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Religion, Belief and Unbelief

A Psychological Study

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Antoon Vergote

This book focuses attention on the central elements of human religious existence. Vergote's primary aim and viewpoint are clear: to examine empirically and to interpret dynamically the psychological factors at work in the field of religion. Vergote consistently adheres to the position that psychology is neither philosophy nor theology and that its task is not to explain religion. In this work he situates religion as a cultural fact and studies how persons orient themselves to it, positively and/or negatively. Rather than emphasise and juxtapose belief and unbelief as alternative positions, he sees them as threads of experiences interwoven throughout the human existence of persons and institutions. In this context he studies motivations and their ambivalences, religious experiences and their ambiguities, conflicts between religious belief and unbelief, and the various expressions and practices of religion.

Belief and Unbelief

Psychological perspectives

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Edited by Jozef Corveleyn and Dirk Hutsebaut

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Antoon Vergote

In this volume we have brought together some of the most important contributions of Antoon Vergote to the field of what is now called 'clinical psychology of religion'. Most of these contributions were not published before in English. They cover the field in two ways. On the one hand we selected some articles in which Vergote reflects about the foundations of the (clinical) psychology of religion. This first part of the book is about the psychoanalytic and philosophical-anthropological approach of some major topics in the study of religion : e.g. mythical thinking and symbolisation, moral law and the idea of sin, religious experience... . In this part we also included a critical reflection about the classic psychoanalytic criticism of religion and about the epistemology and the limits of the psychology of religion. The second part, on the other hand, contains clinical-empirical and psycho-historical studies about concrete religious phenomena. The first section of this part is, amongst other topics, about the psychological approach of the person Jesus, about the psychological profile of the priest and, about some aspects of folk religiosity. The second section deals with problems in the field of mental health and religion : the differentiation of true and false mysticism, religion and psychopathology and a psychological approach of the experience of visions and apparitions.

The Stepchildren of Science

Psychical Research and Parapsychology in Germany, c. 1870-1939

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Heather Wolffram

Leading the reader through the darkened séance rooms and laboratories of Imperial and inter-war Germany, The Stepchildren of Science casts light on the emergence of psychical research and parapsychology in the German context. It looks, in particular, at the role of the psychiatrist Albert von Schrenck-Notzing - a figure who fashioned himself as both propagandist and Grand Seignior of German parapsychology - in shaping these nascent disciplines. In contrast to other recent studies in which occultism is seen as a means of dealing with or creating “the modern”, this book considers the epistemological, cultural and social issues that arose from psychical researchers’ and parapsychologists’ claims to scientific legitimacy. Focusing on the boundary disputes between these researchers and the spiritualists, occultists, psychologists and scientists with whom they competed for authority over the paranormal, The Stepchildren of Science demonstrates that in the German context both proponents and opponents alike understood psychical research and parapsychology as border sciences.

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Terence O'Connell

Have you lost a loved one? The loss can be inestimable, the grief excruciating. What helped you? Did someone say something comforting? Did someone offer a consolation, which you resented?
Have you ever tried to comfort someone with a terminal illness or one who has lost a loved one? Knowing how to help or what to say that is not trite, insincere, or superficial can be difficult. The point of view of a grieving person is quite different from that of those who wish to offer comfort. In a multicultural society such as ours, anticipating the beliefs of the grieving person can be even more difficult. This book explores the perspective of a grieving person. It considers the merits and potential harm of alternative comfort strategies. As a philosophical analysis of grief, it emphasizes an understanding of the beliefs that underlie grief and the usefulness or dangers of emotions. Because grief is so complex and sensitive, a narrow approach runs the risk of alienating the grieving person. The ideas in this book are expressed in a dialogue among three characters. Their discussion is broad and fundamental. Starting from the familiar consolation, “She’s no longer suffering” and the grieving person’s resentment toward the expression, the three friends articulate the value of life and the evils of death. Their discussion enriches their understanding of grief. Many consolations offered to mourners are poor arguments. Even the better ones do their work best in the context of a greater understanding of grief.

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Jon Mills and Janusz A. Polanowski

This book offers a bold and controversial new thesis regarding the nature of prejudice. The authors' central claim is that prejudice is not simply learned, rather it is predisposed in all human beings and is thus the foundation for ethical valuation. They aim to destroy the illusion that prejudice is merely the result of learned beliefs, socially conditioned attitudes, or pathological states of development. Contrary to traditional accounts, prejudice itself is not a negative attribute of human nature, rather it is the necessary precondition for the self and civilization to emerge. Defined as the preferential self-expression of valuation, prejudice gives rise to greater existential complexities and novelties that elevate selfhood and society to higher states of ethical realization. Rather than offer another contribution that highlights the destructive nature of prejudice, Mills and Polanowski address the ontological, psychological, and dialectical origins of prejudice as it manifests itself in the process of selfhood and culture. They provide an original conceptualization of the phenomenology of prejudice and its dialectical instantiation in the ontology of the individual, worldhood, and the very structures of subjectivity. As a unique synthesis of psychoanalysis, Hegelian idealism, Heideggerian existential ontology, and Whiteheadian process philosophy, prejudice is the indispensable ground for humanity to actualize its highest potentiality-for-Being. The striking result is (1) a revolutionary theory of human nature, (2) a new ethical system, and (3) the elevation of dialectical ethics to the domain of metaphysics.

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Edited by Monika dos Santos and Jean-Francois Pelletier

Over the course of the centuries the meanings around mental illness have shifted many times according to societal beliefs and the political atmosphere of the day. The way madness is defined has far reaching effects on those who have a mental disorder, and determines how they are treated by the professionals responsible for their care, and the society of which they are a part. Although madness as mental illness seems to be the dominant Western view of madness, it is by no means the only view of what it means to be ‘mad’. The symptoms of madness or mental illness occur in all cultures of the world, but have different meanings in different social and cultural contexts. Evidence suggests that meanings of mental illness have a significant impact on subjective experience; the idioms used in the expression thereof, indigenous treatments, and subsequent outcomes. Thus, the societal understandings of madness are central to the problem of mental illness and those with the lived experience can lead the process of reconstructing this meaning.

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Leona Toker

Literary works, whether memoiristic or fictional, written by survivors of concentration camps frequently represent attempts by prisoners to explain the metaphysical meaning of their suffering in order to preserve their religious beliefs or their religiously held social ideology. This ‘folk theodicy’ (a term coined by analogy with ‘folk etymology’ and ‘folk psychology’) is an epiphenomenon of suffering and a strategy for orientation in the midst of a religious or ideological crisis. Its traditional forms, such as belief in punitive justice or in service of remote goals, break down when the suffering to which it responds is particularly prolonged and acute. Folk theology is then either relinquished along with faith itself or else reversed: the God that failed is imagined as helpless and suffering. While the literary records of the folk theology of Holocaust victims can provide a conceptual framework for redescribing the conduct of communist true believers in the Gulag, Gulag literature can shed light on the mechanics of deconversion, that is on the factors that led up to the loss of faith. Whereas neither counterarguments nor their own unjustly inflicted suffering could shake religiously held communist beliefs, such beliefs were, apparently, irreparably damaged by the almost visceral experience of moral disgust. It stands to reason that a similar sense of disgust with the world in which the Nazi atrocities could unfold was the cause of the loss of religious beliefs among some of the victims or at least the cause of the renunciation of the practices associated with religious beliefs.

Psychohistory in Psychology of Religion

Interdisciplinary Studies

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Edited by Jacob A. Belzen

Psychology of religion is one of the rare fields in psychology where an interdisciplinary approach has been preserved. Psychohistory especially, understood as the systematic application of psychological knowledge in explorations of the past, has enjoyed substantial attention. Traditionally, the emphasis in such studies has been on biographical research. This volume attempts to broaden the horizon and to include studies of phenomena as well on a group or subcultural level. The volume contains chapters on such subjects as apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Belgium, attitudes towards suicide in seventeenth-century Sweden, the pillarization of Dutch Calvinists. There are also studies of famous individuals such as Hitler, Stalin, Freud, Van Gogh and J.H. Newman. Among the contributors are well-known authors like Donald Capps, Michael P. Carroll, William W. Meissner, Ana-Marìa Rizzuto and Antoine Vergote.