Steingass on the psychology of religion and contemporary Buddhist thought: “Die Anfänge der Religionspsychologie”

Matthias Steingass has summarized three broadcasts regarding the psychology of religion, and relating the ideas of the three figures discussed—William James, Rudolf Otto, and Karl Girgensohn—to contemporary Buddhist ideology. I found this particularly valuable because, although already familiar with James and Otto, the work of Girgensohn is new to me.

dradio: “Die Anfänge der Religionspsychologie”.

In relation to previous work on Buddhism and psychology, I had looked into several surveys of the psychology of religion. Perhaps not surprisingly, these works (stretching as I recall from the 1940s onward) had a strong Christian bias in their assumptions about the nature of religion. This bias was particularly evident in the topics covered, which is in a sense natural enough given the religious culture within which these authors were working. In reviewing that material, I had wondered whether it was not the case that most of the authors themselves and the authors of the sources they cited did not have seminary backgrounds. James’ religious background (spiritualism and the like) is well-known, and of course Otto was primarily a theologian, despite his work being taken as psychological in character (that is, his theology had psychological bases). Girgensohn’s position was as a professor of systematic theology at Leipzig, which is the context within which he developed his ideas regarding the psychology of religion. Such work should perhaps better be called “psychological theology,” rather than the psychology of religion.

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