In practice, experimentation requires much effort, imagination, and resources. The subject of religion seems too complex and too ‘soft’ for the laboratory. It is filled with much fantasy and feelings, two topics which academic psychology finds hard to approach.
Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin, and Michael Argyle. The Psychology of Religious Behaviour, Belief and Experience. London: Routledge, 1997, p. 47.
Psychology of religion involves the application of psychological methods and interpretive frameworks to religious institutions, as well as to individuals of all religious or noreligious persuasions. Last November, Chris had the pleasure of chatting to Professor Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi about the psychological approach, how one applies it to the study of religion, and the various challenges and advantages contained therein. This interview was recorded in the heart of New York City, and we can only hope that the ambient noise adds to the character of the interview.
You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.
Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi studied clinical psychology in Israel and the U.S. and is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Haifa. He has published extensively in the critical theory of academic psychology with focus on the psychopathology of religion. His books include Despair and Deliverance: Private Salvation in Contemporary Israel (1992), Psychoanalytic Studies of Religion: A Critical Assessment (1996) and The psychology of religious behaviour, belief and experience (1997) with Michael Argyle. He is also author of The Israeli Connection (Pantheon 1987), concerning the Israeli armaments industry, and Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel (Olive Branch 1993), a counter-mystification of the origins, accomplishments, contradictions, and betrayals of Zionism.
In answer to the question “what can science say about atheism?”, Professor Beit-Hallahmi published the article “The likely atheists” in the Guardian. In addition, you can check out his article on Scientology: Religion or racket?, or if you have institutional access, you can also read his piece on Atheists: A Psychological Profile. You may also be interested in the Religious Studies Project interview with Armin Geertz on Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion, and Erica Salomon’s response essay.