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The theories of religion and spirituality in psychology and cognitive sciences.

Authors:
The theories of religion and spirituality in psychology and cognitive sciences
Janek Musek
University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
October 2006
RUNNING HEAD: Psycological theories of religion
Authors' Note.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Janek Musek, Department of
Psychology, University of Ljubljana, Aškerčeva 2, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia, e-mail:
janek.musek@guest.arnes.si
Abstract
Since the beginnings, the mankind is characterized by religious, spiritual and transcendental
experience. This experience attracted the interests of many authors during the period of modern
psychology and cognitive science, yet it has a rather short history of empirical research. The first
part of the article briefly outlines the major domains and directions in the research of religious and
related phenomena in psychology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience. In the second part, the
main results of our own empirical research have been reported including the analyses of the
relationships between religiosity, spiritual intelligence, human values, personality dimensions, and
well-being.
Key words
Religious experience, spiritual intelligence, values, personality, well-being.
The theories of religion and spirituality in psychology and cognitive sciences
Introduction: the beginnings and later development of the research of religious and spiritual
phenomena in psychology
The religious and spiritual life is recognized as the essential part of human nature. The man has
been dealing with transcendental issues since the very beginnings. The embryonal forms of
religious or spiritual experience have been maybe characteristic, according to the archeological
findings, even for the our extinguished cousin, the homo sapiens neanderthalensis. In the human
race, religious and spiritual experience evolved into magnificent religious systems in different
cultural traditions confirming thus the universality of human religiosity and spirituality. It became
also very early the subject of scientific psychology. William James, one of the fathers of
psychological science wrote his seminal work on religion in 1902. In the next decades, some
prominent psychologists studied this topic from the theoretical point of view, among others the
psychoanalysts (Adler & Jahn, 1933; Erikson, 1958; Freud, 1928a, 1928b, 1939; Fromm, 1950,
and especially Jung, 1921, 1931, 1933, 1958, 1964), existential and humanistic psychologists
(Frankl, 1964; Maslow, 1954, 1971; Rogers, 1961), and many others (extensively for instance
Allport, 1937, 1950, 1955, 1961; Bucke, 1923). More recently, the religious and spiritual
phenomena had attracted the attention of transpersonal psychology (for example the authors like
Grof, 1993; Tart, 1990, and Wilber, 1995) and positive psychology (see Musek & Avsec, 2002).
On the other side, the empirical research of religious and spiritual experience has a shorter
tradition. Some crucial concepts connected with the religiousness and spirituality including the
sense of meaning and mystical or transcendental experience are difficult to define operationally
and remain thus rather evasive for the empirical scientific approach (Coles, 1999). Nevertheless,
in the last decades we are confronted with the rapid progress in the empirical, experimental and
psychometric study of the religious and spiritual experience and related phenomena like
meditation, near death experience and similar.
Psychological models and theories of religion
The psychological models and theories of religious and spiritual experience could be divided into
several groups (Table 1; see also Hood, 1998). Table 1 presents the major theoretical
backgrounds in psychological conceptions of religion; it includes the representative authors, basic
explanations of religion and spirituality, and the representative methods of investigation as well.
In the first group, we can find different psychoanalytically or psychodynamically oriented models,
including the conceptions of Freud, Jung, Fromm, Erikson, Bowlby and others. In the Totem and
Taboo (Freud, 1928b) Freud already reported the projection of omnipotence as a characteristic of
the infantile thinking that is phylogenetically characteristic of magical and later of religious
thinking. In the Civilization and its discontents (1930) Freud explicitly developed his theory of
religion: "Thus religion would be a universal obsessive neurosis of humankind. Just like the
obsessive neurosis in children, it springs from the Oedipus complex, the relationship with the
father. Should this concept be correct, distancing from religion should be as inevitable as the
process of growing and we are in this junction, in the middle of this development phase" (ibid.,
p.57). Diversely, Jung treated the religious beliefs as a derivative of archetypal system. The
archetypes of God, Devil, Salvation and others religious primordial images are the part of human
collective unconscious and could be conceived by means of intuition that is according to Jung a
special psychological function enabling us to understand the symbols of archetypal contents. From
the newest psychoanalytically influenced interpretations of religion, we can mention the relational
models, for example those inspired by object-relation theory. In this respect, the religious
experience is modeled by the early infant-object relations and represents a reflection of child-
mother relationship with its attachment or separation dynamics.
The next wide group of psychological models of religion (religious experience) is connected to
the phenomenological approach shared by humanistic, existential and transpersonal psychology.
All these theoretical backgrounds conceive the religiousness and spirituality as the core
characteristic of the basic human potential. Humanistic psychologists (Maslow, 1954, 1971;
Rogers, 1961) connected this potential to the self-actualization processes, while Frankl (1954)
treated it as the one of the most important components of the so-called noogenic motivation
(sense of meaning as the ultimate human motive). Transpersonal psychologists (Grof, 1993; Tart,
1990, and Wilber, 1995) wiew the religious and spiritual phenomena as dimensions that connect
the individual with transcendental reality.
Finally, there is a rather heterogeneous group of psychological models, which are more closely
related to the empirical mainstream of psychology based on the use of psychometric assessment
and scientific research methods. The empirical research of religious and related phenomena is
definitively increasing only in the last decades, as already mentioned before. Within this line of
research, one can find different contemporaneous psychological directions and trends including
the fields of cognitive psychology, personality psychology, social psychology, positive
psychology, developmental psychology and others. These models have also connections to the
biological, genetic, evolutionary and neuroscientific approaches, which I will refer to later. The
religious and spiritual experience is usually treated as a basic human trait including cognitive,
affective and motivational aspects and related to the genetic, developmental, and sociocultural
factors. The research of religious and related phenomena is primarily focused on psychometrically
defined constructs representing religious and spiritual issues (dimensions of religious experience,
religiosity, spirituality, religious cognitions and attributions, faith, hope, fear of death etc.). This
research also attempts to establish the connections between religiosity and spirituality dimensions
and other important psychosocial variables. It is conducted by means of correlational, multivariate
and experimental research based on the use of validated psychometric instruments.
As we can see, some of the models are reductionistic trying to trim the religion as cultural
phenomenon down to the psychological factors (similarly as some bioevolutionary and
neuroscientific models). Others are not reductionistic in that sense, yet they limit the scope of the
research to the psychological dimensions (that is to the religious and spiritual experience) and
leave the question of the existence of the transcendental issues to other approaches (philosophy,
theology).
Table 1.
The review of psychological models and theories of religion.
Theoretical background
or approach
Representative
authors
Crucial concepts Method
Psychoanalytical
(psychodynamic)
Orthodox psychoanalysis
Freud Projection of omnipotence is characteristic
for magical and religious thinking
Religion as universal obsessive neurosis
rooted in the dynamics of Oedipus
complex
Theoretical
elaboration and
generalization of
hypotheses based
on clinical (case
study) observation
Analytical Jung Close connection with collective
unconscious
Religion as the archetypal system (God,
Devil, Salvation…) adopted by human
intuitive capacities
Relational (ego Erikson, Bowlby Projection of the presence of the superior Combined clinical
psychology, attachment
theory, object relations
theory)
(supreme) being patterned originally in
early child – object (mother) relation
and empirical
approach
Phenomenological
Humanistic psychology
Allport, Maslow,
Rogers
Religiosity and spirituality as basic human
potential
Related to the self-actualization
Phenomenological
description of
religious and
spiritual experience
combined with
empirical approach
Existential psychology,
logotherapy
Frankl Religiosity and spirituality as important
factors in the formation of the sense of
meaning, the leading human motive
Transpersonal psychology Grof, Taft, Wilber Religious and spiritual phenomena as
dimensions connecting the individual with
transcendental reality
Empirical
Psychometric
Cognitive psychology
Personality psychology
Social psychology
Positive psychology
Developmental
psychology
Connections to biological,
genetic, evolutionary and
neuroscientific approaches
Many authors Psychometrically defined constructs
representing religious and spiritual issues
(dimensions of religious experience,
religiosity, spirituality, religious
cognitions and attributions, faith, hope,
fear of death etc.)
Religious and spiritual experience is often
treated as basic human trait including
cognitive, affective and motivational
aspects and related to the genetic,
developmental, and sociocultural factors
Correlational,
multivariate and
experimental
research based on
the use of validated
psychometric
instruments
Spirituality and spiritual intelligence
Recently, the spirituality became more and more frequent key word in psychological research
(Emmons, 1999). On all these grounds, the term spiritual intelligence has been finally promoted
(Zohar & Marshall, 2000). The existential intelligence, a very similar concept, has been included
into the newest version of the multiple intelligence model of Gardner (1999), and even before into
another popular model of multiple intelligences (Buzan & Keene, 1997).
Zohar and Marshall (2000) define the spiritual intelligence as the ultimate intelligence that enables
us to solve the problems of the meaning and values, to reframe our deeds and lives becoming
more meaningful and rich, and to evaluate, which way of life contains more purpose and self-
fulfillment.
Beside the disputable measurability of spiritual intelligence, the investigators recently attempted to
develop the measuring instruments, mainly in the form of scales or questionnaires (King et al.,
1995; King, Speck & Thomas, 2002; Underwood & Teresi, 2002).
Among the results of these attempts, we can mention the multidimensional scale BMMRS (Brief
Multidimensional Measure of Religiousness/Spirituality, Idler et al., 1999), developed in the
Fetzer Institute (Fetzer Institute, etc., 1999).
Religious and spiritual experience in neuroscience
The research of religious and spiritual experience has been further promoted by the recent
neurological findings (Alper, 2001; Austin, 1998; Newberg, 2004; Newberg, d'Aquili in Rause,
2001; Persinger, 1987, 1993; Ramachandran in Blakeslee, 1998a, 1998b). The occurrence of the
experiences with religious or similar spiritual contents in prodromal phases before the epileptic
seizure (in so-called epileptic aura) is known already for a long time. On the other side, it is
already known, that epilepsy is often connected with brain activity of the focal points in the
temporal lobe. Some recent studies discovered that electromagnetic stimulation of specific
temporal areas can evoke the feelings resembling the mystical, spiritual or religious experience.
Canadian neuropsychologist Persinger (1987) described such feelings as immediate experience of
God inspiring thus the thinking about the “God part in the brain” (Ramachandran in Blakeslee,
1998). Thus, neurotheology (a term coined by Huxley in the utopian novel Island) emerged as e
new scientific discipline. D’Aquili and Newberg (1998) also on the grounds of neurological data,
tried to explain why God despite all secularization will not say good-bye to human being.
Newberg (2004) has later confirmed the activation of some temporal, frontal and parietal areas
during prayer or meditation.
Evolutionary approach to the religion and spirituality
Further, religiosity and spirituality have been progressively connected with evolutionary
explanations (Montell, 2002). Albert Einstein, undoubtedly a religious and spiritual person, said
once that the religion originates from the experience of mystery, even if it is connected with fear.
Some contemporary evolutionists claim that the neuropsychological development very early
confronted homo sapiens sapiens with this kind of mysterious experience. Only our species is
capable of conceive the death in the perspective of inevitable cessation of own existence. This
devastating recognition of inavoidable has been evolutionary counterbalanced by the development
of the religious experience. According to the hypothesis of Montell (2002), the religious concepts
evolved in evolution as a psychological solution aimed to free the human species of the anxiety
originating from the consciousness of own mortality. Otherwise, this anxiety could seriously deter
the evolutionary success of humanity.
The neuroscientific and evolutionary models of religion are not necessarily reductionistic. The
claim that neuroscientific and evolutionary basis of religious experience justifies the abandonment
of our transcendental concepts, may be even ridiculous. It is the same, as the claim that, provided
the neuropsychological basis of perception, we must not believe in the reality of objective world
any more.
The empirical research of religious and spiritual experience in Slovenia
In the first part of our empirical studies, different hypotheses concerning relationships between
religosity, spirituality, values, personality dimensions and well-being have been tested. All
mentioned variables have been measured by appropriate psychological instruments including self-
report inventories, questionnaires and scales for the religiousness, spiritual intelligence and
spirituality (Musek & Maravič, 2004), Musek Value Survey (Musek, 1993a,b; 1998; 2000) as the
measure of values or value orientations, different measures of personality dimensions (BFI; John
& Srivastava, 1999), and different measures of the personal well-being, especially Diener’s (1984)
Satisfaction with Life Scale.
Table 2 presents the correlations of religiosity and spirituality with other major investigated
variables through the different studies. Beside this, religiosity and spirituality correlate quite
remarkably with each other (0,622**). Both have also very substantial correlations with religious
values and numerous lower but still significant correlations with some other value orientations as
well as with some personality dimensions and life satisfaction. In particular, religiosity correlates
positively with religious and patriotic values, and negatively with sensual, actualization, cultural,
security, status and democratic values. Spirituality has significant positive correlations with
religious values, traditional values and cognitive values, and significant negative correlations with
status, sensual, security and actualization values. Both religiosity and spirituality correlate
positively with agreeableness dimension of personality and with the psychological well-being (life
satisfaction), while religiosity correlates negatively with extraversion, and spirituality correlates
negatively with intellectual openness (it means that religious people are more introverted and
spiritual people are more conservative, at least in our sample).
Table 2.
The correlations of religiosity and spirituality with the values, personality dimensions and
psychological well-being.
religiosity spirituality
Value orientations
Sensual values -,215(**) -,194(**)
Security values -,155(**) -,146(**)
Status values -,119(*) -,217(**)
Patriotic values ,144(**) ,082
Democratic values -,102(*) ,057
Social values ,028 ,086
Traditional values ,057 ,158(**)
Cultural values -,159(**) ,041
Cognitive values -,042 ,110(*)
Actualization values -,185(**) -,114(*)
Religious values ,721(**) ,555(**)
Personality dimensions
Extraversion -,121 -,239(**)
Agreeableness ,161(*) ,291(**)
Conscientiousness -,051 -,036
Neuroticism -,028 ,007
Openness -,169(*) -,050
Psychological well-
being
Life satisfaction ,231(**) ,359(**)
** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
* Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
The second part of our research on religion and related issues is focused on the development of
the structural psychological theory of spiritual experience. The structure of the religious
experience has been often the subject of empirical research. On the contrary, the structure of the
spiritual experience has been very scarcely investigated until now. On the basis of the multivariate
approach I tried to discover the dimensional structure of spiritual experience, which has been
measured by the 54 item scale of spirituality. The final hierarchical model of spiritual experience is
presented in the Figure 1. The entire hierarchy of spirituality extends from the single all-embracing
common dimension (General factor of spirituality), through the levels of higher-order factors, to
the lower level specific factors. For example, five-factor solution of spirituality dimensions yielded
next broad dimensions: meaning, harmony, religiosity, personal growth, and forgiving. Table 3
presents a more detailed description of all five dimensions with brief description of each
dimension and some representative items.
Figure 1. The structural hierarchical model of spirituality.
Table 3.
Description of five broad dimensions of spirituality.
DIMENSIONS DESCRIPTION TYPICAL ITEMS
MEANING Meaning of the
existence and the
universe
My spirituality is giving sense to the events in my life
My spiritual beliefs give my life a sense of significance and
purpose
Without a sense of spirituality, my daily life would be
meaningless
What I try to do in my everyday life is important to me from a
spiritual point of view
HARMONY Harmony and
connectedness
feelings; inner peace;
gratitude
I experience the connectedness with the source of all life
I am living in the harmony with my deepest values and my
meaning of life
I feel a deep inner peace or harmony
I am grateful for my life
FAITH
(RELIGIOSITY)
Religious and
numinosity feelings
I would say for myself that I am a religious person
I often pray or meditate
GENERAL (g)
SPIRITUALITY
HARMONYMEANING
GROWTHHARMONY MEANING
MEANING HARMONY FAITH GROWTH FORGIVING
FACETS FACETS FACETS FACETS FACETS
FIRST-ORDER FACTORS
SECOND-ORDER FACTORS
THIRD-ORDER FACTORS
GENERAL FACTOR
FACETS
In the world I recognize the presence of God
My faith is the source of strength and consolation for me
I believe in the afterlife
GROWTH Sense of personal
growth and self-
fulfilment
I feel that no matter what I do now I will never make up for the
mistakes I have made in the past.
I often feel like I have failed to live the right kind of life
I have forgiven myself for things I have done wrong
FORGIVING Forgiveness and
acceptance
I have forgiven those who hurt me
I am able to make up pretty easily with friends who have hurt me
in some way
I accept others even when they do things I think are wrong
Conclusions
Since the beginnings, the mankind is characterized by religious, spiritual and transcendental
experience. This experience attracted the interests of many authors during the period of modern
psychology and cognitive science, yet it has a rather short history of empirical research.
The psychological models and theories of religion could be divided into three main groups
(psychodynamic, phenomenological, and empirical/psychometric).
Some other models emerged recently in evolutionary and neuroscientific psychology.
Finally, the main results of our own empirical research have been reported including the results of
the studies that examined the relationships between religiosity, spiritual intelligence, human
values, personality dimensions, and well-being as well as the analyses of the dimensional hierarchy
of spirituality.
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APPENDIX A
Doživljam povezanost z vsem živim
I experience a connectedness to all of life
Moja duhovnost daje smisel dogodkom v mojem življenju
My feelings of spirituality add meaning to the events in my life
V svetu prepoznavam navzočnost božanskega
I recognise the presence of the Divine in the world
Čutim povezanost z izvirom vsega življenja
I experience a connection to the Source of All Life
V svojih odnosih z drugimi izražam in prejemam ljubezen in odpuščanje
I express and receive love and forgiveness in my relationships with others
APPENDIX B
DIONYSIAN
VALUES APOLLONIAN
VALUES
highest range
categories
(macrodimensions)
HEDONIC
VALUES
POTENCY
VALUES
MORAL
VALUES
FULFILMENT
VALUES
higher range
categories (value
types)
sensual
health
security
status
patriotic
legalism
traditional
family
societal
cultural
aesthetic
actualisation
cognitive
religious
middle range
categories (value
facets)
joy,
entertainment,
sociability,
exciting life,
comfortable life,
sexual
satisfaction,
good food, free
movement,
freedom,
health,
security, rest
power,
reputation,
famousness,
money, political
success,
overridig others,
longevity
patriotism,
national pride
order, laws
honesty,
benevolence,
diligence
family happiness,
good partnership,
love for childre,
love, hope
equity, national
equality, peace,
concordance,
justice, (freedom)
culture, arts, crativity
beauty, nature
selfactualization,
knowledge, progress
truth, wisdom
faith in God
specific (single)
values
DIONYSIAN
VALUES APOLLONIAN
VALUES
highest range
categories
(macrodimensions)
HEDONIC
VALUES
POTENCY
VALUES
MORAL
VALUES
FULFILMENT
VALUES
higher range
categories (value
types)
sensual
health
security
status
patriotic
legalism
traditional
family
societal
cultural
aesthetic
actualisation
cognitive
religious
middle range
categories (value
facets)
joy,
entertainment,
sociability,
exciting life,
comfortable life,
sexual
satisfaction,
good food, free
movement,
freedom,
health,
security, rest
power,
reputation,
famousness,
money, political
success,
overridig others,
longevity
patriotism,
national pride
order, laws
honesty,
benevolence,
diligence
family happiness,
good partnership,
love for childre,
love, hope
equity, national
equality, peace,
concordance,
justice, (freedom)
culture, arts, crativity
beauty, nature
selfactualization,
knowledge, progress
truth, wisdom
faith in God
specific (single)
values
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Religion is a belief-based activity system which functions in the realms of social and reflective aspects in line with human growth and excellence. Present study was conducted aiming to investigate the relationship between cognitive style and religious orientation of the students of Azarbaijan Shahid Madani University. This research was correlational and Statistical population included all of the students of Azarbaijan Shahid Madani University in the academic year 2015-16. The research sample was comprised of 211 students selected via convenience sampling. Religious orientation and Cognitive style questionnaires were used for data collection. Data analysis was conducted by Pearson correlation statistical method and simultaneous multiple regression via SPSS statistical software. The results depicted that there is a significant relationship between Cognitive Style (experimentalism and rationalism) and religious orientation. Also, experimentalism and rationalism showed a significant relationship with the components of religiosity (p<0.05), praise (p<0.05), and pleasure seeking (p<0.01). The results indicated that individuals employ both experimentalism and rationalism in religious orientation.
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