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    An introduction to the psychology of religion, with emphasis on what research in contemporary cognitive and evolutionary psychology says about human religious belief and behaviour.

    Can religious belief and behaviour be explained by science? What do cognitive and evolutionary psychology tell us about belief in god? Is religion universal? Is religion a product of human evolution? How does religious belief develop in childhood? What social functions does religion serve? Combining scholarship on religion and psychology, this paper introduces students to the important interdisciplinary field of psychology of religion. In addition to the above questions, students will learn about the latest research on the psychology of terrorism, the psychology of atheism and the psychological effects of religion on prejudice/tolerance. No background experience in religion or psychology is required.

    About this paper

    Paper title Psychology of Religion
    Subject Religious Studies
    EFTS 0.15
    Points 18 points
    Teaching period(s) Summer School (Distance learning)
    Summer School (On campus)
    Domestic Tuition Fees ( NZD ) $981.75
    International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.
    36 points
    RELS 337
    Schedule C
    Arts and Music, Theology
    May not be credited together with RELS231 or RELS331 passed in 2016.

    May not be credited together with RELS337. 


    Teaching staff

    Lecturer: Associate Professor John Shaver

    Paper Structure
    This paper is divided into three modules:
    • The cognitive foundations of religious belief
    • The social functions of religious belief
    • Explaining modern forms of belief: from fundamentalists to atheists
    • Quizzes (20%)
    • Essays (40%)
    • Midterm and Final Examinations (40%)
    Teaching Arrangements

    This Distance Learning offering of this paper is taught remotely.

    For on-campus students there is one 2-hour lecture per week.

    For distance students there are fortnightly tutorials (via Zoom).

    A coursebook containing lecture notes and readings is available for this paper. Printed copies will be provided for distance students and are also available through the printshop. The coursebook is also available as a PDF through Blackboard.
    Course outline
    View the sample course outline for RELS 237
    Graduate Attributes Emphasised
    Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Information literacy, Research, Self-motivation.
    View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
    Learning Outcomes
    Students who successfully complete the paper should be able to
    • Understand psychological theories of religion and evaluate research that tests these theories
    • Understand the different methods employed in the psychology of religion and their relative strengths and weaknesses
    • Evaluate arguments based on empirical data
    • Write a clear, persuasive and original commentary about an evidence-based study


    Summer School

    Teaching method
    This paper is taught through Distance Learning
    Learning management system

    Summer School

    Teaching method
    This paper is taught On Campus
    Learning management system


    Stream Days Times Weeks
    A1 Tuesday 13:00-14:50 2-5, 7
    Thursday 13:00-14:50 2-7
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