B. SPILKA, B. HUNSBERGER, R. GORSUCH, R. W. HOOD, Jr., The psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. The Guilford Press, 2003. pp. 671. ISBN L- 57230-90.
Reviewed by Kafkazli Seyyed JAVAD, University of Bristol, 12 Woodland Road, BS8 1UQ, Bristol, UK

This book, the third edition of The Psychology of Religion consists of 17 chapters where the authors follow a very specific themes about the "nature and functions of religion" (Ch. 1); "meta-psychological-theoretical questions in the study of religion" (Ch. 2); the "biological dimensions in relation to religiosity" (Ch. 3); "religiosity and human stages" such as childhood (Ch. 4); "religiosity and social dimension'(Ch. 5); "religion and age" (Ch. 6); religion and its different social roles and functions (Ch. 7);religion as an existential question (Ch. 8);religion as a mode of human expression (Ch. 9); religion as an esoteric mode of human existence (Ch. 10); "conversion as a mode existential wrestling" (Ch. 11); religion in a sociological perspective (Ch. 12); "religious paradoxes and conscience" (Ch. 13); religion and ideologies (Ch. 14); religion as a mode of encountering destructive forces of life (Ch. 15); religion and spiritual poverty (Ch. 16); and religion in a global context (Ch. 17).

The authors focus on psychology but never lose sight of the larger context that frames religion. This work takes the reader on a tour of the fascinating and myriad forms and functions of religion in contemporary world. It explores the implications of the spiritual dimension for the full range of human functioning across the lifespan. The authors tackle sensitive subjects such as cults, conversion, mental disorders, and sexual abuse among clergy in even-handed fashion.

There is a new chapter in this edition on religion and coping, but all previous chapters have been greatly enlarged because of the large amount of empirical research on religious topics. An interesting feature are the "Research Boxes," which succinctly summarize crucial research reports. Each chapter closes with a constructive overview. The chapter titles are: I. The Psychological Nature and Functions of Religion; Religion in Childhood; Religious Socialization and Thought in Adolescence; Religion in Adult Life; Religion and Death; Religious Experience; Mysticism; Conversion; The Social Psychology of Religious Organizations: Religion and Morality; Religion, Coping, and Adjustment; Religious and Mental Disorder; and an Epilogue, which calls for both more empirical research and for theory in the psychology of religion.

Perhaps for the first time it is becoming difficult to keep up with advances in the psychology of religion. The vitality of the field makes the third edition of this volume all the more indispensable. Pioneers in the field, Spilka et al. integrate important new research findings into their comprehensive text. They add further depth to the volume through coverage of such emerging topics as spirituality, forgiveness, religious doubting, and the biology of religion. The volume's perspective has been broadened by emphasizing meaning seeking, meaning making and the pursuit of selfhood. New chapters have been included on the foundations of empirical psychology, the form and role of religion in adult life, and prejudice.

A landmark in the field since its original publication, this third edition is one of the best and most up-to-date reviews of the psychology of religion. The authors take into consideration grand theories but at the same time restrict themselves to a well-balanced and highly readable presentation and discussion of the results of contemporary and recent empirical studies. A credible effort is made to integrate international developments with North American scholarship, and to do justice to the increasing body of hermeneutical and qualitative research in the field. However the theoretical thread of this study does not take into consideration the postmodern/amodern or critical theories within the philosophy of science in general. This edition would also have been enriched if the authors had brought non-Western views on psychology of religion into the body of this excellent work. The last topic I find missing is profane spiritual experience, which occurs in many contexts (for instance in eco-psychology) albeit outside of the orthodox religions of the world.

This book is a must for graduate students in search of a topic. It can serve as a reference book in addition to being a textbook for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students in cultural studies, psychology, sociology, and religious studies, and a valuable resource for scholars, mental health practitioners, and everyone interested in the role of religion in self and society.


Amazon.com - Continuum - Crossroad - Eerdmans Publishing - Liturgical Press - Orbis Books