Ralph W. HOOD, Jr., Peter C. HILL, Bernard SPILKA, The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. Fourth Edition; New York, London: The Guilford Press, 2009, pp. 636, ISBN: 978-1-60623-303-0.
Reviewed by Lluis OVIEDO, Pontificia Universita Antonianum, 00185 Rome -Italy

Psychology of religion is part of what is known as the “scientific study of religion”. It has become a broad field with several specialized sectors and distinct schools of thought. The complexity of this discipline has made it necessary to publish an updated handbook to review the various specializations and theories of the field.

From the very first pages of this small encyclopedia the authors remind the reader of the scientific character of their project, namely their empirical approach, in order to allow for theories to be tested and replicated.

An “empirical psychology of religion” represents a challenge, and implies the risk of reductionism hindering a true understanding of what religion is to the faithful. The authors see religion as a “provision of meaning”, an approach in line with the traditional hermeneutic view; this is a humanistic understanding of religion, which is also hard to test empirically.

An early chapter on biology and the cognitive study of religion draws attention to the scientific character of their approach to religion. The methods outlined there are now fashionable and clearly enrich our knowledge of the religious experience. Most of the recent theories are taken into account, even when there is no clear consensus about them. This line of study emphasizes the truly scientific approach to religion; however, one may wonder how much they contribute to an in-depth understand of religion.

Going through the various chapters of this handbook we find a comprehensive treatment of all the main issues of the discipline: the developmental questions, conversion, social interactions, spirituality and mysticism, as well as issues of morality and religious coping. Those familiar with the recent literature and research in progress realize that the remarkable increase of published material makes it hard to keep pace with all the new contributions. This revised edition allows one to keep up with recent developments. More importantly, it allows students and researchers to have an overview of the dominant theories of the field. This handbook amply accomplishes this objective as it provides much more that a simple introduction. It also confirms the vitality of the psychological study of religion, whose importance has often been underestimated.


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