain the spiritual. Maybe we can learn something from this. I turn to a couple of philosophers to help us nuance our view of science. And this is even more applicable to a more inexact science like PRS.

Moreover, Polanyi observes that the enterprise of science also begins with a belief: a belief in the methodology of science as a way of knowing. For example, science is not as precise as we like to think and ultimately only offers probabilities. Even the questions we raise stem from personal interest and desires. Yes, emotion moves us to study what we study and not other things. We are motivated and are not disinterested.

Thus, what one studies tells us something about the one who does the study too. The questions we ask and how we frame them are subjectively shaped. Then there is the issue of interpretation and how we order the information we obtain. This, too, has a personal element. For instance, statistics give us options in solving for factors, but we choose a model we think fits best and then choose names for the factors, imposing a bit of ourselves onto the pure data.

But as psychologists, we study behavior and behavior is action. Actions are more than descriptive knowledge in many cases. To write a paragraph on how to ride a bicycle in not to know how to ride one. I remember a foster child we had in our home and my efforts to explain in words how to tie a necktie. Not a success.

I yielded and stood behind him to demonstrate as I actually tied his tie. I use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy often in my practice, and part of it is a strongly scientific theory of language called relational frame theory. It assumes part of our knowing is the relationships among concepts in our brains not just the data itself.

I think Polanyi would agree this illustrates his point. We can know, but we know imperfectly.

In the best of all worlds, our descriptions are asymptotic, approaching a line but never completely reaching it. Polanyi found considerable concern with the nature of language as used in the scientific enterprise, being rather alliterative in the process. He noted that language is inherently interpersonal and thus social as it is designed to communicate with others.

So it must have a common connection with the intended recipient. Particularly the clinicians in the crowd will be mindful of the importance of communicating in terms the client understands. I know one of my favorite aspects of therapeutic work is communicating and adapting ideas to understanding of persons from all walks of life and of all ages. Yet, the client is always the criterion of success. Scientists must communicate with one another clearly, and we have developed quite an extensive vocabulary toward that end.

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A Brief Introduction to the Psychology of Religion - AbeBooks:

However, when we turn to the persons of faith we study, we must make sure we understand their language and they ours. This also applies to using our knowledge in the public arena in general. We have some emotion behind our decisions to study, be it plain old curiosity and anxiety created by not understanding something or even frustration with a group that holds views that contradict or challenge ours. There are often more personal motivations. The challenges of interpersonal communication and the emotion that motivates scientists mean that our language will be imprecise the third I. There is always some gap in what is known, how it is expressed and how it is understood.

To assume our findings are self-evident indicates some hubris. We all know that numbers are not what studies are about. It is the interpretation of those numbers and here the issues of language show up. But some knowledge is not even expressible in language. I mentioned the challenge of tying a tie, but more to the current point is that the depth of many religious beliefs and experiences is ineffable. There is often then a difference in how the psychologist views the world and how persons of faith do.

But given that science is at best agnostic, this may not jive with how the world is seen by our subjects and clients, and so we miss part of the meaning. For we do well to understand what things mean to them, and not just to ourselves. Again, good clinicians have experience with how this is experienced in therapy as we are tempted to impose an understanding of things that is alien to the client. A patient who believes in demons or jinn, for Muslim clients, will find little comfort in a therapist who dismisses these as merely mental constructs to describe unconscious aspects of the self.


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And that therapist will score zero empathy points for what the notion of demons means to the client. Good therapy and good research should hold in common an explicit appreciation for the linguistic and conceptual distance between psychologist and the other. And let me make clear, Polanyi held science in high esteem but was modest in his expectations of what it can do. While numbers are vital, our interpretation of them is what ultimately drives knowledge and thus subjectivities in interpretation are critical.

Language also shows up as an issue in writing science given linguistic differences. I recall a discussion with the Scottish editor of my first book. Language is social, so whatever care we take to express what we can well in our writing, it is what people take from it that carries influence.

The goal is for the reader to think our thoughts after us, something we emotionally desire. And after all of this, we do well to recognize that there is some knowledge that is simply ineffable.


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Our best efforts still leave us limited in how we can explain religion and spirituality and particularly the subjective experience of them. That does not mean it will not be helpful but will have modest expectations in its goals. So also, science is immensely helpful, but it will be better if we do science with a more conscious awareness of its challenge and limitations.

Let me just add a few words to this base on the seminal work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. They make themselves manifest. There will always be more to experience than we can say.