10 Things to Know About the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality

Religion and spirituality are typically not foreign concepts for people. Many of us were raised to believe a certain religion. Some of us may have grown older with the same beliefs, found a new religion, or maybe we ditched it all together. Religion and spirituality are tied to psychology for a multitude of reasons. For example, why many of us follow a religion, what the morals and beliefs of a religion are rooted in, how these morals and beliefs affect our quality of life, how we make friends and partners, what we do for work…the list goes on and on. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s break it down a little. Here are 10 things to know about the psychology of religion and spirituality….

What is the psychology of religion?

psychology of religion and spirituality

Just as psychology studies pretty much everything a human could ever partake in, it also studies religion. The science of psychology is an attempt to analyze every part of the human experience and behavior. The psychology of religion aims to uncover the impact of relationships in religion in order to predict behaviors. It is meant to connect religious consciousness with religious patterns and behaviors. While many psychologists have defined religion in their own ways throughout the years, it is safe to say that religion and spirituality are deeply engrained in psychology. 

Religion may give people a reason for living. 

psychology of religion and spirituality

For many religious people, their religion is their way of life. When someone follows a religion, it gives them meaning. The world is big and there are a lot of question marks. For many, religion calms those worries and gives them solid ground to stand on. A religion tends to outline a set way to live. This includes morals to hold yourself accountable to, a way to treat others, a belief in what comes next when we die, and more. Religion usually also gives someone an organization to belong to, such as a church or temple. 

There are 12 major religions around the world. 

psychology of religion and spirituality

Around the whole world, there are 12 classical religions. These religions include Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. There are smaller, less prominent religions as well but most people who are religious fall under one of these. These spiritual traditions all vary in what they offer people, what they practice, what they study, and what they find meaning and substance in. However, all of these religions include people making the psychological commitment to something they care for and believe in.

Our desire to believe may start when we are very young.

psychology of religion and spirituality

There is no concrete or cognitive reason as to why humans tend to believe in religion and spirituality. However, when we are young we seem to love finding things to believe in. Children’s brains are so big and so ready to learn. An article written by the American Psychological Association has a section where they discuss the tie between adults viewing the world as an intentional design, created by something, and children naturally believing that everything exists for a reason. In a child’s mind, if something exists or something acts a certain way, there is a purpose behind it. In a child’s mind there is no other way. For example, why do trees exist? A child might say “so that squirrels have a place to live and play in” 

Religion may bring people together.

Humans naturally feel connected to people who feel similar to them. When we “click” with someone it’s usually because of similar thought patterns, morals, and lifestyles. When it comes to religion, there are a whole group of people that feel similarly to you! Religion provides a space for individuals and families to find religious, spiritual, psychological, and sometimes even financial support. Regardless of the actual religion, there is likely always a local community that people of the same religion belong to. This is one of the major connections between religion and psychology – it allows people to feel like they belong and are being cared for. 

Religion and spirituality can pull people apart. 

Just as religion and spirituality can connect people, it can also pull them apart. While there are different levels in being religious and spiritual, someone’s belief system is typically personal and treasured. When someone doesn’t believe in something that is very important to us, it can cause tension. This could be because of a disagreement, judgement, or anything else that causes tension. Sometimes this ends in the parties going separate ways. In some religions, believers are not allowed to have friendships or relationships with people who do not follow the same religion. This would cause a divide as well. 

There may be a positive psychological impact on a child raised in religion. 

When it comes to a religious household, there are many factors that could affect a child’s development both psychologically and socially. For most spiritual practices, there is an “outline”. This “outline” details how to incorporate the religion into your life, how to spend your time, how to treat others, and how to be a member of your religious community. Since religions are typically rooted in living a life of meaning, treating others with kindness, and being there for your community – this is likely a healthy environment for a child to be raised in. 

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There may be a negative psychological impact on a child raised in religion. 

Many studies have shown that there are both pros and cons to raising a child in a religious home. As we mentioned above, there are many positive sides to a religious family. However, this may not always be the case. Not all religious practices are as pure and honest as they would be in an ideal world. Some morals and values are judgmental and close minded. Some have gotten warped over time, and some have confusing grey areas. All of these factors could be have a negative psychological and social impact on a child as they grow up. This could lead to a child struggling to make friends who are different than them, develop their own belief system, or even to leave the religion if they didn’t align with it anymore. 

Sometimes people abandon religion.

There are millions of people around the world who are more than happy in their religion. They like a clear and structured way on how to live. They enjoy a set moral code. They practice family and community rituals. They have friends who live similarly to them, and they feel an overall sense of belonging. For others, this just doesn’t align with their lives. There are many reasons as to why someone would abandon religion. Some people do not like being told what to do and do not enjoy the structure and rigidness. Because of this and many other possibilities, people can lose their faith. Unfortunately for those leaving their spiritual practice, this can sometimes cause a quarrel with their friends and family. 

There are counselors and therapists who work in religious settings.

Psychologists tend to take a more scientific approach in their therapy practices. They don’t bring in personal religious thoughts and values. They attempt to answer people’s problems and concerns without bringing in spirituality. However,  this isn’t always the case. There are also therapists and counselors who work in religious settings. For example, a church counselor. Counselors in these work environments tend to take on clients who struggle with addiction, substance abuse, or mental health issues. They also tend to focus on family therapy, marriage therapy, and the youth. 

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