Towards Cultural Psychology of Religion: Principles, Approaches, Applications

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For psychologists, therefore, self is only accessible in speech and other linguistic activities or their results. It is not only in actually talking that self reveals itself. It is only detectible in the narratives that have been kept in the form of answers to open questions in questionnaires, in records of interviews or in all kinds of other linguistic materials psychologists work with in empirical research.

Also autobiographies are an example of such material, and as is obvious, they have been employed in even the earliest empirical investigations in the psychology of religion already. We should be aware of the perspective of any psychological theory, of its specificity. When psychology turns to self narratives like autobiographical texts, it does not do so to examine the situations described in them or to reconstruct particular events or points in time; such research, interesting as it may be, is usually left to historians.

Nor does psychology delve into the existent or nonexistent literary qualities of an autobiography, or into the genre of autobiography as such; this is the realm of literary theorists.

History of Social Psychology

When psychology avails itself of autobiographical texts, it does so by asking psychological questions and from a psychological perspective. The most important argument for doing this is usually that working with autobiographical texts, in whatever form they certainly need not be limited to published autobiographies but may include texts written at the explicit request of the researcher, diaries and many other forms of autobiographical data; cf. Bruner , for example , is the most effective way of gathering information for certain kinds of questioning.

Even when psychologists look at existing autobiographies, published or not, they do so in order to find answers to systematic psychological questions concerning such factors as psycho-social development, parent-child binding and social relationships in general, guilt and shame, experience of sexuality, mental disorder and many others. For the psychologist who is interested in religion, autobiographical texts may provide a great deal of information concerning the development of individual religiosity and the influence that certain forms of religion can have on the development of the personality.

She presents herself in a certain way, telling us a story about herself and her life. In doing so the author usually draws an ideal picture of herself. Although the story itself need not be ideal in any way and the author may be reporting it with quite a bit of shame , he paints a picture of himself, which he hopes the listener or reader will accept and endorse.

The particular self narrative or autobiography a counselor or therapist needs to interpret may be that, what the patient is telling right now, it may be the story written on request of counselor, it may even be a published autobiography. One can employ several forms of psychology in order to interpret it; in a context of counseling or psychotherapy, it will typically be a form of psychology relevant to issues of mental health.

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But before going shortly into that, let me try to take away any misunderstandings the above may give rise to already. For often the first reaction to idea of the autobiography as presentation of the self, and to the self as a narrative construction, is that of shock. People tell many different stories throughout their lives, and they also tell different versions to different listeners. If all those stories are what the self, or the selves, of a particular person are, where is the unity of that person? Self is fundamentally characterized, even constituted, by language and story.

For the development and functioning of human self-awareness—regarded by many theoreticians, in line with Hegel, as precisely that which distinguishes the human being from the animal—language is of vital importance. In order to speak about herself, a person must have developed the ability to objectify, which she does thanks to language. So language is a precondition that makes subjectivity possible, and not the other way round. There is not an essential subject who desires to make use of language; rather, the constitution of the subject presupposes language Haute , pp.

When the subject, once constituted by language, wants to know something or share something about herself, she must avail herself of language if she is to tell herself or others who she is; she must make an announcement concerning who she has become up to that point. That history can be expressed in different places and different ways. It can be imparted in the form of a story. If people are asked to indicate who they are, they will answer with some kind of life history. Indeed, human transience can only be expressed linguistically. To specify this linguistic structure, Ricoeur , pp.

This makes the self not only a product of the past but also an interpretation of the past. In developing her own notion of herself, woman must rely on the stories that are passed on to her and that are absorbed by her, as it were, during socialization. Each story about ourselves is always already embedded in the continuing story of a particular cultural history. The possibilities for self-comprehension that we acquire and develop are themselves always products of a particular historical tradition that makes us its product Heidegger Such stories, which inhabit and form our lives and make them possible, are first of all the stories that constitute the background of every notion within a certain culture.

They are embodied not only in our views of humankind, the world and life itself but also in art forms and rituals that are shared by all the participants in that particular culture. They are the archetypal stories from every culture, and we run across them in metaphors and expressions, films and plays, but also in functional symbols such as a cross or crucifix, the V-for-victory sign, in monuments and in symbols that are associated with commemorations as well as with holidays and festivals Guignon , p. These are the stories that impart structure to the ordinary, mundane stories we experience and indulge in every day and give them meaning by making available a certain horizon of comprehension.

Naturally such archetypal stories differ from culture to culture and subculture to subculture. The optimistic stories about the redemptive self from the United States McAdams are very different from those about sacrifice and suffering that the Russians grow up with, and both are quite distinct from the archetypal stories about ritual suicide such as those making the rounds in Japan.

Such fundamental differences can make the life patterns of one culture or subculture seem pointless in the eyes of another just think of how the forms of Roman Catholic monastic life are perceived by certain Protestants. Second, the impact of stories can be found in the ordinary, everyday way that people communicate with each other. Whenever we engage in an ordinary conversation, we structure our stories according to the storytelling standard that is or is becoming generally accepted within our culture.

In doing so, we often use narrative cues that inform the listener as to the kind of story she is about to hear. While language and story make the self possible, they also determine its limits. In narrative psychology, such as that introduced by Sarbin and others Sarbin a , b , ; Sarbin and Kitsuse ; Sarbin and Scheibe , these notions are expanded to cover broader parts of psychic functioning than self alone. He sees emotions, for example, as inextricable from their social context. In his analysis he uses the image of a scene with many individuals in which the action of one participant functions as the focus for the following actions that are carried out by the person himself as well as by the other participants.

So emotions should never be studied as events that happen within a single individual. According to narrative psychologists, however, it is not only emotions that are led by narrative plots; actions are, too. In listening to and telling stories there is an involvement in the actors and their adventures.

Action is not only present in the story, however; it also follows from the story. The so-called Don Quixote principle states that people act in order to extend the plot of a particular story, especially when they imagine themselves to be the protagonist of that story. The central idea is that the narratives with which the cultural participants have become acquainted go on to determine their actions: they provide the characters, ideas, settings, instruments and procedures that individuals and groups can use to give shape to their own activities. The narrative approach directs attention to the interface between individual and collective functioning, and is therefore particularly relevant for cultural psychology, also in its application to religion.

Narrative psychology is an attempt to understand human functioning as culturally located: no matter what emotion or form of activity a person is about to display, it is seen as dependent on the stories, the plots and the roles from the culture or subculture in which the person grew up and in which she now happens to be functioning.

Because there are always others present in the current situation, real or imagined, every act is an interactive occurrence, always directed at one or more others. And at different times and places the person will present versions of himself that deviate from each other to a greater or lesser extent. Thus a life companion will be shown a self that is different and probably more private than a colleague, etc. But no matter what stories are told about the self, they will all follow existing plots. So the self is not one and undivided, not always and everywhere the same; it is plural and context-dependent, a decentralised multiplicity of I positions that function in dialogue like relatively independent authors.

According to an even older tenet of literary theory, every text—and therefore also the articulation of a self at a particular time and place—is a result of relations between texts, a product of intertextuality, a membrane into which elements are woven that had already been produced elsewhere in discontinuous form cf. Sprinker So the dialogicity of the self presupposes much more than a conversation with whomever is present in the here and now, whether through direct eye contact or not.

The articulation of the self, as it emerges at a certain time and place, does not sound like just one single voice; in such an articulation the resonances of other voices can be heard: the voices of the parents and significant others as well as the voices of collectives such as a social class, a professional group or a religious tradition.

It is especially the social voices, such as those alluded to by Bakhtin , that have influence on what a person says, that determine what she can say in the first place, usually without being conscious of the fact. There are many personal, unique voices in the self, but there are also a number—perhaps a far greater number—of collective voices.

So to repeat: people can not tell any random story they choose in order to articulate who they are. The stories they tell, the meanings they construct and the sense they impart are dependent on the interplay of various voices. Ideally, one should try to combine quite diverse forms of psychology to interpret a particular self narrative.

Psychology at large is a very heterogeneous enterprise, with many differing approaches, that sometimes even seem to contradict one another. In my opinion, this is no problem at all: reality, also the life of one particular individual, will always be richer than what any form of scholarship will have to say about it. To understand another person, psychologists will, by necessity, have to employ very diverse forms of insights and research techniques. With this question in mind, we take up one of the oldest research traditions in the psychology of religion.


The more specific question concerning the relationship between religion and mental health has always been a prominent one in psychology of religion, and not only because of its presumed social relevance. His work The Phenomenology of Spirit was a study of how various types of writing and thinking draw from and re-combine with the individual and group experiences of various places and times, influencing the current forms of knowledge and worldviews that are operative in a population.

This activity is the functioning of an incomplete group mind, where each is accessing the recorded wisdom of others. His works often include detailed descriptions of the psychological motivations involved in thought and behavior, e. In Hegel's system, Religion is one of the major repositories of wisdom to be used in these struggles, representing a huge body of recollections from humanity's past in various stages of its development.

Sigmund Freud — gave explanations of the genesis of religion in his various writings. In Totem and Taboo , he applied the idea of the Oedipus complex involving unresolved sexual feelings of, for example, a son toward his mother and hostility toward his father and postulated its emergence in the primordial stage of human development.

In Moses and Monotheism , Freud reconstructed biblical history by his general theory. His ideas were also developed in The Future of an Illusion. When Freud spoke of religion as an illusion , he maintained that it "is a fantasy structure from which a man must be set free if he is to grow to maturity. Freud views the idea of God as being a version of the father image, and religious belief as at bottom infantile and neurotic. Authoritarian religion, Freud believed, is dysfunctional and alienates man from himself.

The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung — adopted a very different posture, one that was more sympathetic to religion and more concerned with a positive appreciation of religious symbolism. Jung considered the question of the metaphysical existence of God to be unanswerable by the psychologist and adopted a kind of agnosticism. Jung postulated, in addition to the personal unconscious roughly adopting Freud's concept , the collective unconscious , which is the repository of human experience and which contains " archetypes " i. The irruption of these images from the unconscious into the realm of consciousness he viewed as the basis of religious experience and often of artistic creativity.

Some of Jung's writings have been devoted to elucidating some of the archetypal symbols , and include his work in comparative mythology. Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler — , who parted ways with Freud, emphasized the role of goals and motivation in his Individual Psychology. One of Adler's most famous ideas is that we try to compensate for inferiorities that we perceive in ourselves. A lack of power often lies at the root of feelings of inferiority. One way that religion enters into this picture is through our beliefs in God, which are characteristic of our tendency to strive for perfection and superiority.

For example, in many religions, God is considered to be perfect and omnipotent, and commands people likewise to be perfect. If we, too, achieve perfection, we become one with God. By identifying with God in this way, we compensate for our imperfections and feelings of inferiority. Our ideas about God are important indicators of how we view the world. According to Adler, these ideas have changed over time, as our vision of the world — and our place in it — has changed. Consider this example that Adler offers: the traditional belief that people were placed deliberately on earth as God's ultimate creation is being replaced with the idea that people have evolved by natural selection.

This coincides with a view of God not as a real being, but as an abstract representation of nature's forces. In this way, our view of God has changed from one that was concrete and specific to one that is more general. From Adler's vantage point, this is a relatively ineffective perception of God because it is so general that it fails to convey a strong sense of direction and purpose. An important thing for Adler is that God or the idea of God motivates people to act and that those actions do have real consequences for ourselves and others. Our view of God is important because it embodies our goals and directs our social interactions.

Compared to science , another social movement, religion is more efficient because it motivates people more effectively. According to Adler, only when science begins to capture the same religious fervor, and promotes the welfare of all segments of society, will the two be more equal in peoples' eyes.

In his classic book The Individual and His Religion , Gordon Allport — illustrates how people may use religion in different ways. Mature religious sentiment is how Allport characterized the person whose approach to religion is dynamic, open-minded, and able to maintain links between inconsistencies. In contrast, immature religion is self-serving and generally represents the negative stereotypes that people have about religion. More recently, this distinction has been encapsulated in the terms "intrinsic religion", referring to a genuine, heartfelt devout faith , and "extrinsic religion", referring to a more utilitarian use of religion as a means to an end, such as church attendance to gain social status.

These dimensions of religion were measured on the Religious Orientation Scale of Allport and Ross The third form of religious orientation has been described by Daniel Batson. More specifically, it has been seen by Batson as comprising a willingness to view religious doubts positively, acceptance that religious orientation can change and existential complexity, the belief that one's religious beliefs should be shaped from personal crises that one has experienced in one's life.

Erik Erikson — is best known for his theory of psychological development, which has its roots in the psychoanalytic importance of identity in personality. His biographies of Gandhi and Martin Luther reveal Erikson's positive view of religion. He considered religions to be important influences in successful personality development because they are the primary way that cultures promote the virtues associated with each stage of life. Religious rituals facilitate this development. Erikson's theory has not benefited from systematic empirical study, but it remains an influential and well-regarded theory in the psychological study of religion.

The American scholar Erich Fromm — modified the Freudian theory and produced a more complex account of the functions of religion. In his book Psychoanalysis and Religion he responded to Freud's theories by explaining that part of the modification is viewing the Oedipus complex as based not so much on sexuality as on a "much more profound desire", namely, the childish desire to remain attached to protecting figures.

The right religion, in Fromm's estimation, can, in principle, foster an individual's highest potentialities, but religion in practice tends to relapse into being neurotic. According to Fromm, humans need a stable frame of reference. Religion fills this need. In effect, humans crave answers to questions that no other source of knowledge has an answer to, which only religion may seem to answer.

Towards Cultural Psychology of Religion: Principles, Approaches, Applications

However, a sense of free will must be given for religion to appear healthy. An authoritarian notion of religion appears detrimental. Rudolf Otto — was a German Protestant theologian and scholar of comparative religion. Otto's most famous work, The Idea of the Holy published first in as Das Heilige , defines the concept of the holy as that which is numinous.

Otto explained the numinous as a "non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self. This sense of emotional wonder appears evident at the root of all religious experiences. Through this emotional wonder, we suspend our rational mind for non-rational possibilities. It also sets a paradigm for the study of religion that focuses on the need to realize the religious as a non-reducible, original category in its own right.

This paradigm was under much attack between approximately and but has made a strong comeback since then. Autobiographal accounts of 20th-century psychology of religion as a field have been supplied by numerous modern psychologists of religion, primarily based in Europe, but also by several US-based psychologists such as Ralph W. Hood and Donald Capps. Allen Bergin is noted for his paper "Psychotherapy and Religious Values," which is known as a landmark in scholarly acceptance that religious values do, in practice, influence psychotherapy. Robert Emmons offered a theory of "spiritual strivings" in his book, The Psychology of Ultimate Concerns.

Ralph W. Hood Jr. He has published several hundred articles and book chapters on the psychology of religion and has authored, co-authored, or edited thirteen volumes, all dealing with the psychology of religion. Kenneth Pargament is noted for his book Psychology of Religion and Coping ; see article , [20] as well as for a book on religion and psychotherapy, and a sustained research program on religious coping. He is professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University Ohio , US , and has published more than papers on the subject of religion and spirituality in psychology.

He also describes four major stances toward religion that have been adopted by psychotherapists in their work with clients, which he calls the religiously rejectionist , exclusivist , constructivist , and pluralist stances. James Hillman , at the end of his book Re-Visioning Psychology , reverses James' position of viewing religion through psychology, urging instead that we view psychology as a variety of religious experience.

He concludes: "Psychology as religion implies imagining all psychological events as effects of Gods in the soul. Julian Jaynes , primarily in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind , proposed that religion and some other psychological phenomena such as hypnosis and schizophrenia is a remnant of a relatively recent time in human development, prior to the advent of consciousness.

Jaynes hypothesized that hallucinated verbal commands helped non-conscious early man to perform tasks promoting human survival. Starting about 10, BCE, selective pressures favored the hallucinated verbal commands for social control, and they came to be perceived as an external, rather than internal, voice commanding the person to take some action.

These were hence often explained as originating from invisible gods, spirits, ancestors, etc.

Religion and Self: Notions from a Cultural Psychological Perspective

The first hypothesis, secularization , holds that science and technology will take the place of religion. Taking this position even further, Taylor explains that secularization denies transcendence, divinity, and rationality in religious beliefs. Challenges to the secularization hypothesis led to significant revisions, resulting in the religious transformation hypothesis. In response to the religious transformation hypothesis, Ronald Inglehart piloted the renewal of the secularization hypothesis.

His argument hinges on the premise that religion develops to fill the human need for security. Therefore, the development of social and economic security in Europe explains its corresponding secularization due to a lack of need for religion. The overall effect is expected to be a growing cultural disparity. The idea that religiosity arises from the human need for security has also been furthered by studies examining religious beliefs as a compensatory mechanism of control.

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These studies are motivated by the idea that people are invested in maintaining beliefs in order and structure to prevent beliefs in chaos and randomness [35] [36]. In the experimental setting, researchers have also tested compensatory control in regard to individuals' perceptions of external systems, such as religion or government.

For example, Kay and colleagues [37] found that in a laboratory setting, individuals are more likely to endorse broad external systems e. In this study, researchers suggest that when a person's personal control is lessened, their motivation to believe in order is threatened, resulting in compensation of this threat through adherence to other external sources of control. Since the s psychologists of religion have used the methodology of psychometrics to assess ways in which a person may be religious. An example is the Religious Orientation Scale of Allport and Ross , [38] which measures how respondents stand on intrinsic and extrinsic religion as described by Allport.

The second measures three forms of religious orientation: religion as means intrinsic , religion as end extrinsic , and religion as quest. The third assesses spiritual maturity using two factors: Spiritual Support and Spiritual Openness. Some questionnaires, such as the Religious Orientation Scale , relate to different religious orientations, such as intrinsic and extrinsic religiousness, referring to different motivations for religious allegiance. A rather different approach, taken, for example, by Glock and Stark , has been to list different dimensions of religion rather than different religious orientations, which relates to how an individual may manifest different forms of being religious.

Glock and Stark's famous typology described five dimensions of religion — the doctrinal, the intellectual, the ethical-consequential, the ritual, and the experiential.

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In later work these authors subdivided the ritual dimension into devotional and public ritual, and also clarified that their distinction of religion along multiple dimensions was not identical to distinguishing religious orientations. Although some psychologists of religion have found it helpful to take a multidimensional approach to religion for the purpose of psychometric scale design, there has been, as Wulff explains, considerable controversy about whether religion should really be seen as multidimensional. What we call religious experiences can differ greatly.

Some reports exist of supernatural happenings that it would be difficult to explain from a rational, scientific point of view. On the other hand, there also exist the sort of testimonies that simply seem to convey a feeling of peace or oneness — something which most of us, religious or not, may possibly relate to. In categorizing religious experiences it is perhaps helpful to look at them as explicable through one of two theories: the Objectivist thesis or the Subjectivist thesis.

An objectivist would argue that the religious experience is a proof of God's existence. However, others have criticised the reliability of religious experiences. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes asked how it was possible to tell the difference between talking to God in a dream, and dreaming about talking to God. The Subjectivist view argues that it is not necessary to think of religious experiences as evidence for the existence of an actual being whom we call God.

From this point of view, the important thing is the experience itself and the effect that it has on the individual. Many have looked at stage models, like those of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg , to explain how children develop ideas about God and religion in general. The best known stage model of spiritual or religious development is that of James W.

The book-length study contains a framework and ideas which have generated a good deal of response from those interested in religion [ who? James Fowler proposes six stages of faith development:. Intuitive-projective 2. Symbolic Literal 3. Synthetic Conventional 4. Individuating 5. Paradoxical conjunctive 6. Although there is evidence that children up to the age of twelve years do tend to be in the first two of these stages [ citation needed ] , adults over the age of sixty-one show considerable variation in displays of qualities of Stages 3 and beyond [ citation needed ] , most adults remaining in Stage 3 Synthetic Conventional.

Fowler's model has generated some empirical studies, and fuller descriptions of this research and of these six stages can be found in Wulff Fowler's scientific research has been criticized for methodological weaknesses. Of Fowler's six stages, only the first two found empirical support [ citation needed ] , and these were heavily based upon Piaget's stages of cognitive development.

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The tables and graphs in the book were presented in such a way that the last four stages appeared to be validated, but the requirements of statistical verification of the stages were not met. His study was not published in a journal, so was not peer-reviewed. Other critics [ who? Nevertheless, the concepts Fowler introduced seemed to hit home with those in the circles of academic religion [ who? Other theorists in developmental psychology have suggested that religiosity comes naturally to young children.

Specifically, children may have a natural-born conception of mind-body dualism, which lends itself to beliefs that the mind may live on after the body dies. In addition, children have a tendency to see agency and human design where there is not, and prefer a creationist explanation of the world even when raised by parents who do not. Researchers have also investigated attachment system dynamics as a predictor of the religious conversion experience throughout childhood and adolescence.

One hypothesis is the correspondence hypothesis, [47] which posits that individuals with secure parental attachment are more likely to experience a gradual conversion experience. Under the correspondence hypothesis, internal working models of a person's attachment figure is thought to perpetuate his or her perception of God as a secure base.

Another hypothesis relating attachment style to the conversion experience is the compensation hypothesis, [48] which states that individuals with insecure attachments are more likely to have a sudden conversion experience as they compensate for their insecure attachment relationship by seeking a relationship with God.

Researchers have tested these hypotheses using longitudinal studies and individuals' self narratives of their conversation experience. For example, one study investigating attachment styles and adolescent conversions at Young Life religious summer camps resulted in evidence supporting the correspondence hypothesis through analysis of personal narratives and a prospective longitudinal follow-up of Young Life campers, with mixed results for the compensation hypothesis. James Alcock summarizes a number of components of what he calls the "God engine," a "number of automatic processes and cognitive biases [that] combine to make supernatural belief the automatic default.

Evolutionary psychology is based on the hypothesis that, just like the cardiac, pulmonary, urinary, and immune systems, cognition has a functional structure with a genetic basis, and therefore appeared through natural selection. Like other organs and tissues, this functional structure should be universally shared among humans and should solve important problems of survival and reproduction.

Evolutionary psychologists seek to understand cognitive processes by understanding the survival and reproductive functions they might serve. Pascal Boyer is one of the leading figures in the cognitive psychology of religion, a new field of inquiry that is less than fifteen years old, which accounts for the psychological processes that underlie religious thought and practice.

In his book Religion Explained , Boyer shows that there is no simple explanation for religious consciousness. Boyer is mainly concerned with explaining the various psychological processes involved in the acquisition and transmission of ideas concerning the gods. Boyer builds on the ideas of cognitive anthropologists Dan Sperber and Scott Atran , who first argued that religious cognition represents a by-product of various evolutionary adaptations, including folk psychology, and purposeful violations of innate expectations about how the world is constructed for example, bodiless beings with thoughts and emotions that make religious cognitions striking and memorable.

Religious persons acquire religious ideas and practices through social exposure. The child of a Zen Buddhist will not become an evangelical Christian or a Zulu warrior without the relevant cultural experience. While mere exposure does not cause a particular religious outlook a person may have been raised a Roman Catholic but leave the church , nevertheless some exposure seems required — this person will never invent Roman Catholicism out of thin air. Boyer says cognitive science can help us to understand the psychological mechanisms that account for these manifest correlations and in so doing enable us to better understand the nature of religious belief and practice.

Boyer moves outside the leading currents in mainstream cognitive psychology and suggests that we can use evolutionary biology to unravel the relevant mental architecture. Our brains are, after all, biological objects, and the best naturalistic account of their development in nature is Darwin's theory of evolution. To the extent that mental architecture exhibits intricate processes and structures, it is plausible to think that this is the result of evolutionary processes working over vast periods of time.

Like all biological systems, the mind is optimised to promote survival and reproduction in the evolutionary environment. On this view all specialised cognitive functions broadly serve those reproductive ends. For Steven Pinker the universal propensity toward religious belief is a genuine scientific puzzle. He thinks that adaptationist explanations for religion do not meet the criteria for adaptations.

As religions, however conceptualized, are cultural entities of major importance, cultural psychology seems a natural ally to research on religion. Containing a number of studies, both theoretical and empirical, this volume takes a step towards a rapprochement of cultural psychology and psychology of religion. Having received several international awards and distinctions, Jacob A.

As he has obtained doctorates in social science, history, philosophy and sciences of religion, his numerous publications are characterized by a strong interdisciplinary approach. He is a full professor at the University of Amsterdam The Netherlands. Much of the discussion is relevant to the whole field of psychology. American psychologists will probably find diverse perspectives that are both provocative and engaging, both challenging and enlightening. This book is a must acquire, therefore, for any major university research library.

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