First off, Sci should warn you. If you send me books (and some of you do, and for those of you who do, SCI LOVES YOU A LOT), keep in mind they may take a while. Sci IS in grad school after all, and while I’m a happy little book worm when surrounded by books, a lot of times, more than 10 pages a night just isn’t going to happen. After all, I’ve got this whole “science blogging” thing to keep up with as well, and that’s a time sink, lemme tell ya. So this means that if you send me a book, it may be a long time before it gets read and a review goes up about it. Sci just finished three books, and there is still a pile of 12 on her little bedside table. So be patient. And send me books anyway.
That said, the latest book sent to me that I managed to read was via friend of the blog JD, who sent me a book by his Psych prof: “Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion” by Lee Kirkpatrick, professor of Psychology at the College of William and Mary.
And when I got the book, Dr. Kirkpatrick had signed it!!! Signed books are even better than unsigned, because they make Sci feel so famous. And I quote:
This is the best book you will ever read, on any topic. No, really. Seriously, not kidding. Enjoy!
And he promised me my money back if not fully satisfied.
Sci has to say she found the title very promising. Sci has always liked psychology and found it interesting stuff to read, though sometimes not particularly connected with the real world of biology Sci knows and loves (here’s looking at you. Freud). Though Sci has no real training in Psychology (ok, there was that one Gen Ed requirement that I took senior year and will admit I basically drank my way through), she has always been fascinated by the psychology of religion in particular, especially the question of WHY humans are religious. I mean, considering how much grief religion has often caused the species, it doesn’t seem precisely adaptive (Christians getting thrown to the lions comes to mind, not the mention things like sacrificial virgins). But in its early phases (and perhaps still in the modern world) it might have been adaptive. The question in my mind is why.
And Prof Kirkpatrick does a good job explaining it from one of several possible theories. His pet theory is that of attachment, the psychological idea from John Bowlby. It states that children seek secure attachment figures which can provide a sense of comfort, care for their needs, and provide a secure base from which to explore. As adults, attachment theory also has an application, where we seek secure attachment figures that will protect us and help us with our needs (mates and friends). Kirkpatrick theorizes that attachment theory can be applied to religion, with the idea that humans will seek out deities as attachment figures, for a secure base and protection, when other attachment figures fail them.
Obviously, this is only one possible theory for the psychology of religion. Religions are often organized, and can provide fellowship and further attachment figures in the form of leaders and others in the in-group. Organized religion can provide protection in the form of kin, even kin which are not related by birth but which are chosen through the religion itself. And the list goes on. Kirkpatrick provides some explanation of these other theories, but tries to concentrate mostly on attachment theory (his specialty, hence the title), with some sidelines into evolutionary psychology.
Evolutionary psychology is a pretty new thing, explaining psychological traits in light of their adaptive potential. Being a biologist, Sci kind of figured it would have caught on right away, but apparently the field of psychology is still in a state of flux on the idea, and some of them never got over behaviorism (don’t worry, some of us never did, either, there’s one in every family).
I actually wish there had been more explanation of evolutionary psychology, maybe more examples of its successful application to psychological phenomena and religion in particular. There was a chapter dedicated to it in the book, but really you could write several books on this idea. I realize that the book was not meant to be a list of different religious phenomena (prayer, gods, feeling better about death, etc), but rather a description of the kind of psychological endeavor that would allow for such descriptors, and more importantly, break them down in a manner which might promote further theorizing. While I appreciate this approach, I think some descriptive examples would have been illustrative of the main points.
Kirkpatrick believes that evolutionary psychology is going to be the new way in which to deal with the psychology of religion. I think that he certainly right, as, from his description, it’s the way the trend is going, but I think this trend may be slightly more arbitrary than he supposes. While evolutionary psychology might work well in analysis and breakdown of aspects of the psychology of religion, and it will promote further theories, all of those will be based in evolutionary psychology. And this is a good thing. But I don’t know that it’s necessarily the BEST thing for the psychology of religion, and I don’t know that we’ll ever know what would be. Every theory for dividing up the psychology of religion would lead to different divisions and different hypotheses based on the theory and the divisions used. But how will we know which set of divisions and set of hypotheses is CORRECT? It seems rather arbitrary, but I think evolutionary psychology is as good a method as any.
So…yeah…a review. Sci liked it! I found it well-written and pretty understandable for someone who doesn’t read a lot of psych. I found some of the stuff on attachment theory quite fascinating. But I have to say: he wrote the book backward. And he knows it. In fact, Kirkpatrick mentions it in the beginning. Rather than give a summary introduction of the overarching theory and then delving into the parts, he delves into the parts and gives the overarching theory last. I understand that this is probably close to how he himself came through the thought process, but I personally got a little lost, until I got to the last chapter.
So here’s my suggestion: buy this book. Or borrow it. Or whatever. Flip to the last chapter. Read it. Then flip to the front and read it all the way through. MUCH better. Hey, in mysteries you always have to resist the urge to do that, so be happy that you do it with psych!.
End result: Very interesting. It made me think a LOT, and that’s always a good thing, though something of a dangerous pastime. I feel like I understand the applications of evolutionary psychology to the psychology of religion well, and particularly attachment theory. So, Prof. Kirkpatrick, I don’t want my money back. I am very satisfied.