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Record Type: Review   ID: 27

Psychology of Religion: Classic and Contemporary (2nd ed.)

Wulff, David M.

This is an excellent overview of the psychology of religion. First, Wulff recognizes the necessity of considering the personal equation when dealing with religion. He observes: "The study of religion is inevitably an adventure that is both intellectual and personal" (p. ix). It also is an excellent book because Wulff not only includes the major religions as his subject matter but also presents the views of Erikson, Freud, James, Jung, and Pratt. In them we can see the personal equation clearly, because we know more about their lives than the founders of the major religions. I highly endorse Wulff’s approach because I feel that EHEs open the door to secular mysticism, which leads to the experiential paradigm via the EHE process. In the course of this process they discover who they are, why they are here, how they should live, and their own worldview. They discover a path with their name on it that is both unique and universal, personal and cosmic.

Wulff also considers not only standard psychological approaches to religion but depth psychologies and humanistic approaches, postmodernism, and object relations theory. In a chapter on behavioral and comparative theories, he has a section on sociobiology, including comparison studies of ritual behavior and studies of light (to enlightenment). The last chapter is on "the American humanistic synthesis," covering Gordon Allport, Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow (to whom he attributes a naturalistic faith, which is what the EHE concept also is). There are a scant two pages on transpersonal psychology, which he thinks is "less a psychology of religion than a modern-day effort at integration-of Western psychology and Eastern religion" (p. 617). He also considers near-death experiences (4½ pp.) and parapsychology (2¼ pp.) and its implications for religion. Rollo May and Viktor Frankl are given special treatment as existential approaches.

In evaluating the humanistic approach, he criticizes it as "not reflecting disinterested scholarship" but a "prophetic spirit or messianic vision" that is highly selective (p. 629). This is even more true of my own efforts, but I believe there is a reason. The humanistic explorers are just that-they are exploring not outer territory, as the standard objective psychological approaches do, but the transpersonal depths of the subjective, inner world. Here objectivity can only be found by looking for patterns in the subjective longitudinal path taken by each explorer, who is first of all an experiencer, often of exceptional human experiences. I believe I have glimpsed such a pattern, and it applies not only to modern-day humanistic explorers but to the founders of the world's religions and many religious sects. This is where a psychology of religion needs to concentrate: on the source of religion in every person, following its course to the sea of all Being, as well as how each person makes the return, now able to travel on earth, sea, and air, living/performing the unique entrance to the sameness in humans, all life, earth, and cosmos. Only in this way can the earth be resacralized, knowing it for the first time. Everyone is born a messiah, and a messiah everyone should be-even though they need not breathe a phrase of religious jargon.

This book is excellent, but it is lacking in two respects, one of major significance. Wulff does not say anything about the religious call or vocation, which so many of the founders and early adherents of the major religions experienced and which often set the stamp on that specific religion's contributions. Interestingly, in the index under Women, 12 pages are cited, two of them under the further subheading Called to the priesthood, which leads to a presentation of personality correlates in these women (who, incidentally, scored higher than men on development measures and the Personal Orientation Inventory). A sense of vocation is a stage on the path of people who potentiate their EHEs, and it is a component of what, in effect, is a religious life orientation, even if no overt religious symbolism is used (though it may be-any component of human or animal culture is grist for the mill of an EHEer who is working on the meaning of his or her life). Even without this modern twist, vocation needs to be included in any complete psychology of religion. (Of course, if the psychologists haven't studied it, people like Wulff can't include it. I find it hard to believe the term or a synonym cannot be found in Psychological Abstracts.) Jung certainly dealt with it, using the V word.

The major omission is recognition of the feminist spirituality movement, which is very large and is reflected in many varied groups. Beyond objective data, there is the inward thrust of the movement of inscendence, or immanence, or subjectively going down, in, and back. This approach is reflected in many books by men and women, but the best I have found is The Dancing Animal Women by Ann Hillman. For my ideas on the relevance of inscendence for the psychology of religion, see the abstract/review of Hillman's book.

Publisher Information:New York: Wiley, 1997. Pp. xxi + 760. Aut Ind: 727-737; Glos: 646-668; 3 illus; 88 photos; 11 ports.; Subject Ind: 739-760; Refs: 669-722
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