Psychology of Religious Experience

Lecture, Open—Spring

How do humans understand the relationship between their immediate world and what lies beyond it? What are the ways in which private lives become embedded in wider fields of meaning? Ever since William James published The Varieties of Religious Experience in 1902, questions about the nature of religious experience have circulated through the centers and margins of psychology. For James, religious experience was not limited to mere belief or church practices; it was felt in everyday life. Similarly, we will treat religiosity as a domain of experience that calls attention to the limits of language, to how we understand the world, and to the makeup of identity. During the semester, we will take a descriptive and interpretive approach to study the topics of mysticism, conversion, healing, the apocalypse, literalism, and much more, as we explore how humans make meaning and kinship and construct new ways of being in-the-world. We will read from classic and contemporary psychologists of religion, anthropologists, and critical theorists, as well as autobiographical accounts, to create an interdisciplinary perspective. By the end of this lecture, students will be well-versed in a variety of descriptive and interpretive methods and will be able to think critically about what religious experience means. Coursework will include essays, response papers, and presentations.