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Psychology of Religion


Admission requirements

Please contact Dr. E.M. de Boer before signing up for this course for admission requirements.


This seminar aims to provide its students insight in several psychological approaches to religion, spirituality and meaning making. We use broad definitions of religion and spirituality (see Paloutzian & Park, 2005, in Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality). Examples are:
‘Whatever we as individuals do to come to grips personally with the questions that confronts us because we are aware that we and others like us are alive and that we will die’ (religion defined by Batson, Schoenrade and Ventis, 1993)
‘A way of being and experiencing that comes about through awareness of a transcendent dimension and that is characterized by certain identifiable values in regard to self, life, and whatever one considers to be the Ultimate’ (spirituality defined by Elkins et al., 1988).
The following three themes are dealt with in this seminar:
(1) Existential themes: For instance, what (e.g., experiences, work circumstances, social interactions) makes people feel that they are alive and human beings ? How do (non)religious people nowadays deal with existential issues such as death, freedom, isolation, meaninglessness, groundlessness? When are modern people confronted with (or aware of) existential issues? (How) do spiritual or religious practices (e.g., meditation, prayer, mindfulness, self-transcendence) help dealing with these issues? And how are certain practices related to mental health and attitudes of joy and courage towards life or the opposite, fear of life, depression, stress, anger towards God or life?
(2) Consciousness, boundaries and the self: contact with unseen realities or ‘the sacred’: For instance, (how) do human beings differ in the extent to which they feel connected with others or with God or the universe or other unseen or sacred realities? When do they consider this so-called unseen reality as real, true or important? And (how) is this related to individual or personality differences in consciousness levels, perceived boundaries between self and others, the ability to self-transcendence, perspectivetaking, empathy, sensitivity of environmental stimuli or people’s moods? Moreover, is there a relationship with mental health (e.g., happiness, closeness, love or the opposite self-loss, self-infiltration, confusion) ?
(3) Religion and regulating relationships: Religions all over the world emphasize the importance of relational values such as compassion, empathy, solidarity, love, and respect. In theme 3 we are in particular interested in (1) the importance of non-sacred relational outcomes for (religious) people (e.g., belongingness to a social group, social identity) and how religion may help to provide these relational outcomes, and (2) how religion or spirituality may influence social interactions

Course objectives

Students are familiar with existential themes and know the main theoretical approaches to meaning making and spiritual and religious development in relation to mental health, and are able to reflect on these approaches. The focus is on Western psychological theories as well as on some psychological issues that are important in contemplative traditions, and in non-Western psychology. In addition we will study recent empirical research on existential questions and spiritual development. Students learn to reflect on this material critically, to formulate new research questions, and to make a personal contribution to ongoing research within the department of social sciences.


See Time table.

Mode of instruction

Tutorial and individual study of source materials:

 Weekly meetings

Assessment method

assignment, paper.


Yes, see: Blackboard.

Reading list

To be announced (blackboard).


Via uSis.
In addition to the registration in uSis, students are also expected to self-enroll in blackboard a few weeks before the course starts.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Please contact Dr. E.M. de Boer before signing up for this course.


This course will be taught in English except when all participants have a working knowledge of Dutch.