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Psychology of Religion


Admission requirements

This course is only open to masterstudents.
Please contact Dr. E.M. de Boer before signing up for this course for specific admission requirements.


People everywhere in the world have been and are still fascinated by issues that they cannot really understand. For instance, the simple fact that you exist and that you’re are going to die, the loss of loved ones, isolation, love. A lot of people believe in another reality, a reality in which people often succeed in making sense of these issues. This other reality – which is usually an unseen reality by others – may involve the belief in a higher power (e.g,, God, higher spirit) or the belief in an ideal world (values, virtues) and often has a large impact on people’s life, decisions and functioning.

This seminar aims to provide students insight into several psychological approaches to religion, spirituality and meaning making. We use broad definitions of religion and spirituality. Examples of definitions are:
‘Whatever we as individuals do to come to grips personally with the questions that confronts us because we are aware that we and others like us are alive and that we will die’ (religion defined by Batson, Schoenrade and Ventis, 1993)
‘A way of being and experiencing that comes about through awareness of a transcendent dimension and that is characterized by certain identifiable values in regard to self, life, and whatever one considers to be the Ultimate’ (spirituality defined by Elkins et al., 1988).
Examples of topics that have been addressed in the Psychology of Religion course are:

  • Facing existential issues; how is this related to religiosity, spirituality & mental health?

  • The mutual interdependence of mental/religious dimensions (culture, values, virtues) on the one hand and psychological/physical dimensions (perceived health, stress) on the other hand

  • Consciousness, boundaries and the self: contact with unseen realities and ‘the sacred’

  • Openness to another(s) reality: how? when? why (not)? who? What is the relationship with culture, mental health?

  • A possible changing role of religiosity in current societies: religious identity/self-identification, changing belief profiles or religious/psychological needs

  • Relationships, relational issues (e.g. belongingness, social religious identity); how is this related to religiosity and to behavior towards other people?

Course objectives

Students are familiar with existential themes and know the main theoretical approaches to meaning making and spiritual and religious development in relation to mental health, and are able to reflect on these approaches. The focus is on Western psychological theories as well as on some psychological issues that are important in contemplative traditions, and in non-Western psychology.
In addition we will study recent empirical research within the field of Psychology of Religion. Students learn to reflect on this empirical material critically, and try to formulate new research questions. Depending on the level of (methodological) expertise of the students, students may make a personal contribution to ongoing research on the psychology of religion within LUCSoR.

Mode of instruction

Seminar. Attendance and participation are mandatory. Classes may be missed no more than twice and only in exceptional circumstances (at the discretion of the conveners and only with prior notice). Absence without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the final exam and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

5 ects x 28 h/ects = 140 hours

  • weekly meetings = 26 hours

  • reading assignments, preparing oral presentation = 40 hours

  • writing three small essays= 14 hours

  • writing final paper (research proposal) = 60 hours

Assessment method

  • Practical exercise 1: Active participation in class, Questions to fuel the discussion

  • Practical exercise 2: Oral presentation

  • Written essays 30%

  • Final paper (= research proposal) 70%

Resit: 100% final paper



Reading list

To be announced on Blackboard


Registration in uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs



This course will be taught in English except when all participants have a working knowledge of Dutch