Religion: Culture, Mind and Brain: New Perspectives in the Psychology of Religion
New Perspectives in the Psychology of Religion
These abstracts are posted at the request of Mario Aletti. Most of the chapters are written in Italian, but several are in English. I thank Professor Aletti for sharing this material here.
Cultural psychology of Religion: Perspectives, Challenges, Possibilities (p. 22)
Jacob A. Belzen
After delineating the psychology of religion, the author points out that this discipline can be pursued from several perspectives and proceeds to make some fundamental choices. In order to actually study religion (as opposed to simply supporting general psychological findings with surveys of religious populations) the psychology of religion is in need of a perspective that allows distinguishing specifically psychological features religion may have. Cultural psychology offers this possibility. Although various kinds of cultural psychology may be identified, the contemporary challenge to the psychology of religion is the employment of those approaches that allow the conceptualization and investigation of the relationship between some earlier psychological theories compatible with cultural psychological insights, discusses some promising modern approaches in cultural psychology, and comments on some other approaches to the study of religion by means of psychology.
Psychology is today having to reckon with two opposing orientations which propose to interpret an individual mental life either in terms of mental processes and structures, or in terms of the codes and practices which apply in the environment surrounding the individual. On one side, the mind is reduced to an epiphenomenal manifestation - with no specific causal power - of what takes place in the nervous system. On the other side, the mind is broken up into a multitude of linguistic constructs which each time emerge in different forms according to the cultural system within which it is conceptualized and according to the conventions of conversation underpinning the discourses developed around it. In the first case, psychology is given the role of providing a mere description of states, phenomena or individual "mental" characteristics for which the neursciences may then identify the biological correlate, considered the real foundation on which these states, being reduced to a collection of reconstructions of the way in which we talk about the mind in various social contexts. In both cases, psychology is deprived of the possibility of explaining and understanding the mind in its own terms. In the light of the opposing tension between biological reductionism and discursive deconstructionism, an attempt will be made to put forward a view of psychology which, though taking into account the structural rooting of the mind in the body (thus not considering it as abstract architecture of unit of elaboration or flow of computational operations) and the inescapable situated nature of mental life, also recognizes the genuine intentional (thus not physical, nor however totally determined by the context) nature of the subjective acts through which a person gives sense to his/her own experience of reality.
Neurobiology: What Could It Mean for the Psychology of Religion? (p. 108)
K. Helmut Reich
The main aims of this presentation are(i) to situate the mind/brain issue in the philosophical discussion, (ii) to characterize briefly the current state of neurobiology and its methods, and (iii) to explicate interdisciplinary research work involving both neurobiology and psychology of religion. In such research both disciplines could benefit. However, one can differentiate between work more of primary interest either to neurobiology or to psychology of religion. The former includes, for instance, changes of brain states provoked by religious experiences, by intensive prayer, and the like. Examples for the latter would be differences in brain states induced by meditation vs. drug use, cultural differences in religious and religiosity in function of systematic differences of brain characteristics, and the like. Research by the Mind & Life Institute illustrates these aspects.
Cultural and Neurobiological Complementariness in Psychology of Religion (p. 128)
Geraldo José de Paiva
Recent work in cognitive science of religion, such as Andrew Newberg's and Ilkka Pyysiainen's, is a welcome help to psychologists of religion, since it strives to present contemporary view of the biological origins of religious behavior without denying culture a central role in determining its religious character. Newberg proposes two brain mechanisms essential to religion: the causal operator and the holistic operator, responsible for the perception of causality and for the perception of unity, which generate spiritual causes and mysticism. A central concept to Pyysiainen's approach is that of counter-intuitiveness, which opposes the intuitive knowledge people universally use in their ordinary life to deal with their environment. Such intuitive knowledge is thought to have evolved from or co-evolved with surrounding material environment. A very important intuitive object is that of human understanding. Some empirical studies suggest that counter-intuitive thoughts are better recalled and better distributed among people than intuitive ones. Applying counter-intuitiveness and agency to religion, one finds counter-intuitive agents, who replace the culture-bound notions of transcendence and god. An essential place is attributed to feelings as cognitive systems, based on neural networks. Those feelings, which correspond to bodily states, help people to make decisions about acknowledging counter-intuitive agents, which will be thought of as religious if cultural tradition guides perception not as scientific , or fictional, or pathological, but precisely as prototypically religious.
Between Neurobiological Findings, Cultural Contexts and Individual Attributions. The specificity of the psychological approach to religion. (p. 138)
Research studies on neurobiological correlations of individual religion are today using ever more refined and targeted instruments. Such instruments can be useful to the psychology of religion on condition that they clarify certain methodological and epistemological issues. These issues are highlighted in a critical summary of recent research on the subject, such as those of d'Aquili and Newberg, Persinger, Moody, Joseph, etc. In particular, what appears to be totally confusing is the concept of "neurotheology" and similar theoretical constructs. These are based on a presumption of an "experience of God" on the neurological level. According to the author, neural structures and processes are a-specific (and therefore a-religious). The "religiosity" of an experience is the result of a conscious reference to the Transcendent on the part of the religious part of the religious person and within a determined cultural context. While contrary to any form of reductionism, what is being highlighted is the specificity and complexity of the psychological approach to religion. This also takes into consideration not only the neurobiological substratum (body-brain-mind) of any psychic behavior, but also the socio-cultural and linguistic dimension, and the attribution processes responsible for the progressive shaping of personal religion.
Psychoneuroimmunologic perspectives and cultural psychology on religion and health (p. 201)
Psychoneuroimmunology and cultural psychology reflect two different perspectives by which observe both psychic (health and pathology) and religious phenomena. In the first case, great importance is given to the biological dimension of the individual behaviour; so that some research suggests that it is possible to locate the religious or spiritual experience at a neuriphysiological level. On the other hand, the cultural psychology considers that the human behaviour only when it is rooted in a precise environmental and cultural contest. After the analysis of the biological and cultural perspectives, I think that the most useful and important way to try to understand human behaviour is to see it through the perspective of the interaction between biology and culture avoiding the risk of mutual reductionisms.
Religiosity: complexity and methods (p. 213)
When studying the religious phenomenology which reveals an increasing degree of complexity, due to the variety and extent of experiences involved, it is certainly useful to adopt an approach arising from the study of cultural, mind and brain. In addition to the psychological and neuroscientific dimension, this interdisciplinary approach also re-proposes significant and long-standing philosophical means.
Psychology of religion's epistemology faced with the paradigm of complexity (p. 223)
The paper examines the paradigm of complexity to illustrate the problems put to the psychology of religion's epistemology. After showing the emerging of the complexity through the observations of the philosophy of science, four provoking remarks for the psychology of religion are introduced, but also put into question form: 1. The need to proceed through an interdisciplinary approach; 2. The difficulty in claiming the scientific neutrality of the researcher; 3. The possibility of finding a conciliation between functional and substantive definitions of religion; 4. The possibility of finding a starting point for an effective inter-religious dialogue.
Non-materialism, creativity, and optimal experience in consecrating one's own life (p. 233)
The following article is part of a wider research. This research aims to understand if there is a connection between a) having a non-conformist goal-oriented life faced with instrumental relation with objects; b) being able to have Optimal Experience; c) having creative capability. We were interested, in particular, in evaluating if there were specific elements which can define the difference between non-materialistic choices taken in an attempt to "escape" from something and choices taken because they were seen as enriching for the individual. In the following contribution we wll analyse the experience of the persons, inside the Catholic Church, who choose to consecrate their lives to the service of God and their brothers and sisters. These people make a difficult choice, that appears, at the beginning of the new millennium, more and more non-conformist, compared with the rules, perspectives, and the aims that Occidental society proposes.
Collective images, technology and secularization. A difficult equilibrium (p. 245)
This contribution considers the removal of the opening to the transcendence in the contemporary world in relationship to the seductive and psychologically intrusive logics of the technology and particularly to the language of the collective images. Then I propose the enunciation of some linguistic-mental formulations, which in my opinion negatively influence the psychology disposition toward the religious experience. Faced with this, I underline the value of the internal world.
Playing fast and loose with forgiveness (Pg. 253)
Geof E.W. Scobie and Enid D. Scobie
There are still mixed feelings about whether the study of forgiveness should be part of mainstream psychology. This, despite more than a decade of trying to establish its credentials within psychotherapy. This is probably caused by the continuing confusion concerning elements from the prerequisites and the consequences of forgiveness within that definition. For example, the Enright school insists that changes in attitude and feelings toward the perpetrator are part of forgiveness, when it is more properly concerned with restoring a relationship or dealing with negative emotions. The present paper discusses the various issues and seeks to bring some clarity to the discussion.
Assessing the cognitive construction of the sacred: The feeling of sacredness test (p. 261)
Pawel M. Socha
Conceiving of spirituality as a way of coping with the existential human condition assumes that at the core of such coping is the transformation of the profane into the sacred. In the light of the cognitive approach in psychology, the process of constructing a new perspective on reality should play an essential role. This approach - briefly outlined here - is considered naturalistic. The Feeling of Sacredness (FST) was designed to test the outcome of this postulated process of cognitive transformation, as both religious and non-religious persons struggle with the existential drama. Three versions of the FST are presented here. Two of them offer to participants a common set of "objects" - things, social arrangements, abstract concepts, and so on - to be assessed in terms of their sacredness. The assumption is that these objects represent a wider array of objects, any of which could trigger the impression of sacredness, suggesting that something holy or sacred is inherent in the object. A tentative third version of the FST is open-ended, inviting respondents to suggest their objects for assessment. The initial results of the research carried with the use of FST v. 1 and 2 are presented.
Social groups according to the Coran. A first analysis (Pg. 271)
Federica Durante e Chiara Volpato
In the theoretical frame of Social Identity Theory (Tajfel, 1981), the components of the collective Islamic identity through its constitutive text - the Koran - were analysed. The aim of the study was to identify the social group images described in the Koran, in order to enlighten the construction and reinforcing processes of the Islamic identity. Some Koran chapters were used as archive data and they were the object of a quantitative content analysis. Traits, descriptions, stereotypes, images referred to the main groups were submitted to correspondence factor analysis. Results indicate the dimensions underlying the representations of social groups, showing, moreover, intergroup differentiation, ingroup bias, and effects of outgroup homogeneity.
The (religious) family: first place where man senses context (Pg. 283)
In this issue, comparing clinical, research and literature extracts about religious persons, I propose the following: a) religious personalities take shape through mother-infant relationship in early childhood together with the capacities of thinking thoughts; these capacities involve a pre-existing triangulation, different from the Oedipal one; c) the introjections of a "true faith" influence the subsequent personality development, creating a "transitional area" that will become a safe-base for the individual development.
The relationship with the transcendental in the transfert relationship (Pg. 297)
In this paper I intend to describe a transfert event which explains how the relational mode between patient and therapist reflects the relationship of the patient with the transcendental. This event took place following the unconventional questions that the therapist asked the patient when the latter made a reference to religion. The interest that, contrary to her habits, the therapist devoted to the subject matter set off a relational sequence which exhibited itself through a dream. The interpretation of the dram, constructed through the patient's.
The "revolutionary psychology" and the "three factors of the revolution of consciousness" in the Gnostic movement of Samael Aun Weor (Pg. 303)
Pier Luigi Zoccatell
i The paper is a discussion of the contemporary neo-Gnostic movements, focusing in particular on the different movements claiming the heritage of Columbian esoteric master Samael Aun Weor. These movements operate in fierce competition between themselves. The paper starts with some methodological comments on the meaning and present relevance of some "esoteric" issues, which are crucial for the members of the "Weorite" movements. They constitute the only contemporary mass movement explicitly claiming to be "Gnostic". The paper involves a discussion of esotericism and its approach to the sacred, and notes how the "Weorite" movements claim to offer a "revolutionary psychology" based on a syncretistic but original approach to psychology.
Devil and "poor devils". Psychology aspects of contemporary Satanism (Pg. 313)
The organized Satanism is a phenomenon that is often overrated, but as a matter of fact, it concerns only a few thousand people all over the world. Of course, the statistics cannot include the activities of isolated Satanists (criminals often say to kill " for the pleasure of killing" inspired by the demon and the "juvenile" or "savage" Satanism (also said "acid Satanism" for its association with drugs) composed of small groups of young people, very rarely with the presence of some adults. Even the juvenile Satanism is more diffused, many groups can be found out only when they commit a crime. Only the "savage" Satanism often reveals itself to be really dangerous. In fact, it is in this context that, on an international level and also in Italy, crimes of various kinds and seriousness occurred: vandalism, violation of churches and cemeteries, rape and murders.
The role of Jesus according to the depth psychology of Hannah Wolff (Pg. 321)
Gianni F. Trapletti
Hannah Wolff (1910-2001), a German psychotherapist trained in theology and analytical psychology, proposed an original view of Christian religion in post-Jungian perspective. According to Wolff, Jesus of Nazareth was an exceptional man: he completed the individualization process, he integrated the male and female sides (animus and anima) in his Self, he was the homo totus. So he can disclose to mankind the way towards the authentic realization of inner needs. This contribution suggests some critical remarks about this system of thinking.
The Movement "Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God": the drifts of a Marian cult deep-rooted in the heart of Africa (Pg. 329)
Raffaella Di Marzio
On 17 March 2000 more than 500 members of a locally based cult, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments (MRTCG), perished in an inferno in Kanungu, southwestern Uganda, and over 400 people murdered and dumped in secret mass graves. The movement was based on visions and revelations supposedly from the Blessed Virgin Mary. Milleniarism, the turmoils experienced by Uganda, the spread of AIDS, the African inherited religious personality and the traditional catholic religiosity form the cultural and environmental background that influenced this movement. It is difficult to explain the massive use of violence rationalized and justified in theological terms. Anyway it is very important that the scholar does not apply Western models to situations peculiar to different culture.
A Terreiro of Candomblé in Italy: a psycho-cultural study (p. 337)
Mario Aletti e Leonardo Moiser
In 1996, the first and, until now, only terreiro of Candomblé in Italy, the Ilé Axé Alaketo Airá, was born in Arborio (Verceli). Theof this research was to study, from a psycho-cultural perspective, the similarities and differences between the Italian and Brazilian tradition. The former was studied by means of participant observation for three years, of a collection of life stories, anda questionnaire. The latter is well known through the anthropological, historical and psychological literature. On a ritualistic religious level, there seem to be no differences when compared to the Brazilian terreiros, except in those aspects that are strictly related to the particular geographic and climatic environment, and those of social customs. On the socio-cultural level, however, while the terreiro of Candomblé in Brazil is generally rooted in and well blended with the environment, the group which was studied by us appears as isolated and totally insignificant. In line with these findings, one group, in adhering and participating in the group, as well as in the life experiences related to the link between the sense of belonging to the group and the socio-cultural context of one's origins. However, what was also confirmed in the Italian group was a fundamental and necessary characteristic of the Brazilian Candomblé: the mythical identification with one's own Santo.
Psychology of the Occult (Pg. 345)
Paranormal phenomena have always been treated from the spiritual point of view and as an expression of human powers. Following thirty years of study in the field, the author has come to a psychological explanation by constructing a scientific paradigm. The human unconscious harbours conflicts that can lead to symbolic communication particularly when all other forms of human relationships are precluded. Creativity and suggestion, fused with a dissociative personality, explain séances and automatic writing. On the other hand, relying on case histories and experimentation, as well as on the basis of the "communication factor", what is commonly known as telepathy, precognition and psychokinesis are explained as a sophisticated form of non-verbal communication. These however, are not powers or charismas enjoyed by the person but an expression of pathology from which the person could be suffering.
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