Psychology of religion

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The discipline of psychology of religion has as it's object of study the psychological tendencies and predispositions associated with religious belief, activity, practice, expression and experience. A large variety of approaches have been taken to studying the psychology of religious believers, including historical analysis, depth psychology, case studies, controlled scientific experiment, surveys and questionnaires and psychoanalytic theory.

The American pragmatist philosopher and psychologist William James is commonly seen as the founder of the field, the basic tenets of which he expressed in a series of lectures given at the University of Edinburgh as his contribution to the Gifford Lecture Series known as The Varieties of Religious Experience. James' lectures presented an analysis of religion which he claimed to be free of any particular sect's belief or dogma. A large number of recorded experiences from those who James considered to have a particular talent for religion were cataloged, including those of the laity, those of priests and preachers, and those in monastic orders, poets and others. James splits the religious experiences he finds into a variety of different categories, including a division between what he describes as the religion of the healthy-minded and the religion of those with a sick soul. James judges religious experience and practice on the basis of the pragmatic value it has for the believer, in line with his pragmatist philosophy.

While William James started the study of psychology of religion, the theories of Sigmund Freud had much to say about the practices and beliefs of the religious. Unlike James though, Freud saw religion as an obsessional neurosis arising out of our difficult relationships with our father figures, and a form of paranoid wish-fulfillment. Though some have accused Freud of being too dismissive towards the religious, others have noted that he is not as dismissive as some critics allege.