Religious Diversity in Psychology: Examples & Impact

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Among the many different kinds of diversity that affect human psychology is religious diversity. This lesson discusses examples and impact of religious diversity in the field and practice of psychology.

Understanding Religious Diversity

Though Lucy has been a practicing psychologist for five years, she has recently moved to a clinic in a new community. Lucy is excited to start working with a more diverse community of patients, or one where more human differences are represented.

One thing that stands out to Lucy right away is the tremendous amount of religious diversity in her new community. In other words, many different religious traditions, beliefs and identities are represented among her patients and colleagues. Lucy knows this will have important implications for how she practices, and she begins to explore what religious diversity means in the context of psychology in particular.

History of Religious Diversity

Lucy understands that it is crucial to start by understanding more about the history of religious diversity. She recalls from her education that religious diversity has not historically been seen as a strength, and in fact, many religious traditions would rather remain segregated from one another.

Psychology itself grew primarily out of Judeo-Christian traditions, and most of the founding psychologists whose theories have risen to prominence in terms of our understanding of cognition and emotion were either Jewish or Christian.

Lucy also understands, though, that in the United States today, there are people from many different religious backgrounds who learn from and flourish under conditions that allow them to live, work, and spend time together. For example, she has patients who are devout Muslims but form strong friendships with atheists and Buddhists.

This religious diversity comes with some inevitable conflicts and challenges, but Lucy sees how it can also benefit people by helping them define their own values and understand more about different perspectives.

Examples of Religious Diversity in Psychology

Right now, Lucy is treating a number of patients from different religious backgrounds, and this gives her valuable insight into the role of religious diversity in psychology.

Social Cohesiveness

One of Lucy's patients is a Buddhist man whose family immigrated from China before he was born. This patient's religious beliefs have led him to pursue mindfulness and meditation as ways of handling stress and challenges. He has come to see Lucy because of struggles forming intimate relationships. Lucy is able to help him explore his desire to connect with others, but she also sees how his religious traditions have helped make him a very adaptive person who can handle many of life's stressors.

One thing this man is missing is a sense of social cohesiveness, or strong, supportive community. Lucy knows that many people find this community within their religion; for instance, many of her Jewish patients form socially cohesive networks via their synagogue.

However, because there are few Buddhists in Lucy's town, Lucy helps her patient see the value in reaching outside of what he knows and becoming part of more diverse religious communities. He joins a mindfulness group. Some participants are Buddhists and some are atheist or Christian, and he finds community via their shared values in spite of their differences.

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