Psychology’s Religious Roots

  • Graham Richards
Part of the Library of the History of Psychological Theories book series (LHPT)


During the period from around 1870 to 1900 Psychology acquired something resembling its current form as a purportedly scientific, institutionally based discipline. This is generally depicted as resulting primarily from (a) the extension, especially in Germany, of physiological experimental techniques to basic ‘psychophysical’ phenomena such as reaction-time and sensory discrimination, and (b) the rise of evolutionary theory after 1859, which provided an integrating theoretical framework for a variety of hitherto disparate proto-Psychological disciplines and fields of study such as animal behaviour, education, mental philosophy and criminology. Both of these represented further advances of ‘materialist’ science and the latter was especially widely construed as essentially in conflict with mainstream Christian doctrines. How did the religious respond to first the prospect, and then the reality, of a ‘science of the mind’? Surely this amounted to a scientific invasion of the core territory of the religious domain—indeed perhaps its only territory now that its authority over the physical universe had been ceded to science? In fact, head-on clashes were rare and in some important respects many of the religious were supportive of the new discipline. Why so? In what follows we will explore this unexpected lack of confrontation and show that, when the religious factor is taken into account, the standard picture of Psychology’s origins requires some adjustment.


Religious Belief Religious Experience Religious Position Religious Factor Catholic Priest 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graham Richards BooksTunbridge WellsUnited Kingdom

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