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Psychology and Religion

Hall believed that religious conversion during adolescence was “a natural, normal, universal, and necessary process” (1904). Although he used Christian terminology to describe this “conversion,” Hall was clear that he was not refer- ring to the acceptance of any religious dogma. Sin, for him, was not a state of evil but a sense of limitation and imperfection that should be under- stood psychologically rather than in terms of theology (1904). He took issue with those who viewed the Bible with “bibliolatry and parasitic literalism” (1904), and he declared “eternal warfare upon orthodoxies and all dogmatic finalities” (1904). So what was the religious conversion that Hall referred to? Rather than embracing a set of religious beliefs,

it was the psychological process of subordinating the self to the needs of others. “Self-love merges in resignation and renunciation into love of man: Religion has no other function than to make this change complete … for the love of God and the love of man are one and inseparable” (1904). For Hall, then, the conversion he referred to was “the great conversion from love of self to love of others” (1904).

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Most psychologists today, although perhaps sym- pathetic to Hall’s urging adolescents to become less selfish, would not describe that process in religious or spiritual terms. Fewer still would agree the pro- cess is normative or universal (Arnett, 2006). Nev- ertheless, as we see in Hall and James, religion was a popular topic for early U.S. psychologists. In 1904, Hall founded The American Journal of Religious Psy- chology and Education, which he edited with two former students, James Leuba and Edwin Starbuck. Both Leuba and Starbuck became noted for their empirical studies of religious conversion.

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