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RELS337 Psychology of Religion (Advanced)

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.

Paper title Psychology of Religion (Advanced)
Paper code RELS337
Subject Religious Studies
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period(s) Summer School (Distance learning)
Summer School (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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18 200-level PSYC or RELS points
RELS 237
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Theology
May not be credited together with RELS231 or RELS331 passed in 2016.

Teaching staff

Lecturer: Dr Joseph Watts

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 337
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Information literacy, 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
  • Relate psychological approaches of religion to one another and argue for the merits of one theory relative to another based on evidence
  • Articulate the strengths and weaknesses of psychological approaches to religion

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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
L1 Tuesday 13:00-14:50 2-7
Thursday 13:00-14:50 2-7


Stream Days Times Weeks
T1 Friday 10:00-10:50 3-7