Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version


Became a specialty of American psychology in reaction to the failure of psychology to study the whole person.

Most personality theorists agree that the study of personality ought to be holistic and to seek to identify commonalities within an individual over time as well as differences among individuals. In addition, most personality psychologists study relatively normal functioning in adults. In 1937, Gordon W. Allport published the first textbook in personality, Personality: A Psychological Interpretation (Holt), which literally created this specialty. He championed idiographic studies, or the study of individual lives, in opposition to the search for general principles or laws across individuals. In the contemporary psychology of religion, personality theory and research is dominated by psychoanalytic, object relations, and Jungian theorists. Many use case study methods. These orientations often focus upon the reconstruction of infantile experiences and their presumed effects on current adult actions, thoughts, and feelings. Religious experiences typically are seen as rooted in these early infantile states.

Empirically oriented personality psychologists of religion focus upon measurement studies, typically assessing various traits and using them to predict religious variables. Empirical personality researchers focus upon adult characteristics that can be measured. Most seek nomothetic, or general, laws; few continue to champion Allport's original emphasis on the study of the single individual. One area of study linking empirical psychologists and those of a more dynamic persuasion is that of authoritarianism. Conceived as a personality construct, the authoritarian personality has been a continuous focus of theory development and research since the early 1950s. It is generally seen by both dynamic and empirical theorists to be a major factor in accounting for the appeal of more dysfunctional forms of religiosity and is one of the few areas of empirical research linked to the testing of theories heavily influenced by psychoanalytic thought.

Ralph W. Hood, Jr .


T. W. Adorno, The Authoritarian Personality (New York: Harper, 1950)

C. Capps and W. H. Capps (eds.), The Religious Personality (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1970)

A. van Kaam, Religion and Personality (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1964).

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