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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Fall 2009

T C 357 • Understanding Human Nature: Competing Explanations from Psychology and Religion - W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
43780 TTh
8:00 AM-9:30 AM
CRD 007A

Course Description

This course is designed to examine the interaction between psychology and religion from a dual perspective. One focus will explore how psychology can illuminate our understanding of religion, providing insight into the nature of belief and practice. A second focus will consider the ways in which religion influences psychological functioning, by impacting upon beliefs, behaviors and both mental and physical health. Psychology approaches the study of religion from an empirical, not a philosophical or theological, perspective. Please note that the course will investigate global aspects of religion, such as the development and influence of faith; it is not intended to analyze, contrast, or evaluate specific religious beliefs. The bulk of theory and research in this area concerns the three major monotheistic religions, thus these religions will provide the class context. Students who wish to study another religion, can do so in their major research paper.

We will start with a general exploration of the interaction between psychology and religion, covering the areas of common concern and the contrasting approaches to these areas. We will then move on to explore the most significant early theories about religion offered by psychologists such as James, Freud, Jung and Allport. Next we will move into considering research and theory in specific areas, the choice of which will to some degree be determined by the class. Among these might be topics such as religious development, mysticism, prayer, conversion, marriage & intermarriage, and parenting. One seminar meeting a month will be devoted to a book that deals with important and controversial issues relating to psychology of religion that are not covered directly in the seminar. The God Gene deals with a genetic explanation for religion, and is a good example of a large number of books designed to see religion as a product of biology. The Battle for God is a discussion of the development of religious fundamentalism in Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and provides a great deal of insight into current conflicts. Terror in the Name of God addresses the issue of religious violence through analysis of specific radical groups coming from different religions.

Grading Policy

The major requirement for this class will be a research paper in any area of psychology and religion. For most students, this will be a 15-20 page library research project. Plan II/Psych double majors, who have already had Psychology 418, can design or actually complete an empirical project. All students will give 10-min presentations of their projects at the end of the semester.

In addition to the major research project, students will write two short (2 page) essays reacting to issues in the class and three short (2-page) essays on potential discussion questions concerning each of the three books about which we will be talking.

The best part of this seminar comes from class discussion. The issues are complex, controversial, and personally relevant to almost everyone. Students are expected to be actively involved in these discussions.

Specific Grading:
Course grades will be determined as follows:
Research Project: 60%
With project grades determined by:
Outline: 15%
Rough Draft: 25%
Final Draft: 40%
Presentation: 20%
Short Essays: 20% (4% each)
Class Participation: 20%


Psychology, Religion and Spirituality by Fontana
The God Gene by Hammer
The Battle for God by Armstrong
Terror in the Name of God by Stern
Readings Packet specific studies

About the Professor

Wendy Domjan has a PhD in psychology from The University of Wisconsin, with specialties in perception and cognition. In recent years, she has developed a new specialty in psychology and religion, teaching courses in both the psychology of religion and the psychology of fundamentalism. She has been teaching for Plan II since 1999, and has previously taught the SS301 in psychology and a Freshman Seminar in psychology of hope and virtue. She is a past recipient of the Plan II Chad Oliver Teaching Award and the College Of Liberal Arts Harry Ransom Teaching Award, She is a community activist, a passionate reader of nearly everything, and a devoted fan of all forms of science fiction.


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