International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Religious Thought and the Modern Psychologies: A Critical Conversation in the Theology of Culture

by Don S. Browning , Terry Cooper

Introductory Essay by Steven J. Sandage

Browning and Cooper’s volume, Religious Thought & the Modern Psychologies, applies hermeneutical philosophy (e.g., Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Habermas) and ethical analysis to the integration of clinical psychology and theology. More specifically, the theories of a set of seminal thinkers in psychology and psychotherapy (Freud, Jung, Rogers, Skinner, Erikson, Kohut, Ellis, Beck, and Bowen) are probed for implicit ethical and theological assumptions and what Browning and Cooper call metaphors of ultimacy, deep metaphors that shape a vision of meaning and obligation in life. For example, they reveal in the humanistic psychologies of Rogers and Maslow an implicit metaphor of a hidden, pre-established harmony in life. The authors differentiate their hermeneutical approach to the relationship between science and theology from other models by suggesting clinical psychology and theology “are more properly interpretive than explanatory disciplines” [6]. They argue that the clinical psychologies are human sciences that are less about prediction and control (the basic goals of the natural sciences) and more oriented to interpreting the meaning and ideals of human life. 

This work provides a constructive challenge to those in the field of clinical psychology who consider personality theory and psychotherapy to be strictly natural sciences in which moral and religious assumptions can be completely bracketed. Yet Browning and Cooper also take science seriously by incorporating considerations of psychobiological needs into their ethical and theological analysis, an approach that can be reassuring to those who view psychology as a rigorous science. The view of hermeneutical realism advanced in this book seeks to dialectically balance the realist sensibility of science with the interpretive awareness of hermeneutical philosophy and post-positivistic philosophies of science. Their hermeneutical realist paradigm has been applied to psychological research in an effort to reconcile quantitative and qualitative methodologies in the study of virtue (Sandage, Cook, Hill, & Strawn, 2008).

Both the first and second editions of this volume have been widely cited in literatures on pastoral care, pastoral theology, and the integration of psychology and theology. Readers who appreciate permeable interdisciplinary boundaries and sophisticated theoretical analysis often find this to be a central volume in those fields. The relational dynamics between psychologists and theologians over the years have been complicated and often adversarial. There are many interdisciplinary volumes in psychology and theology that either subtlety or explicitly discount one discipline while idealizing the other. Browning and Cooper argue for a critical hermeneutics which recognizes that interpretive traditions can sometimes become oppressive and in need of revision through critical dialogue with contemporary systems of thought. They offer one of the rare scholarly works that take both disciplines seriously and use each to challenge and enrich the other as systems of mutual influence.