The Christian Significance of Psychology

fraser watts christianity psychology

I am currently preparing to lead a workshop on ‘The Christian Significance of Psychology’ for the British Association of Christians in Psychology. As I explain in a blog on the BACIP website, the original interest was in what difference being a Christian makes in psychology. However, I thought I needed to come at that through the more basic question of the Christian significance of psychology itself.

My starting point is the belief that Christ made a significant difference to the direction of human evolution, especially to how human consciousness and experience have developed. In the first part of the morning I will try to set out that view, leaning heavily on Owen Barfield and others influenced by Rudolf Steiner (though Barfield is best known as close friend of C S Lewis). I propose that Christ changed the direction of human evolution. Had it not been for that, humanity would hardly have been in a position to develop psychology, or at least it would have looked very different.

In the second half of the morning I will turn to the significance of the development of something explicitly called ‘psychology’. Various strands contributed to that, including the implicit cognitivism of Enlightenment philosophy, the Protestant concern with self-examination, and the scientism of Auguste Comte and others. From a Christian point of view it is a somewhat mixed inheritance.

I will try to locate it within the Christocentric view of the evolution of consciousness that I will set out in the first session. I will take as a particular case study how the development of psychology affected our understanding of  emotion, following the work of Professor Thomas Dixon, my former PhD student, who directs the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary in the University of London.

After lunch I will explore whether, and in what sense, psychology is a quasi-religion, and the range of attitudes to psychology to be found among religious commentators. I will steer a path between those who are strongly pro and anti psychology, suggesting that psychology can go either way when interpreted from the perspective of the purposes of God.

However, on balance, I am more enthusiastic about the potential of psychology than I am anxious about it becoming misdirected. I hope that will yield a Christian evaluation of psychology, which will have pointers for how Christians would want to steer psychology. Roger Bretherton will lead a workshop in the final part of the day to explore that further.

This BACIP day will be held in Sutton Coldfield on Saturday 18th November. Everyone is welcome. For both information and to book please visit here.

I look forward to seeing a number of old friend there and to meeting new ones.

– Fraser Watts