Historical Approaches to the Psychology of Religion

Dr Sloan Mahone, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine

This course explores the history of ideas about the relationship between individual and collective psychology and religious concepts and experience. The course takes a comparative approach, looking across cultures with an emphasis on the range and diversity of the psychologies of religious experience and their changing interpretations over time. The course examines a wide variety of case studies from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, urban America and the American Southwest, seeking to contrast the points of view of followers of religious movements with the interpretations of state authorities who often believed they were witnessing incidences of mass hysteria or religious mania. Class discussions will highlight both the differences and commonalities of various types of prophetic and charismatic movements, shamanistic practices, and 20th and 21st century interpretations of religious experience within neurology and the neurosciences. Students will engage with a wide body of historical and anthropological literature as a means of tracking the resilience of ancient phenomena into modern times.

Syllabus and Reading List