Research paper topics to explore on the psychology of religion

The topic of psychology of religion is rich with research paper topics to explore for a religion or psychology class. The focus of the topic centers on the “study and interpretation of recognized faiths using contemporary methods of Western psychology,” according to

Find out more about psychology of religion. (Credit:

Find out more about psychology of religion. (Credit:

Particular areas of interest include why people are attracted to religion, the difference between being religious and being spiritual or what are the benefits of religion.

Being spiritual or being religious

It is common to hear people describe themselves as being spiritual rather than religious. But is there a difference? And if so are there benefits to feeling one-way or the other? Possible research paper topics could explore if this is a way of thinking found only in Western psychology or if the split between spirituality and religiosity is more universal.

In the post “Are You Spiritual or Religious? Does it Matter?” for’s Putting Psyche Back Into Psychotherapy blog, Josh Gressel delved into a possible answer. He described being spiritual as “(1) to be able to recognize and experience spirit in the everyday world, and (2) to value it and consider it more important than the material surface of life.” Gressel explained that for him the next step to being religious comes from committing to an organized path, i.e. adhering to an organized religion.

The benefits of religion

Why are people religious? And does being religious offer benefits? These questions offer more research paper topics on the subject of psychology of religion. The basic areas that could be discussed include do humans have an emotional predisposition to seek a higher power and is it even in human DNA to seek a higher power?

Jeff Grabmeier reported on new research about the psychology of religion in “The psychology behind religious belief” on October 5, 2015, for Ohio State University’s website. He quoted Steven Reiss, author of The 16 Strivings for God, who said, “Religion couldn’t achieve mass acceptance if it only fulfilled one or two basic desires.” The new book shared that there are 16 basic desires humans all share: acceptance, curiosity, eating, family, honor, idealism, independence, order, physical activity, power, romance, saving, social contact, status, tranquility and vengeance. Reiss and his fellow researchers theorized in the book that being religious provides believers with ways to satisfy many of those desires.

Western psychology of religion

The study of the psychology of religion is a relatively new area of interest. First explored around the turn of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung are two of the most well-known names in Western psychology to research the topic. Freud felt religion was something from humans past to be left behind, while Jung countered that religion could be transformative. All human cultures have a belief in souls living after death and higher, invisible powers that play a role in daily life. Examining the onset of the study of the psychology of religion or its evolution over the last 100-plus years are good research paper topics to consider.

The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion” by Steven Pinker for the September-October 2006 issue of The Humanist theorized, “Taken as a whole, the universal propensity toward religious belief is a genuine scientific puzzle and many adaptationist explanations for religion don’t meet the criteria for adaptations. There is an alternative explanation, namely that religious psychology is a byproduct of many parts of the mind that evolved for other purposes.” This idea of the evolution of the mind as being the reason humans continue in being religious (or its newer variation, being spiritual) is another paper topic to explore.

For more information, check out Questia’s library on psychology of religion

What are some other good research paper topics on the psychology of religion?

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