K. Byrd: Psyc 480: Advanced Seminar: Psychology of Religion, Univ. of Nebraska at Kearney
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Dr. Kevin R. Byrd, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Department of Psychology; COPH 320F
University of Nebraska at Kearney
Kearney, NE 68849-1280
OFFICE: 308-865-8241/FAX: 308-865-8980
Office Hours: MWF 10-12; 1:30-2:30/TTh 8-9; 3:30-

ADVANCED SEMINAR: PSYCHOLOGY OF RELIGION

PSY 480-01 CD Description: Religious experience and behavior will be examined from empirical, theoretical, and comparative mythological perspectives to discover and describe relevant psychological motivations and processes. Lectures and readings will address the symbols and myths of several major global religions, indigenous populations, and selected historical and prehistoric periods.

Objectives:


    1. Introduce the student to methods and issues in the scientific study of religious experience and behavior.
    2. Review the major scientific findings regarding religious experience and behavior from a lifespan perspective.
    3. Survey the myths, religious ideologies and practices across cultures and time periods, with an accent on delineating their psychological significance.
    4. The student will integrate empirical, theoretical and comparative mythological perspectives to develop an elementary original thesis regarding the psychological function, structure or motives of religion.

Weekly Topical Schedule

    Part I: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives

      1. The Psychological Function and Nature of Religion
      2. Religion in Childhood
      3. Religion in Adult Life
      4. Religion and Death
      5. Religious Experience
      6. Mysticism

    Part II: The Comparative Mythological Perspective

      7. What Should One Think of Religions Other Than One's Own?
      8. What is the Sacred?
      9. Introduction to Comparative Mythology
      10. The First Known Religions; Paleolithic Artifacts
      11. Native American Sacredness
      12. Civilization Without War: The Neolithic Religions
      13. Buddhism
      14. Hinduism and Kundalini Yoga
      15. The Temple and the Mountain: The Ancient Greeks
      16. Two Revelations Compared: Black Elk's Great Vision and the Christian Apocalypse

Learning will be assessed in the following ways:

A. Major examinations. There will be a midterm and final examination, consisting completely of essay questions pertinent to the material covered in the corresponding half of the course. Questions will be designed to assess the student's ability to use examples from the course material to discuss specific issues. Each exam will count for 100 points in the course total of 400. Each exam will be waved if the average attendance for the preceding half of the course is 80% or higher. Attendance count (I am not interested in individual attendance) will be taken at the beginning of class and latecomers will not be included in the count. Attendance counts will begin 9/4/97.

B. Beginning week 6, students will keep a journal of any experiences that might even remotely be considered spiritual or religious; possibly dreams, appreciation of nature, the impact of a good sermon, times of solitude, artistic and musical experiences, etc.. In it the student will record the situation, the experience, and what about the experience made it at least somewhat "religious" or spiritual." There should be at least one entry per week, and if the student has made a serious attempt to follow the assignment, full credit of 40 points will be awarded (there are 200 possible total points for the course). A bonus of five points will be added if the journal is typed. The due dates will be 10/28/97 (not graded, but feedback is provided) and 12/8/97 (graded). If you do not turn the journal in on the first due date, it cannot be handed in on the second. All material will be kept confidential. If you feel this kind of information is too personal to share, see me and we will work out an alternative assignment.

C. For each reading assignment (see below), the student will develop a brief reaction paper or "mini" thesis; a 1-2 page, typed paper that takes a position and supports it with 2 ideas from the assigned reading and one other library resource. These will almost always be due on the Tuesday of each week, from Weeks 2 through 16. Sample ideas might be to compare two religions or religious practices, describe the psychological function or motivation of a given religious practice or myth, or contrast two concepts (e.g., mystical and paranormal). However, please come up with your own ideas and follow your own interests.

There will be 15 of these assignments in all, each worth 10 points. Only the 10 highest grades will be used, the five lower will be dropped. If you do not hand in an assignment for whatever reason (you were recovering from near fatal injuries, helping the poor in Calcutta, or just did not feel like it) it will simply count as one of the lower grades that is dropped from the final total.

If you decide not to do five of the first 14 assignments and the last week rolls around, and you fully intended to get that last paper in, but an emergency arises and you can't, that assignment will not be accepted late. Therefore, I recommend against this overall strategy.

Only use one line at the top for your name, date and the number (1-15) of the assignment. List the reference for your outside reading at the end.

There are many library sources for these assignments including 1,121 books on religion and 5 journals. I decided not to list the books, but he journals are Sociology of Religion, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Parabola, and History of Religions (not current, back issues only). There are also many internet sources available on ROSI at our library.

These papers will be graded according to the following criteria:

  1. The directions above were followed: 2 points.
  2. The thesis is coherent (you do not contradict yourself without acknowledging the contradiction): 2 points
  3. The thesis is based on reason and the major claims are substantiated (you must explain how you know what you claim to know): 2 points
  4. The paper is intact with regard to grammar, spelling, and sentence structure: 2 points
  5. Bonus points if all the above are earned: 2 points

D. The final paper will require the student to develop and defend an elementary thesis regarding the psychological function, structure or motivation of religious behavior and/or experience. It must include religious material from at least three cultural traditions as well as theoretical and empirical perspectives. It will be at least 10 pages in length and be written in American Psychological Association style. The paper on reserve in the library on Revelation and Black Elk is in APA style, and you can use it for a model to guide you and ask me any questions you need to. It will be due 12/2/97. This can be an expansion of a thesis developed for one of the shorter, weekly papers. This will constitute 60 points in the total possible 200 points for the course.

These papers will be graded according to the following criteria:

  1. APA style used correctly: 3 points
  2. The thesis is clearly stated: 6 points
  3. The thesis is adequately defended: 15 points
  4. The thesis is coherent (you do not explicitly or implicitly contradict yourself): 15 points
  5. The student uses examples wisely to illustrate and support key points: 15 points
  6. The paper is intact with regard to grammar, spelling, and sentence structure: 6 points

Grading: Letter grades will be computed using the standard percentage cutoffs: 90% and above is an "A," 87-89% is a "B+," and so forth.

Reading List

(All required; annotated information in italics):

In the Bookstore:

(may not be in yet, should be any day): Hood, R. W., Spilka, B., Hunsberger, B. and Gorsuch, R. (1996). The psychology of religion. New York: Guilford. Will cover the theoretical and empirical approaches.

(probably not available for a few weeks): Campbell, J. (1990). Transformations of myth through time. New York: Mythology Limited. Includes chapters on Neolithic, Native American, Buddhist, Hindu, and Ancient Greek mythologies, among others.

On reserve at the library:

Lyden, J. (1995). Enduring issues in religion. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven.

    Chapter 2: What Should One Think of Religions Other Than One's Own?

    Chapter 3: What is the Sacred? Includes essays by Judaic, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, and Native American authors.

Swanson, J. L. and Byrd, K. R. (in press). Death anxiety in young adults as a function of religious orientation, guilt and separation-individuation conflict. Death Studies.

Byrd, K. R. (1995). The myth of Psyche and Cupid as an allegory for survivors of child sexual abuse. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 22, 403-411.

Byrd, K. R. (submitted to the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology). An account of the corresponding imagery in the New Testament Revelation and the Great Vision of the Lakota holy man, Black Elk.

Reading Assignments (reaction papers are due Tuesday of each week, except: no paper for Week 1 and papers are due Thursday of Week 2).

    Week 1: The Psychology of Religion, Chapter 1 (no paper due)
    Week 2: The Psychology of Religion, Chapter 2 (paper due Thursday)
    Week 3: The Psychology of Religion, Chapter 4
    Week 4: The Psychology of Religion, Chapter 5, Death anxiety in Young Adults ... (on reserve in library)
    Week 5: The Psychology of Religion, Chapter 6
    Week 6: The Psychology of Religion, Chapter 7
    Week 7: Enduring Issues in Religion, Chapter 2 (on reserve in library)
    Week 8: Enduring Issues in Religion, Chapter 3 (on reserve in library)
    Week 9: Excerpt from Joseph Campbell, The Man & His Ideas (on reserve at library)
    Week 10: Transformations of Myth Through Time, Chapter 1
    Week 11: Transformations of Myth Through Time, Chapter 2
    Week 12: Transformations of Myth Through Time, Chapter 3
    Week 13: Transformations of Myth Through Time, Chapter 6
    Week 14: Transformations of Myth Through Time, Chapter 7
    Week 15: Transformations of Myth Through Time, Chapter 10, The Myth of Psyche and Cupid ... (on reserve in library)
    Week 16: The New Testament Revelation and the Great Vision of Black Elk (on reserve in library)


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