This chapter discusses whether, to which extent and in what way IAPR’s history can serve as an empirical basis for reflection on some of the theoretic basic issues in the psychology of religion. Attention is given to some enduring problems facing the discipline and to some different types of psychology of religion. A new hypothesis is formulated about IAPR’s founder suddenly leaving the field, followed by a brief introduction to the volume.
Jacob Belzen’s Religionspsychologie (Belzen, 2015) is a fascinating, deeply scholarly written book retracing a century of psychology of religion in Europe and its relation to the rest of the world. It both shows the anchorage of psychology of religion in the debates taking place around the development of psychology, and in the evolution of Europe since the beginning of the 20th century. In this brief commentary, I highlight the qualities of this work, and especially its ability to retrace the complex human network of relationships that accompanied the development of a scientific society and its publications. I then suggest two possible ways to complement this analysis. First, as a developmental, sociocultural psychologist, I reflect on the fact that this field of enquiry, that aimed to be inter-confessional, came to be led essentially by scholars of Christian origin or addressing Christianity. Second, observing the variety of approaches constituting psychology of religion today, as highlighted by Belzen, I emphasize the diverse epistemologies grounding these works. I finally argue in favor of a pragmatic stance, which might both guide the field into issues of societal relevance, and allow psychology of religion to contribute to the development of psychology as a whole.
This chapter provides a very short history of the International Association for the Psychology of Religion by following the structure of a recent German book analyzing IAPR’s past and international context.
In his minutely constructed book on the history of psychology of religion, Belzen pays correct attention to the organizational and methodological contributions of Antoine Vergote in the course of the last half of this century long history. In this short article, the author highlights a few aspects of Vergote’s intellectual approach in the psychology of religion that inevitably remain underexposed in Belzen’s already long book. First focus is the background of Vergote’s plea for a strict neutrality, be it with interest, and thus benevolent, as the basic attitude of the researcher in this domain. Despite this plea, it is quite clear how much his own approach was influenced by his personal reading of Christianism. Second, the author focuses the “Latin” (French) sources of inspiration in the work of Vergote. And he hypothesizes that this probably is the reason for the lack of a widespread influence of his work in the international world of the psychology of religion.
Studying the history of psychology of religion, especially through the Internationale Gesellschaft für Religionspsychologie (IAPR), one is struck by the many problems and conflicts there have been. Not only have world wars had their negative influence, but also personal controversies. Drawing on his personal experience, the author illustrates some of these. There are also problems on a more fundamental level, however: psychology of religion usually studies phenomena that are often interpreted on a supernatural level, as God’s intervention. Conflicts between religious and psychological, more mundane interpretations therefore often occur. Drawing on his empirical research on glossolalia, the author makes a plea for peaceful co-existence of different interpretations. He concludes that psychology of religion is semper militans.
This short commentary presents a response to Jacob Belzen’s claim, Wilhelm Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie (Vols. IV–VI) can be seen as an ancestor of (modern) psychology of religion. The paper states that Völkerpsychologie is not a psychological work, but rather an outdated genre of writing history of religion which was very common in the 19th century, using artifacts from all over the world that have been collected by anthropologists. In that sense Wundt cannot be claimed to have written a psychology of religion.
This paper focuses on Wilhelm Stählin in the literary style of propositions. For more elaboration and details other publications by the author may be consulted. For the newest reference for details and as a basic text see Jacob A. Belzen’s book on the Psychology of Religion (Belzen, 2015). As Belzen’s monograph primarily takes a perspective on institutional and organizational aspects of the historical development of the psychology of religion in German speaking countries, the aim of this author is the theoretical, the methodological and the research contribution of Stählin in the field of the psychology of religion, which he considers to be a subdiscipline of psychology.
Jacob Belzen’s Religionspsychologie is the first in-depth study of the history of the IAPR. Being a first-rate scholarly work within the history of psychology of religion, it has uncovered a lot of hitherto unknown material, as well as providing us with fascinating portraits of the little known (mostly German) founding figures of the organization and its journal, the Archiv für Religionspsychologie. Belzen, however, turns out to be more than just a historian. He also intends to use the historical outline as a mirror for reflecting on the elusive identity of psychology of religion past and present. This invited commentary falls into three parts. First, and drawing upon The Varieties of William James, an interpretive context for the emergence of psychology of religion is presented. Second, the question is raised as to what kind of lesson we may learn from the admirable historical analysis presented in Religionspsychologie. Third, I end my commentary by questioning whether psychology of religion really needs a (more or less) fixed identity. Perhaps, to continue looking for the identity of such a diverse field may prove as futile as the search for the Holy Grail?
This contribution discusses the concept of psychology of religion by Traugott Konstantin Oesterreich (1880–1949), who analyzed religiosity in the tradition of French psychopathology and German philosophy. Inspired by William James, the main focus of his research was on individual religious experience. He considered dissociative processes (such as depersonalization and derealization) as the foundation of mystical and ecstatic experiences. Employing different religious phenomena, like glossolalia, inspiration, and states of possession, Oesterreich assumed that ego division and trance experiences are necessary to understand the development of religiosity in different cultures. Furthermore, Oesterreich emphasized parapsychology for the interpretation of religious experiences. Oesterreich’s approach to examine religiosity in terms of dissociative mechanisms is discussed in relation to contemporary research.