As psychology has moved away from a strictly scientific orientation, it has gradually become more hospitable toward religious influences, writes Paul Vitz in First Things magazine (March).
The older Freudian approach of viewing psychology, particularly psychotherapy, as an objective science has waned and today prominent psychologists locate the discipline in the humanities, and thus more related to philosophy and even theology.
Vitz, an NYU psychologist, writes that the emergence of “positive psychology,” which studies human strengths and happiness rather than only pain and weakness, has likewise given new attention to traditional virtues that are seen as preventing problems. . Such “high virtues” as wisdom, courage, gratitude, justice, and transcendence, have been addressed by religious thinkers and psychologists.
Vitz cites other external factors leading to the de-secularization of psychology: As psychology (and psychological training) has become available to the broader public (rather than just the secular upper classes) it has had to deal with their religious beliefs; once-popular concepts of “self-actualization” have been replaced by postmodern doubts about the reality and secular construction of the self; the popularity of new psychotherapeutic medications and lower cost, short-term therapies has rendered psychology more humble and pragmatic.
Vitz speculates on the emergence of a “transmodern” psychology, which will make use of “premodern wisdom.“ He cites as examples the recent establishment of academic institutes on the study of forgiveness and love, and the work of psychologist Vincent Jeffries, which revives the theories of sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, incorporating ideas of transcendence in social science theory.
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