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Book Review - Handbook of Religious Experience


This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1999, Volume 16, Number 2, pages 215-216. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Handbook of Religious Experience. 

R. W. Hood, Jr. (Ed.). Birmingham, Alabama: Religious Education Press, 1995, hardcover, 661 pages.

This is a big book: 661 pages. It is a "heavy" book: 24 chapters, each written by a credentialed authority, augmented by a 17-page 2-column name index, and an impressive 41-page 2-column subject index. All this suggests a comprehensive, detailed study of the subject, and the chapter content confirms that impression. One goal of the book is to "place religious experience within the context of major faith traditions" (p. 1). It also seeks to "apply the full range of modern psychology" from "depth psychologies to transpersonal and feminist perspectives, from behavioral to cognitive theories, from attribution to attachment theory" (p. 1). Wisely, Hood chose not to attempt such a prodigious goal single-handedly and chose to rely on experts in each aspect of the subject. The result is an encyclopedia of religious experience that includes the scientific and the spiritual, the theoretical and the practical.

The editor's foreword clearly describes the goals and scope of the book and is an overview of the book's contents. Even that lists 13 references! The book can be read front to back or used as a quick, concise reference of any religion or relevant subject using the comprehensive index. Part 1 consists of six chapters each focusing on one of the six major faith traditions or major religions: Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. These chapters describe obvious differences among the faith traditions, but basic similarities also emerge. Part 2 is a 3-chapter treatment of the philosophy, sociology, and phenomenology of the religious experience. Part 3 adds three chapters on the viewpoints of Freudian, Jungian, and object-relations theories. Part 4 is a 4-chapter grouping of psychological aspects: developmental, cognitive, affective, and behavioral. Part 5, consisting of three chapters, covers role, attribution, and attachment theory perspectives. Part 6, also three chapters, describes "specialty concerns" of "the body," transpersonal, and feminist theories. Part 7 brings the book to closure with two chapters by the editor, one on religious instruction and the other on the "facilitation of the religious experience."

Despite the wide variety of authors of each of the 24 chapters and its comprehensive scope, this book maintains focus and contains more information on the religious experience than any other work to date. Because knowledgeable people in the subject areas write the chapters, the book provides an exceptionally objective study of religion. It generates much light without divisive heat! William James, who wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience a hundred years ago and who many feel was the "father" of American psychology, would have been very pleased with and proud of this seminal work. Highly recommended.

Frank MacHovec PhD

Christopher Newport University

Newport News, Virginia

E-mail: machovec@tez.net