COURSE TITLE: Psychology of Religion
NAME OF INSTRUCTOR: Dr. Christopher Peet
CREDIT WEIGHT AND WEEKLY TIME DISTRIBUTION: credits 3 (hrs lect 3 - hrs sem 0 - hrs lab 3)
COURSE DESCRIPTION: A study of the main concepts and major schools of psychology in their historical development. This course traces the development of psychology from its earlier status as a branch of philosophy to its present status as a special science.

Prerequisites: PSYC 250 or 251

  • Bellah, R. (1970). Religious evolution, pp. 20-50 in Beyond Belief. New York: Harper & Row. (This article is available on Moodle.)
  • Excerpts from: Campbell, J. (2004). The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (Original published in 1949.). The excerpts are: Prologue, The Monomyth (pp. 1-42), and Epilogue: Myth and Society (pp. 352-362). The text is available online & on Moodle.
  • Colum, P. (2005). Great myths of the world. Mineola, NY: Dover.
  • Cousins, E. (1987). Spirituality in today’s world, pp. 306-334, in Religion in today’s world: the religious situation of the world from 1945 to the present day, edited by Frank Whaling (Ed.). Edinburgh: T & T Clark. (This article is available on Moodle.)
  • The epic of Gilgamesh. (1999). Trans. by A. George. London: Penguin.  
  • Freud, S. (1946). Totem and taboo. Trans. by A. Brill. New York: Vintage. (Original published in 1918.)
  •  Excerpt from: Gimbutas, M. (1989). The language of the goddess. San Francisco: HarperCollins. (pp. xv-xx)
  • Excerpts from: Partridge,C. (2005). Introduction to world religions, 1st ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
  • Stanner, W. E. H. (1979). The Dreaming, pp. 23-40, in White Man Got No Dreaming, Essays 1938-1973. Canberra: Australian National University Press. (This article is available on Moodle.)
Assorted assignments (quizzes, short papers, responses, comparisons)35%
Two response papers40%
Final paper25%
COURSE OUTLINE:This course is an introduction to central themes and methodological approaches in the psychology of religion. These will be studied through a focus on myth. Religion is multi-faceted and greatly variable across its many cultural manifestations, demonstrating differing emphases on what scripture, doctrine, social organization, ritual, piety, devotional practices, art, mysticism, ‘spiritual experience(s)’, transcendence, and so on, can mean. Religion is not therefore reducible to these manifestations. Myths embody, in highly condensed symbolic form, a religious worldview. As such they afford a powerful lens through which to explore many of the facets of religiosity, and this course examines the psychology embodied by myths by unpacking their ‘highly condensed symbolism’. W. E. H. Stanner’s classic work on Australian aboriginal mythology of “The Dreaming” is used to introduce us to myth.
The course breaks down into two major sections. The first section is concerned with the myths of tradition – firstly of the so-called “primitive”, “archaic” traditions, or “foreign” traditions as descend to us from pre-history, and secondly of the traditions of the so-called “Great Civilizations” or “great world religions”. For this section we will examine many visual images (often all we have of mythologies from pre-historic, pre-text times), including some special emphasis on Marija Gimbutas’ “Goddess religion” thesis. We will also study a number of myths using Colum’s anthology throughout the course, and we will explore in detail and especial emphasis The epic of Gilgamesh, which is rightly an epic, and also one – perhaps the first? – that marks the transition from oral to written myth. Robert Bellah’s “Religious Evolution” is a schematic summary of the “evolution” of religious thought which we will employ to orient us to religious change.
The second section is concerned with our contemporary times; broadly, “modernity”. Modernity has defined itself through (1) breaking with – ‘freeing from’ – tradition; as well as, (2) at least once upon a time, through freeing itself from myth. We shall investigate this two-fold claim more closely, for while the former has plausibility, the latter seems to have been itself a myth. Key to these definitional claims of modernity has been the explaining of traditional myths in modern non-mythological – i.e. scientific – terms. Of these, we will investigate possibly the most famous
(or infamous) approach: Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic explanation of religion in terms of the Oedipal complex in Totem and Taboo. The movie version of Peter Schaffer’s Equus represents many of these themes (including the Oedipal complex) in dramatic and disturbing fashion. Using what we have learned from the first half of the course on the psychology of myths of tradition, we shall try to understand something of the character of our modern times, of the shift from “enchanted cosmos” to “disenchanted universe”; with some of Joseph Campbell’s reading to assist us in discussing this shift to the modern. We will conclude the course examining some of the peculiar characteristics and challenges of contemporary times, using Ewert Cousins’ essay on “Spirituality in today’s world” to guide our discussion.
  • Section I. Myth & tradition: ‘the enchanted cosmos’
    • Week I  Sept 6, 8  Syllabus. Opening considerations. Partridge’s Ch. 2, pp. 38-47.  
    • Week II  Sept 11, 13, 15  Stanner’s “The Dreaming” 
    • Week III Sept 18, 22  Gimbutas’  Goddess thesis  {Sept 20-21: IS  conference. No classes.}
    • Week IV Sept 25, 27, 29               
    • Week V Oct 2, 4, 6        Oct 6 in-class midterm 
    • Week VI Oct 11, 13     Epic of Gilgamesh             {Oct 9 Thanksgiving. No classes.}  
    • Week VII Oct 16, 18, 20                          
    • Week VIII Oct 23, 25, 27         Oct 27 Epic of Gilgamesh Paper due
  • Section II. Myth & modernity: ‘the disenchanted universe’
    • Week IX  Oct 30 Nov 1, 3 Bellah’s “Beyond Belief”, Partridge Ch. 1 (Begin Totem & Taboo)
    • Week X    Nov 6, 8             {Nov. 10 Fall break. No classes.}
    • Week XI Nov 13, 15, 17 
    • Week XII  Nov 20, 22, 24              Nov 24 Totem & Taboo Paper due 
    • Week XIII  Nov 27, 29 Dec 1  Campbell’s Hero with a thousand faces excerpts           
    • Week XIV Dec 4, 6, 8 Cousins’ Spirituality today

Required texts, assignments, and grade distributions may vary from one offering of this course to the next. Please consult the course instructor for up to date details.

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