Religion And Personality

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Religion and Personality


The psychology of personality is concerned with describing fundamental ways in which people differ. The scientific study of personality looks for the patterns in individual differences, classifies these patterns, and seeks to give explanations for them. There are two main groups of personality theories. One group concentrates wholly on differences within the “normal” population (Eysenck & Eysenck, pp. 67-83). The other group is concerned with those differences that lead to “abnormal” behavior, to poor psychological health, and to mental illness. This second group is concerned with psychopathology. This paper discusses religion and personality and their relationship with each other in a concise and comprehensive way.

Religion and Personality

Both groups of personality theories are relevant to understanding religious and spiritual development in childhood and adolescence. The first group of theories helps to address the question whether there is a link between personality and religion or spirituality (Eysenck & Eysenck, pp. 67-83). Are some personality profiles more conducive to religious and spiritual development than other personality profiles? The second group of theories helps to address the question whether there is a link between psychopathology and religious or spiritual development. Is religion and spirituality associated with better or with poorer mental health?

Before examining these questions further, it is crucial to distinguish between two similar but very different terms, namely, personality and character. Character is concerned with how people develop and grow (good or bad). Character can change and be changed. Personality is concerned with the much deeper concept of how people are made. Most personality theorists try to delve below the surface. According to this, personality is as much of our basic makeup as being male or female, having brown eyes or blue eyes, being born with blond hair or black hair. Many religious traditions are concerned with reshaping peoples' character, but they need at the same time to accept and to work with peoples' personality. Expecting people to change their basic personality in response to religious conversation may be as mistaken as to expect them to change the color of their eyes or to change their sex (Eysenck & Eysenck, pp. 67-83).

From a theoretical point of view, over the years the psychology of religion has advanced very different theoretical perspectives regarding the relationship between Christianity and psychological health. One position has taken the negative view that religion is associated with lower levels of psychological health, while the other position has taken the positive view that religion is associated with higher levels of psychological health (Kato and Pedersen, pp. 147-158). The negative view is exemplified in the classic writings of Sigmund Freud, who sees the Judeo-Christian tradition as capturing the human psyche in a state of infantile immaturity, leading to psychological vulnerability and neuroses. The opposite psychological view is exemplified in the classic writings of Gordon Allport, who sees the religious images of the Judaic-Christian tradition as providing powerful developmental tools promoting and leading to psychological health.

A particularly interesting and powerful model of personality used in studies of religion and spirituality is the ...
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