Religion and Psychology
*Missing Works Cited*
Religious faith is important to most Americans, with approximately 95% of Americans reporting belief in God and about 50% being active in church organizations (Gallup & Castelli, 1989). Despite the widespread prevalence of religious beliefs in society, some researchers have maintained that religion and religious beliefs are often neglected in psychological research (Jones, 1994; Plante, 1996). This neglect stems from a couple of different factors. First, it is difficult for psychologists to overcome the fact that believers in many religions claim to have unique access to the truth. Secondly, truly theological questions such as the existence of God or the nature of an afterlife are often ignored by scientists. This may be in part a hesitation to face politically sensitive and philosophically difficult issues, or the methodological limitations of modern research techniques.
At the same time psychological researchers are avoiding the fusion of religion and psychology, so are religious organizations. Religion once feared psychology's tendency to view God as "nothing but" the projection of the idealized father (Ciarrocchi, 2000). Many religions hold that divine acts can override laws of nature, a view that is usually seen as incompatible with scientific belief. Although some researchers find that the relationship between religion and psychology is not receiving enough attention, others believe that combining the two is important. If the explosion of research publications on religion and spirituality by the American Psychological Association (APA) is any indication, psychologists cannot seem to read enough on the topic (e.g., Donahue & Benson, 1996; Pargament & Park, 1996; Graham-Pole, Wass, Eyeberg, & Chu, 1989). Overall, both psychological and religious approaches are less apt to exclude the other.
Regardless of whether or not religion and psychology are ready to join forces, many argue that it is slowly happening. For example, William James studied religious experience and suggested that the spiritual process works to curtail people's negative behaviors (James, 1936). For James, spirituality helps individuals recognize their own earthly suffering as either a consequence of individual pathology or addictive behavior, or both. When people begin to criticize or consciously reject problematic individual behaviors as a permanent way of being, then they become open to the possibility of rising to a higher awareness. This higher awareness of his or her own behavior is then integrated as a part of the person's psychology. James was already considering the role religion plays in a person's consciousness early in the twentieth century.