The Psychology of World Religions and Spiritualities

An Indigenous Perspective

Edited by Timothy A. Sisemore, PhD Joshua J. Knabb, PsyD, ABPP

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.

“If you want to understand major world religions, you have to read this indispensable volume. It takes a humble and indigenous approach to explaining the worldview of religions, embodying humble and culturally insider views. In this way it complements and, in many ways, surpasses an important but often limited scientific approach to understanding religions. Anyone interested in any religion should read and digest this germinal work.”

Adam Cohen, PhD, professor of psychology, Arizona State University

“A book well-worth having. Psychology of religion researchers have long recognized that scientific yields are limited unless more indigenous approaches are adopted. With this book, those words are now put into practice. Need to learn more psychology through Chinese or African traditional religions, or Hinduism, or North American indigenous spirituality? How about Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, or Christianity? Get taught here by the insights of psychological researchers and scholars who themselves are religious insiders within the tradition presented. This one stays on my bookshelf within arm’s reach.”

Peter C. Hill, PhD, Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University

“After reading these descriptions by believers and sympathetic insiders of diverse indigenous religious traditions, any open-minded psychologist will recognize that a paradigm shift is imminent. Students and researchers alike will find that a genuine conversation with, and sharing of, other worldviews does not threaten but rather enriches us all.”

Ralph W. Hood Jr., PhD, professor of psychology and LeRoy A. Martin Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

“This is a tremendously important book. The editors have done an excellent job of addressing the most significant unresolved issue in the field of modern psychology—that of its antagonistic relationship with religion and spirituality. They provide a thoughtful analysis, make recommendations for conceptual and applied ways forward, and present what a variety of religious and spiritual psychologies look like in today’s world. This should be mandatory reading in every single psychology class everywhere. An absolute must-have text for anyone interested in any subfield of psychology or the intersection of psychology and religion.”

Carrie York Al-Karam, PhD, president, Alkaram Institute

“Increasingly, mental health workers are treating clients whose backgrounds span the world’s faith traditions. To successfully address such diversity, practitioners must have a comprehensive and respectful understanding of the belief systems that animate religious observers from all walks of life. This indispensable text is the resource they need. Wise, thorough, and compassionate, it is a major contribution to the psychological study of religion.”

Harold G. Koenig, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Duke University Health Systems, and director of Duke’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health

“This book is fascinating. By covering a range of assumptive frameworks, it gives insider perspectives on mental health and healing from different faith traditions. It also encourages us to examine some of our own Western assumptions and understand the prominence of spirituality in nearly all indigenous psychologies.”

Kate Loewenthal, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Royal Holloway University of London, and visiting professor at Glyndwr University, Wales, & New York University in London

“An amazing and timely work providing an emic perspective on religious and spiritual psychology. The authors have challenged the limitations of methodology and provided a psychological perspective on each religion from the ‘inside,’ while acknowledging that it is but one of many perspectives within the religion. The authors must be lauded for their expertise and the humility with which they have presented their material. A true masterpiece which will help advance dialog not just in the psychology of religion and spirituality but the field of psychology and its applications.”

Sonia Suchday, PhD, Professor and Chair, Psychology Department, Pace University

“Such a timely resource that incorporates world religion into understanding human psychology. The various chapters provide profound insights and understanding of the psychology of different faiths from insiders’ perspectives, which makes The Psychology of World Religions and Spiritualities an excellent resource for researchers, clinicians, and students! A wonderful book for readers to understand, digest, and contrast the rich diversity of world religions.”

Kenneth T. Wang, PhD, professor and PhD Program Chair, Clinical Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary