This compendium of introductory essays invites scholars and clinicians to better understand people of various faiths from around the world. It is intended to correct the tendency among scientists to study religious behavior without accounting for its human dimension. For example: a psychologist describes a religious ceremony in a certain community as a “sociological phenomenon.” Such a technical description is likely to strike members of that community as an attempt by science to explain away their beliefs. This is counterproductive. In order to work effectively and empathetically with people of faith, psychologists should seek an intimate knowledge of how religion operates in the hearts and minds of living, breathing human beings.
With this goal in mind, editors Timothy Sisemore and Joshua Knabb have made one of the world’s major religions the subject of a separate chapter. In addition, they have arranged for each chapter to be written by a psychologist who practices—or is culturally connected with—that religion. This marks the book’s unique contribution to the field: it is the product of people who have lived the world’s religions, not merely studied them. By taking such a respectful approach, the book promotes an appreciation for the ways that religious belief animates, inspires, and instructs its adherents. Moreover, the indigenous point-of-view of these essays will help scholars identify their own biases when researching religious groups, allowing them to produce more accurate and holistic analyses.
Psychologists understand that religion and spirituality provide meaning and purpose to billions of people around the globe. But the actual experience of these beliefs eludes the grasp of the reductionistic methods of science. With this resource at their side, psychologists in academic and clinical settings will be equipped to understand religious experience from the bottom-up, and honor the beliefs and practices of the people they are trying to help.