Research program in psychology of religion

Psychology of religion as a research field

The field of psychology of religion and its research and academic programs at Uppsala University are located within the Faculty of Theology. Within the faculty, psychology of religion and sociology of religion are situated within the department of Religion and the Social Sciences. The Uppsala program is designed to fulfill criteria for research in psychology of religion as it is expressed both in Europe and North America, as a research area in religious studies or as a sub-discipline of psychology. Research is oriented towards the production of theory, original empirical research, and applied research.

Location of this research program within the university context provides indispensable interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research opportunities both within other faculties and departments of the university as well as in conjunction with national and international university and research institutions. Location within the theological faculty provides another type of research opportunity, especially in the area of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research in religious studies and pastoral applications.

The primary objective of research in the field of psychology of religion is to explore the nature and function of religious experience through an investigation of psychological processes at an individual level, set within the context of group and societal frameworks. In keeping with international research developments in this field, as well as for addressing the needs of the field within the Scandinavian context, psychology of religion here takes a broad approach to the subject that also includes research on spirituality and meaning-making systems. The theoretical and methodological standards employed in the research program are those internationally drafted for research in the field. Cultural and gender analyses are required components in every research project included in the program.

Within psychology of religion the current research profile at Uppsala University has been designed within the context of a university research network in the field within the European Union (Lund, Åbo, Leuven, LLN, Amsterdam, and Vienna), and to related fields in other parts of Europe and North America. The research program at Uppsala is responsible for the Scandinavian program of advanced studies in the European Union Diploma Program in Psychology of Religion.

Priority research areas

The research program has four priority research areas where there is demonstrated competence and where active research is ongoing. The areas are not totally exclusive of one another as they share both theoretical and methodological underpinnings.

1. Psychology of religion and health

This area includes attention to religion’s function in both physical and mental health as well as expressions of illness. The area is included in an international research network on the topic developed through the American Psychological Association. This area has been established at Uppsala over a period of two decades. Over the past decade, externally funded research grants have led to the production of over 25 scholarly publications including books, monographs, and research articles in peer-reviewed journals. Topics range from empirical studies on pastoral care, existential health and epidemiology, to theoretical analysis of the arts, psychotherapy, and religious experience. In this period, two doctoral dissertations have been published in this area relating to: the grief process, and to religious coping. Four dissertations are underway addressing the topics of: clergy burnout; existential need in stress-burnout rehabilitation programs; quality of life research and existential need; and psychosocial effects of religious doubt.

Ongoing externally funded research projects

  1. Research project on psychosocial, cultural, and play-behaviour patterns related to internet gambling and risk behaviours. Research partner institutions: Sociology of religion and Centre for Multi-ethnic Studies (World Values Survey, WVS), Uppsala University; Dept. of Psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School).
  2. Research project on meaning-making and worldview analysis in women’s treatment for problem drinking. Research partner institution: Dept. of Psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
  3. Religious content in psychosis. Research partner institution: Oslo University.

Future research direction
A future research direction is the establishment of a Northern European research centre for Spirituality and Health. This centre would become part of the international network of centres on this topic. Investigation of the need for such a centre has been documented in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Holland. The Northern European cultural context presents psychological and socio-cultural health-related challenges brought about by secularization and changing patterns of religious institutional function. Such a centre would allow for primary and secondary research, through an inter-disciplinary model, that would provide a much-needed understanding of how the World Health Organization’s categories of spiritual need and spiritual resources can be interpreted and implemented in the cultural contexts of Northern Europe. The Northern European centre will be planned in conjunction with similar centres at Duke University Medical School and Aberdeen University. This enterprise is by nature an interdisciplinary effort that will foster collaborative research and research that can have practical application at the individual, societal, and organizational levels.

Note: This centre can be viewed as a future project for the other areas outlined below as resources for research project planning and grant preparation in priority areas would be available through the centre.

2. The psychosocial function of religion in migration and acculturation

This area of research is concerned with current contexts of displacement and the challenges of creating a new home context, with special emphasis on forced migration. Attention is given to both guest- and host culture processes. This research area is included in both the EU and Nordic Networks of Migration Research. Over the past decade this research program area has participated in two EU funded projects in this area together with Jagellonian University in Cracow, Poland. Two scholarly articles and one monograph have been published on this topic related to: religious and cultural attitudes of Polish children to refugees; religion’s role in acculturation; and, host culture preparation for addressing migration’s challenges. Two doctoral dissertations have been produced in this area relating to: minority group acculturation and the role of religiosity, and to children’s existential needs in the refugee asylum process.

Ongoing externally funded research projects
Research project on meaning-making, health assessment, and acculturation. Funded by the EU Refugee Commission. Research partner institution: Centre for Transcultural Psychiatry at Uppsala University.

Research project on value studies among immigrants in different European countries. Within the Impact programme.

Future research direction
Research time for a senior researcher and a post-doctoral position in this area are included in the theological faculty’s Linné Research Application for a Centre of Excellence at Uppsala University.

3. Psychosocial investigation of religion in peace and conflict situations

Though work related to this area has been done through individual research projects and three scholarly publications by faculty in this field have been produced, the area itself is newly established. Preliminary work in the area began in 2005 with preparatory plans for establishing the joint Masters Program in Religion, Peace and Conflict with the University of Groningen. Funding from the Rector of Uppsala University has been given for the first doctoral project in this area, which is centred on a psychosocial, comparative study of religious culture’s role in Jewish- and Assyrian youth’s acculturation processes in Sweden.

Ongoing externally funded research projects

  1. Research exploratory study on health, religiosity, and psychosocial consequences of conflict in an Afro-Brazilian context in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. Research partner institutions: Faculty associated with Addiction Research, The Karolinska Institute; Dept. of Psychiatry, The Medical School, Campinas, Brazil; NGO organization CFDN.
  2. Linked to this area is the ongoing research on religious terrorism of Prof. James Jones at Rutgers University (honorary doctorate at Uppsala).

Future research direction
Plans are underway for investigating research funding organizations and strategies in Sweden and Brazil for moving forward with a multi-year, multi-disciplinary action research study of the Afro-Brazilian context and community with special emphasis on the health of women and children. In designing the project links will not only be made to the partner institutions named above, but also to researchers in the faculty in the areas of history of religion and mission studies (colleagues in the joint Master named above).

4. Developmental and psychosocial research on existential ritual and ritualizing

This area has a long history in the field at Uppsala and over 25 scholarly publications exist by faculty members. Recent research has focused especially on the investigation of ritual expression and ritual need in postmodern contexts. Since 1995 this area has been part of an international network on religious ritual research and more recently, it has been included in the research network of the Person, Culture, and Religion group established through the American Academy of Religion. In the European and Nordic contexts, this area of research has been a part of a long-standing working group in clinical psychology of religion. In the last decade three doctoral dissertations have been published in this area focused on: existential ritualization in a late modern, secularized society; cultural psychology and ritual practice at a Hindu goddess temple; and, a comparative, psychocultural study of Christian and Muslim prayer. Ongoing dissertations focus on: parental ritualizing needs after loss of a newborn; and, ritualizing aspects of communication in closed religious communities.

Ongoing externally funded research projects

  1. Research project on women’s meaning-making and ritualizing patterns related to alcohol problems and intervention strategies including an existential dimension. Research partner institutions: Stockholm Centre for Dependency Disorders; Dept. of Public Health, The Karolinska Institute; Dept. of Psychology, Stockholm University; and, Dept. of Psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
  2. Linked to this area is a post-doctoral research project on women’s existential needs following abortion. This project is based at the faculty’s Centre for Religion and Society.

Future research direction
This area of research, especially as associated with: clinical psychology of religion, cultural psychology in comparative perspective, and social change research related to organizational psychology, will be a priority area for future research in conjunction with an eventual development of a centre for Spirituality and Health.

Final comment on the research program

The direction of the field, its international and interdisciplinary research orientation, record of scholarly publication, and the areas included in this research program in psychology of religion have received a positive evaluation in the KoF report- An Overall Evaluation of Research at Uppsala University, Uppsala (2007). A special recommendation of the evaluation committee is the development of three specific thematic areas, one being that of Religion, Peace, and Conflict Research. As this is one of the priority research areas of psychology of religion, it is hoped that support for this strategic area, including postdoctoral funding, will be seriously considered by the faculty.

Further information related to doctoral and post-doctoral research

Please direct all inquires, in Swedish or English, to
Professor Valerie DeMarinis:
Director, Psychology of Religion Research Program


Publikationer (DiVA)