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September 2003 Article of the Month
This month's article selection is by Sharon Brown, MLS, MA, who served for five years as Librarian at The HealthCare Chaplaincy in New York, where she worked to establish a collection of resources available for reference for everyone interested in spirituality. (An on-line catalog of the core of holdings of the collection is available through The HealthCare Chaplaincy's library page.)


Emmons, Robert A. and Paloutzian, Raymond F. "The Psychology of Religion." Annual Review of Psychology 54 (2003): 377-402.


COMMENT AND SUMMARY: It seems fitting, on the first anniversary of the Research Network's web site, to highlight a summary article published by Annual Reviews, a non-profit publisher of "intelligent synthesis of scientific literature." The Annual Review of Psychology was established in 1950 and has devoted only two articles to the psychology of religion. The first appeared in 1988, authored by Richard L. Gorsuch, and the current authors acknowledge that it has been fifteen years since the journal has addressed the subject and that much has changed in the interim.

Emmons and Paloutzian discuss the development of the field of the psychology of religion over the past quarter century. "Recent conceptual and empirical developments are described, with an emphasis on the cognitive and affective basis of religious experience within personality and social psychology" [from the abstract, p. 377]. They begin by describing the early days of the psychology of religion as a non-quantitative attempt to understand the psychological bases for religious beliefs, experience, and behavior, and the application of this knowledge for human good; noting the upsurge of activity especially from the mid-1960s, from recognition that religion was "among the most powerful of all social forces and here as long as there have been human beings" [p. 379]. They cite as indications of psychology's attentiveness to religion in recent years a remarkable increase in the publication of textbooks treating the subject, research oriented religion journals, special issues on religion by leading scientific journals, specialized professional and post-graduate books dealing with the topic, and comprehensive handbooks and monographs.

Two foci of the current work are the conceptualization of the fundamental terms spirituality and religion, and the ancillary step of how to proceed with measurement once operative definitions may be agreed upon. The authors state, "Over the past decade, there has been arguably more print devoted to conceptualizing religion and spirituality than to any other topic in the psychology of religion," and "It has become fashionable, both culturally and in the scientific literature, to differentiate between the spiritual and religious" [p. 381]. They go on to suggest that in spite of the trend to differentiate the phenomena, the central and shared issue of religion and spirituality may be "the sacred core," and they cite Peter Hill's definition of sacred as that which "refers to a divine being, divine object, ultimate reality or Ultimate Truth as perceived by the individual" [p. 382]. They urge that, rather than polarizing religion and spirituality, it may be generally more constructive to look for similarities.

Turning to issues of measurement, the authors observe that the "explosion of new inventories" in the psychology of religion has created an need for "an authoritative guide to their use" [p. 383], and they clarify that an objective of their article is to "make researchers and mental health professionals aware of the existence of pertinent measures" [p. 383].

The article explores in some detail the link between religion and emotion: "the affective basis of spirituality" [see the section covering pp. 384-90], especially in light of the comeback in psychology of the study virtue themes, such as gratitude, forgiveness and humility. The article moves then to a consideration of personality and religion. The authors note that "evidence is accruing that spirituality may represent a heretofore unacknowledged sixth major dimension of personality" [p. 390], and they encourage the use of the Five-Factor Model as "a starting point for exploring the relationship between religiousness and personality functioning" [p. 391]. They also note that "personality psychology can introduce new units of analysis for empirically examining religiousness and spirituality in people's lives" [p. 391], and they illustrate this by describing spiritual transcendence and ultimate concerns. They further comment on spiritual transformation as a "vigorous area of research" [p. 393] which has looked particularly at the relation of conversion experience to personality.

In the conclusion of the article, the authors suggest that the future of the psychology of religion lies in a "multilevel interdisciplinary paradigm," which "recognizes the value of data at multiple levels of analysis while making nonreductive assumptions concerning the value of spiritual and religious phenomena" [p. 395]. A broad, multidisciplinary paradigm is said to be necessary because "a single disciplinary approach is incapable of yielding comprehensive knowledge of phenomena as complex and multifaceted as spirituality" [p. 305].

Two final comments about the article: First, the bibliography is extensive and would certainly serve as a basis for building a resource list for CPE programs. Second, for those chaplains who have toiled in the fields of integrative or holistic healthcare, the processes of consensus building, interdisciplinary work, and collaborative initiatives are not new endeavors; however, this article's treatment of the subject of the psychology of religion may be useful in supporting collaborative research efforts between pastoral care and psychology in an institution.


Suggestions for the Use of the Article for Discussion in CPE: 

During my time working with practicing chaplains, students, supervisor-in-training and supervisors, I have observed the time constraints that become practical obstacles for reading in the literature. This month's article may be particularly valuable as a comprehensive overview, offering a great deal of material with a sense of historic development in the field. Among the topics that this article may engender for discussion:

  • the involvement of chaplaincy in and with psychology
  • the academic outlook on religion
  • difficulties with quantification in studying spirituality
  • the importance of personality and emotion to spirituality
  • potential areas for study in pastoral care research
This article may also be particularly useful for supervisors-in-training who are working to formulate language and concepts for a theory paper on personality.


Other Items of Interest: 

The bibliography of the article offers a wealth of suggestions for further reading. In addition to those books and articles, I suggest the following three websites:


If you have suggestions about the form and/or content of the site, e-mail Chaplain John Ehman (Network Convener) at .
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The ACPE Research Network. All rights reserved.