Religion og spiritualitet i positiv psykologi

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An Analysis of the Description and Use of Religion and Spirituality in Positive Psychology from the Perspective of the Study of Religion

Amina Olander Lap, 2009


Positive Psychology (PP) is a relatively new field of psychology that was established in 1999. Its stated purpose is to advance research in well-being, contentment, satisfaction, happiness, positive individual traits, talents, virtues, and the institutions that move individuals towards better citizenship. In this thesis, Amina Lap analyzes the role of religion in selected works written by the PP founders: psychologists Martin E. P. Seligman (MS) and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (MC). In addition, Lap examines how MS's and MC's proposal of a new religion based on their own research in flow, meaning, optimism, and hope may be interpreted.

The thesis is divided into three major parts. In the first part, Lap introduces the history of PP and an array of theories and related research in sociology and psychology. Lap has chosen this approach because no significant secondary literature is yet available on PP, and sociological studies of the influence of religion on psychology is also rather limited. Lap's account of theory and related research begins with a description of Abraham Maslow's theory on religion and the criticism it subsequently received. This is followed by an introduction to the attempts of Paul C. Vitz and Svend Brinkmann to classify humanistic psychology as a religion. Lap also introduces the New Age deification of the human self through Paul Heelas' work on self-spirituality, and discusses a variety of key New Age elements of special interest to the later analysis of MS's and MC's views. Lap ends the first part with an introduction to Ninian Smart's model where religion is viewed as a phenomenon that may be described according to seven distinct dimensions.

In the second part of the thesis, Lap discusses a selection of books by MS and MC to identify how the authors view religion, and to examine how their theory of religion fits into their other theories. Lap also explains the authors' proposal of a new religion.

In the third part, Lap analyzes and discusses MS's and MC's statements on religion based on the theories and related research that were introduced earlier in the thesis. This analysis shows that MC in particular is influenced by Maslow's theory on religion, and that much of the criticism against Maslow's theory also applies to MC. By analyzing MS's and MC's use of ideas and techniques borrowed from Buddhism and Hinduism, Lap shows that both MS and MC have uncritically adopted a specific interpretation of these religions as they propose a unified scientific field of psychology and religion—that is, a key element of their proposal is either biased or rests on rather limited scientific insight. Lap finishes the analysis by examining whether PP may be classified as a religion. The analysis indicates that the two authors' thoughts may not readily be classified as a religion; however, like humanistic psychology, PP may be made to function like a religion.

Lap concludes that both MS and MC are primarily concerned with the functional element of religion. Both authors believe that in the past, religions have satisfied a number of human needs that we also need today to avoid depression and feelings of meaninglessness. Both authors also believe that their techniques may satisfy these needs and thus replace religion. Lap concludes that although the authors' proposal of a new religion may function as a religion on certain terms, it does not meet the conditions of the definitions of religion that Lap uses in this thesis. If PP intends to move towards its goal of unifying religion and psychology, Lap speculates that significant self-scrutiny is required by the PP movement.

PDF file (in Danish): An Analysis of the Description and Use of Religion and Spirituality in Positive Psychology from the Perspective of the Study of Religion.

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