What are the merits and demerits of psychology of religion as a subject?

Psychology of religion has the merit of helping us to better understand the ways religion can help and hurt people psychologically. Demerits, however, include its wholly rationalistic approach, which can devalue or ignore the element of the transcendent that is integral to religious faith.

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Psychology of religion is a subject or academic field in which experts aim to understand what psychological mechanisms draw people to religion and what the effects of religious belief are on human beings.

The merits of such study include a better understanding of what psychological needs religion fulfills in people, such as a need, as psychologist Victor Frankl might emphasize, for a sense purpose and meaning. Psychology can also carefully sort and analyze the ways that religion brings benefits to people, such as joy, or problems, such as excessive guilt. In this way, it can help guide religion along healthier paths that emphasize elements beneficial to people's mental health.

Demerits include the privileging of psychology over religion as a subject. Critics question the wisdom of placing an academic field "above" religion, as if that field is implicitly superior to religion itself and holds the keys to understanding it. One limitations to psychological examinations of religious belief is, for example, psychology's definition as a "science," which means it brings a wholly rational lens to bear on religion. Yet, religion, like art, relies on the ineffable or transcendent as an integral part of what it is, and it can do damage to what William James calls the "More" of religious faith to reduce it to merely a set of psychological responses. In other words, psychology can help us to understand religion in powerful ways, but only to a degree.

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