Benjamin BEIT-HALLAHMI. Psychological Perspectives on Religion and Religiosity. London, UK: Routledge, 2015, pp. 316. $170.00 hardcover ISBN 9780415682862. (Also paperback $59.95). Reviewed by Meg Wilkes KARRAKER, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN 55105.
Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi draws on research from psychology, but also the other social sciences and history, as well as cognitive-evolutionary psychology in an effort to answer a series of most important questions: “Is religion to blame for deadly conflicts? Should religious behavior be credited more often for acts of charity and altruism? In what ways are religious and ‘spiritual’ ideas, practices and identities surviving and changing as religion loses its political power in those parts of the world which are experiencing increasing secularization?” He begins with definitions of psychology and religion, drawing heavily on Wallace and other anthropological views of “religion-in-general” (p. 2). He then devotes a chapter each to the psychological foundations of religion, the place of learning and identity, varieties of religion, gender and religion, correlational and causal aspects of religion, conversion and groups associated with that, the psychological and psychoanalytic study of religion.
Readers will find his final chapter, “Secularization and the Persistence of Religion” very useful and perhaps provocative. There Beit-Hallahmi speaks to secularization: “a process through which both society and individuals have moved away from the dominance of religious institutions and religious ideation” (p. 200). He offers comparative empirical data on secularization from a variety of sources, along with a survey of explanations of the global trends. Beit-Hallahmi nuances secularization in useful ways. For example, he does not only focus on changes in attitudes among general populations, but also notes the general decline in the number of individuals devoted to religious professions. His take on religion and science (pp. 219-222) and the family (pp. 222-223) are well done (although this family sociologist would like to see a deeper analysis of the latter). And, quoting Sommerville, he reminds us of the reciprocity of secularization (p. 213):
As I read through the Conclusion, I felt I had learned more about the psychology of religion—but not enough. The book covers so much ground (which is quite the author’s point) that this sociologist wanted to come away with a deeper understanding of the psychology involved in, for example, the “deadly conflicts” of which the author spoke at the beginning of the book. Yet it is hard to argue with Beit-Hallahmi’s final remark about the needs for a “new psychology of religion,” one that “is no longer segregated, but multidisciplinary and accessible” (p. 236).
Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi is Professor of Psychology at the University of Haifa, Israel. He is the author of numerous works on religion and religiosity, from psychological, psychoanalytic, sometimes historical, and often multidisciplinary perspectives.