A2 Religious Studies - Religion and the Individual - WJEC

notes on topic four - religion and the individual
- effect of personality
- effect of gender
- effect of age
- developmental theories of religion
- religion + psychological health
- Maslow
- Berger 


Effect of Personality

Religion plays an influential role in development + sustaining of the human mind. It enables the human spirit to search for higher meaning in life and seeks to encompass the capacity for wisdom, craetivity, love and compassion; called 'transpersonal experiences'. 

Some personalities are more prone to being religious than others.

  • Pratt 1924 - personalities drawn to religion are those who are dominated by feelings of guilt and shame
  • Allport 1950 - concluded two types of personality
    Intrinsic - religion is real and belief taken very seriously
    Extrinsic - religion is a means to an end (finding friendship in religious community)
  • Ullman 1982 -  converts have childhoods affected by unhappiness. They then feel safe and secure with religion, however then leave after a short period of time.  
1 of 22

Effect of Age

In all human communities, religious beliefs and practices are passed on to the children; greatest influence on young children is parents through: close relationship w/ children, children live at home, imitation of parents, parents enforce behaviour code, conversation with children, general religious lifestyle

  • Petrovic 1988 - most very young children thought God made the world, many described him as 'a man without a body' and felt God was close to them.
  • Argyle 2006 - religious participation high up to 14, drastic decline and most drop out of religion by 15-16 years. However, as adults, many then return to the religion of their parents. 
    Argyle noted that:
    'It is sometimes believed that the elderly possess some deep wisdom and dignity. From observation of the very old this is obviosuly not always the case' 
  • Kuhlen + Arnold 1944 - 
    Belief in lieral truth of bible - age 12 - 79%, age 15 - 51%, age 18 - 34%
    Belief in God - age 12 - 82%, age 15 - 78%, age 18 - 74% 
2 of 22

Developmental Theories 1

James Fowler: Six Stages of Faith - 1981

Psychologist Fowler found that as infants, humans learn 'primal or undifferentiated faith' from their upbringing and environment.
Positive upbringing; warmth, safety, security, love = will help them in later life to have a sense of trust and safety about the universe and the divine. 
Negative upbringing; neglect, abuse = may in future years develop a distrust of the universe and the divine. 

Stages 1 + 2

  • Intuitive Project, ages 3-7 - first stage comes with the development of language and imagination. Young children follow the beliefs of their parents and tend to imagine angles and religious figures in the scriptures as characters in fairy tales.
  • Mythical-Literal, school children - children respond to religious stories, myths and rituals in a literal rather than symbolic way. This is usually accompanied by a strong belief in authority and justice, with deities often seen as superhuman.
3 of 22

Fowler's Six Stages of Faith Cont.

Stages 3-6

  • Synthetic-Conventional, teenagers - characterised by conformity and acceptance of belief with little questioning of such belief. Fowler suggested that most people do not go any further than this level '...for a genuine move to stage 4 to occur there must be an interruption of reliance on external sources of authority and a relocation of authority within the self.'
  • Individual - Reflective, young adult - a shift from believing because others do and instead developing a spiritual belief of their own. The individual takes personal responsibility for their beliefs and feelings rather than being one of the crowd. Can be a time of deep thought, anxiety and soul-searching. 
  • Conjunctive, few people reach this stage  - A time of change - people have their own views but move from being occupied with themselves and are much more open and tolerant of other points of religious and cultural points of view. This includes the beginning of understanding of paradoxes and transcendent realities behind the symbols and a greater openness to the divine.
  • Universalising, very rare to reach this stage - Those who do are likely to be older adults who look for universal values such as unconditional love and justice. They are less concerned for themselves and more with serving others. Examples include Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. 
4 of 22

Developmental Theories 2

Goldman - 1965
Readiness for Religion: A basis for developmental religious education 

Goldman considered how far a child's environment could be enriched so as to enable them to grow into more mature ways of religious thought. His aim was to determine at what age are human beings really ready for religion. 

1 - Very Young Children

Young children are capable of only very limited religious understanding - tendency to understand things only in a literal way and so cannot appreciate concepts such as love, holiness, justice, good, evil, sin or human freedom. He argues that the Bible should not be taught to the very young because they are unable to grasp its true meaning and significance i.e. Moses and the Burning bush

5 of 22

Religious Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence -

Goldman claims that the danger of teaching Bible and other religious stories too early is that children not only misunderstand them at the time, but carry on misunderstanding them forever. He challenges the teachers who claim that children should be taught religious stories as early as possible as being
a 'gross distortion' 

Such an action crams children's minds with false ideas and focuses only on trivial ideas which will lead to 'arrested development' where children are satisfied with explanations that are far too simple:
'...the child is satisfied by his too simple explanation, his thinking is crystallised too soon and he sees no need to think further in relation to the story. 'Too much, too soon' is now regarded as a danger.'  

Young children see god in physical terms, as an old man who lives in Heaven, which is above the sky and who sometimes visits the world. He is big, powerful, sometimes angry, loving and scary - all at the same time. The children have black and white notions of good and bad, heaven and hell. Moreover if stories are told and re-told, they become too familiar and no longer fresh and the child becomes bored with them. 

Very young children pray egocentrically - for themselves, their families and for material possessions; give little thought for the world beyond.

6 of 22

Goldman Cont.

J.J.Smith 1941 - We must expect an infant's religion to be infantile

Older  Children

Capacity for religious insight and understanding really begins around 13; young people begin to move away from a literal interpretation and can more readily consider more abstract and symbolic ideas. 

They still hold on to some literal notions of God, but are also growing increasingly aware of science and the views it offers about the origin and nature of the world and our environment. When faced with a dilemma:
 'The evidence is that the great majority resolve their tension by keeping the supernatural and the natural world in separate compartments.'

In this age range, they are much more ready and open to understanding religious ideas. They begin to understand about concepts, i.e. the power of God, problem of evil + suffering and the nature of justice and righteousness. But with this comes questions and doubts about why God does not make everything perfect and what is the purpose of life.

7 of 22

Goldman Cont.

Such young people still pray, however their prayers are less egocentric - they express desires to be a better person and put great emphasis on health, safety and world peace. 

As they grow into mid-teens, young people are much more ready for religion. They can understand higher concepts, i.e. holiness, sin, unconditional love. 
There is also the time of growing spiritual awareness and a more realistic view of religion and the scriptures.

By 17-18, readiness for religion is complete as the 'childishness of religion' is replaced by deeper spiritual insights and greater questioning of religious 'truths'.

Prayers then concerned far more with confession of sins and seeking forgiveness. God is seen to offer calm and peace in a time of great doubt and many questions - a time when seeking the truth of religion really begins, when young people:
'...begin to achieve a deeper understanding of religious faith and a belief in God which is intellectually satisfying.'

8 of 22

Religious and Psychological Health

Psychologists have questioned why some people have a natural tendency towards happiness and seem to emphasise good in their lives rather than bad.

William James - Healthy Mind and Sick Soul
The Varieties of Religious Experience - 1902 

James examined reasons why some people seem to be happy all the time, even in the face of adversity, whilst others, sad or melancholy, lacking a purpose in life:

There are '...two different conceptions of the universe in our experience - healthy-mindedness and the sick soul.'

9 of 22


Characterised by joy, optimism and an inability to feel evil.
Two types:

  • Voluntary - seeing the good in something and making that the most important thing. Reality is always seen to be good and bad is ignored or excluded
  • Involuntary - feeling happy and positive about things without any pre-thought or intellectual evaluation of the circumstances. Everything is experienced as good in itself, not as being made good by refusing to acknowledge evil.

'In many persons, happiness is congenital and irreclaimable...when unhappiness is offered or proposed to them, they positively refuse to feel it, as if it were something mean and wrong. We find such persons in every age, passionately flinging themselves upon their sense of goodness in life...'

Healthy-minded tend to feel at one with the world + divine. Take the view that if the world is good, then as part of the world, they must be good also. James called these 'once born'. 

10 of 22

The Sick Soul

Person with the sick soul maximises thoughts of the evil and ignores the existence of good, believing it to be unreal.

'The world now looks remote, strange, sinister and uncanny. Its colour is gone and its breath cold...'

Different levels. Some feel a loss of love for nature, environment or world, because they see it as outweighed by the problems of evil. Others feel despair, anguish and complete lack of joy.
Deeper sick soul feelings - loathing, suspicion, mistrust, anxiety, fear and sometimes suicide.

'There are different levels of the morbid mind. There are people for whom evil means only a maladjustment with things, a wrong correspondence with one's life with the environment. Such evil as this is curable upon the natural planes...but there are others for whom evil may be more radical and general, a wrongness or vice in his essential nature which no alteration in the environment can cure which requires a supernatural remedy.'  

11 of 22

Sick Soul Cont.

Development of sick soul:

  • 1 - loss of interest in values of life
  • 2 - world seems strange and unwelcoming
  • 3 - nothing seems to make sense in the world anymore
  • 4 - questioning whether there is any point in anything

James argued that although healthy-minded are happier, sick souls have a greater insight into the human condition and are more connected to religion because faced with the apparent meaninglessness of the world, they turn to religion to find an answer;
i.e. evil is a trick, concealing the real truth that existence has more to offer than the sick soul can see

'The most complete religions would therefore seem to be those in which the pessimistic elements are best developed...(Christianity + Buddhism) - essentially religions of deliverance; the man must die to an unreal life before he can be born into the real life.' 

12 of 22

Sick Soul Cont.

James identified much more with the sick souls; he believed they had greater and more profound insight into the reality of things:
Three forms of consciousness

  • 1 - Religious melancholy - 'the world looks remote, sinister, strange, uncanny'
  • 2 - Melancholy - '...desperation absolute and complete'
  • 3 - The abyss - 'a sense of great personal sin and guilt and the need to be saved.'

'Let us then turn our backs on the once born and their sky-blue optimistic gospel...let us see rather whether pity, pain and fear may not open a more profounder view...' 

If a sick soul could come through these stages they would become 'twice born' - an experience of forgiveness, salvation and the ultimate triumph of goodness and an awareness of the truth of life:

'...loss of all worry, the sense that all is ultimately well with one, peace and harmony'

13 of 22

Abraham Maslow

Self-Actualisation and The Peak Experience

Self-actualisation is the desire in all human beings to fulfil their potential.

A Theory of Human Motivation - 1964
'The desire for self-fulfilment and to become more and more of what one is and everything that one is capable of of becoming.'

Maslow believed very few people ever achieve self-actualisation (Abraham Lincoln + Albert Einstein).

14 of 22

Maslow Cont.

Common traits found in those who have reached self-actualisation:

  • prepared to face reality and the truth (reality-centred)
  • spontaneous
  • interested in solving problems (problem-centred)
  • accepting of themselves and others
  • lacking in prejudice
  • happy in their own company
  • quite autonomous, but have a few deep personal friendships
  • not likely to 'follow the crowd'
  • gentle-humoured
  • very original + creative thinkers 
15 of 22

Hierarchy of Needs

Self-actualisation cannot be obtained quickly - firstly a person has to go through and satisfy the hierarchy of needs before they could go on to achieve the ultimate self-actualisation.
These needs are instinctive - Maslow believed is the environment was right, then people will grow up straight and true and fulfil their potential. 

Some of the needs are basic + biological - these are the most strongest as without them nothing can follow; however are low-level needs.
Later needs look towards understanding, spiritual and other issues - higher-level.

  • Psychological -  individual has basic needs + functions; food, water, oxygen, rest
  • Safety - sense of security, shelter, employment, comfort
  • Belonging and Love - personal relationships, sexual intimacy, family, feeling welcome
  • Esteem - sense of recognition, achievement, respect + worth
  • Cognitive - desire for knowledge + understanding of the world
  • Aesthetic - understanding of beauty, order and symmetry 
16 of 22

Maslow Cont.

Self-actualisers are people who have reached the summit of their potential - they are achieving what they were 'born to do' - have a sense of humility and respect for others, linked to a strong ethical code.

Peak Experiences - religious aspect of Maslow

Self-actualisers are those most likely to have a peak experience whichh Maslow saw as an experience which takes the person out of themselves + makes them feel eternal and in touch with God.

Religions, Values and Peak Experiences - 1964

Malsow described peak experiences as sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, with an awareness of ultimate truth and unity of all beings. Similar to Buddhist Enlightenment - Nirvana.
'...feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of great ecstasy and wonder and awe, the loss of placing in time and space.'

17 of 22

Peak Experiences Cont.

Two types:

  • Relative - person still feels an awareness of subjects and objects - like a gentle extension of their own previous experiences
  • Absolute - mystical experience without time and space and a feeling of unity with all things

Maslow found that those who had peak experiences said that they were always positive, never negative or evil, they were timeless and accompanied by a loss of fear, anxiety and doubt. 

Maslow believed everyone was capable of having a peak experience (but many denied having one) 

18 of 22

Peter Berger - The Sacred Canopy

  • Actions make us choose how we act within the world
    This is externalisation
  • Society tells us how to act - we long for order and stability
    This is socialisation
  • Individuals accept this as their own personal behaviour
    This is internalisation

Nomos - society's view of the world and how we should live

No nomos = anomy

19 of 22

Peter Berger - The Sacred Canopy

The Sacred Canopy 1987

Claims that humans fashion the world by their own activity:
 'nomos' - socially constructed ordering of experience.

Humans have very weak natural instincts, (links with Durkheim - as individuals, humans are weak, but as a group are strong - social cohesion/cement/collective conscience), hence are constantly forced to choose how they behave and interact with the world. - Externalising
Every time we make fresh choices, we change the circumstances and our relationship with the world. We face the danger of becoming off-balance with the world. 

We long for order and stability, so we can predict our responses to problems and the issues of life. So, human activity creates a stable picture of the world by Objectivation - in our societies we develop a sense of order and impose it on the world, making it applicable to all people. In this way, people live in a stable, predictable and safe way to keep out '...the terror that would otherwise engulf us if we did not have this order.' 

20 of 22

Berger Cont.

Thus, to a great extent, society tells us what to do, what to teach our children and our role in life - child, student, worker, parent, spouse etc and then how to act accordingly. (Similar to Marx in that religion is a controlling factor of life, however he believed it to be detrimental to society.) 

This is called Socialisation  - to work effectively, everyone must accept these principles for themselves.
This is then called Internalisation and is the nomos
The nomos is society's view of the world and how we should live in it. It is the product of centuries of human choices and norms - embedded into society, which have been adapted to guide people into how to behave and protect them from anarchy and chaos.

'The socially established nomos is our shield against terror...the most important function of society is nomisation.' 

How the nomos works: By our actions in the world we evolve principles of behaviour (externalisation)
The principles are accepted by most others (objectivation).
People accept them as principles of their own, personal behaviour (internalisation). 

21 of 22

Berger Cont.

Worst thing for a society would be to be without a nomos; Berger called this a state of anomy. To avoid this, society makes its nomos as strong as possible and this is where religion comes in. 

Societies adopt religious principles to underpin their nomos because religion is based on claims of absolute and universal truth. Religion gives humanity symbols which are rooted in the cosmos itself and have a special 'sacred power' which holds up the whole of cosmic reality.

Religious symbols are so powerful because they express the most important value sin life - religion brings meaningful order and peace to the cosmos.

We learn our individual roles by reference to religion and by studying scriptures. Equally, we learn to behave by following religious rituals which constantly remind us of the 'true' way of life. Religion underpins the nomos.

For Berger, religion is a form of knowledge that explains to us the meaning of the extraordinary events in our ordinary lives and offers a solution when things go badly wrong.
'Religion lies at the heart of this process for, with its religious and moral codes, it provides a foundation for the nomos.' 

22 of 22




Thank you for this, is this everything you need to know for religion and the individual? 

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »