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Psychology of Religion

“Happy is the Man that Feareth Always”: Psychology vs. Religion (2005) by Daniela Kramer andMichael Moore

Kramer and Moore analyze four main conflicts between humanistic psychology and prominent religious precepts found in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic prayers. These conflicts concern locus of control, self-esteem, social values, and the status of the family. The authors conclude that the messages promoted by various prayers are diametrically opposed to the goals of humanistic psychology and progressive education.

Psychopathology in Religious Ideation: The Case of Death by Proxy (2013) by Michael Moore

A large body of data suggests a causal relationship between religiosity and psychopathology. One illustration of such a connection is the delusional belief in “death by proxy,” such as Greek orator Aelius Aristides belief that he could appease the Greek god Asclepius by sacrificing two of his foster sister’s children in place of himself, 16th-century Jewish scholar Yosef Caro’s belief that, although he was condemned to death, the death of his first wife and three children substituted for his own death, and psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s belief that his doctor’s death due to septicemia substituted for his own death, allowing him to survive an illness that would have otherwise killed him. Belief in death by proxy presumes that a divine being takes oneself to be so important that another human being can be sacrificed in one’s stead, approaching what DSM-IV labels delusional disorder—grandiose type and bordering on the psychopathological.

Review of Fighting Words (2006) by Kenneth Krause

Hector Avalos’ Fighting Words adds organization, scholarly research, and coherent theory to the phenomenon of religiously inspired violence. Analyzing religious violence in terms of “scarce resource theory,” Avalos argues that sacred spaces and authoritative scriptures constitute scarce resources accessible to, controlled by, or interpreted by only a few. Competition for these resources, or for group privilege and salvation, inevitably leads to violence which is only that much more tragic because of the unverifiability of the very existence of such resources. Failure to recognize the authority of, or correctly interpret or observe, a particular sacred text creates the potential for bloodshed; and Judaism, Christianity, and Islam’s soteriological justifications for violence only exacerbate its realization. Rather than merely explaining the root causes of religious violence, Avalos encourages us to assist religionists in modifying their traditions to thwart the maintenance and creation of unverifiable scarcities, or otherwise seek the elimination of their violent traditions.

Review of The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief (2006) by Kenneth Krause

According to M. D. Faber’s The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief, although we are born free of religious inclinations, widespread belief in a personal God has its roots in our early childhood development. In infancy, for instance, a child relies on his or her seemingly omnipotent caregiver (a “proto-deity”) to supplicate cries (“proto-prayer”) for nourishment and care. The child is consequently primed to map this process onto a religious narrative complete with its Parent-God. By promoting a religious narrative early on, religious institutions lay the groundwork for religious belief by exploiting an essentially subconscious process before a child has fully developed the ability to reason. None of us are quite “wired for God,” however; the existence of nonbelievers testifies to the possibility of accepting alternative narratives by the time one is exposed to religious ones. Despite reservations about some of the author’s contentions, Krause uses Faber’s analysis to offer his own recommendations for ensuring that one’s children enjoy the rewards of a rational life.

We Are Too Weak to Walk Unaided: A Family Therapist View of the Pathogenic Aspects of Prayer(2000) by Michael Moore and Daniela Kramer

Many aspects of psychology are at loggerheads with religion. In this paper excerpts from prayers, hymns and scriptures of the three monotheistic religions are used to illustrate major areas of conflict between these two institutions. Special attention is given to those aspects of prayers which contradict basic tenets of psychological well-being not only of individuals but also of families. The discussion is divided into four major fields: Feudalism vs. egalitarianism, developmental issues, defense mechanisms, and interpersonal control mechanisms. In each field, several examples, organized around subtopics, show how the manifest message of religious texts legitimizes and encourages practices considered pathogenic by the standards of various psychological approaches.

Why Religion is Persuasive: How Religious Rhetoric Taps into Intuitions Underlying Religious Thought (2011) by Adam Lewis

Many of our intuitions were not cobbled together by evolution for discerning truth, but for building approximations of reality that were useful to our ancestors. A number of skewed ways of thinking are well known to psychologists. Just as human beings are biologically “prewired” to learn language from their social environment, thinking in terms of the supernatural may also be inborn. Our biases might therefore explain why empirically vacuous claims about gods, souls, afterlives, and so on are rhetorically effective: they fit well with people’s prescientific intuitions. In this paper Adam Lewis explores how these intuitions shape beliefs about gods as supernatural agents, drawing on examples from the Koran, before finally considering their impact on beliefs about the soul and related afterlife 

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