Vassilis Saroglou: "Quest for Unity: Religious Specifics of a Universal Psychological Function"

Is it possible to delineate a psychological function specific to religion? A positive answer seems impossible given the variety of the functions assumed by religion and the ambiguity regarding whether these functions are necessarily religious or not. Nevertheless, reconsidering today the “need for unity” – without necessarily restricting it to the psychoanalytic concept of the “oceanic feeling” – and taking into account theological realities as well as the progress of empirical psychological research may give some light to many aspects of this issue: origins and psychic explanations of the need for unity; extension of this need and religious specifics of the unifying function; role of this function with regard to other functions (need for meaning, control, and self-esteem); psychological understanding of many religious phenomena; and variety of the configurations this unifying function assumed by religion takes as a function of context (e.g. egalitarian, hierarchical, and totalitarian versions). Finally, we argue that the need and quest for unity may be one of the psychological categories the study of religious experience can offer to mainstream psychology to widen our understanding of human beings.

5 June 2007

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