Summer reading recommendations part 1

In our ‘summer series’ we bring you a range of reading recommendations from a wide variety of people involved in Religion and Worldviews. As subject specialists, whatever age range we teach, it is always good to know about new books, or books that have helped others with their understanding.
In our first edition, we present recommendations on the ways psychotherapy draws on religious thinking and an investigation into worldviews. Enjoy!

Dr Alastair Lockhart, Director of the Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements

Religious Thought and the Modern Psychologies

Don Browning and Terry Cooper (2nd edition)

Fortress Press, Augsburg, USA, 2004

I’d like to recommend Don Browning and Terry Cooper’s Religious Thought and the Modern Psychologies. The second edition came out in 2004, extending the ideas developed in the original 1987 edition which was written by Browning without Cooper. The book excavates the ways in which psychological theories – and especially psychotherapeutic forms of psychology – encode or draw on religious and ethical forms of thought.

While the idea that psychotherapeutic psychologies might have a mixed pedigree, so we can understand them as less than “strictly scientific”, is perhaps not as challenging today as it once was, Religious Thought and the Modern Psychologies was an important milestone in my own engagement with the practical ways that psychological approaches can be examined as “religio-ethical thinking… mixed disciplines which contain examples of religious, ethical, and scientific language”.

Ultimately, for me, the conclusions of the book are perhaps secondary in significance to the core exercise it carries out: a powerful critical archaeology of the complexity of psychological ways of viewing the world, which has implications for how we understand the common ground between religious and scientific ways of thinking more generally.

Kathryn Wright, CEO, Culham St Gabriel’s Trust

Worldview Religious Studies

Douglas J Davies

Routledge, 2022

The opening paragraph of this fascinating, yet challenging book sums up for me why it is an essential read for everyone wanting to explore a worldviews approach to religious education.

Davies begins with a bold claim that worldviews emerge, intensify, and change. From the outset, Davies wants us to grasp hold of the value and importance of worldview thinking for education. For him worldviews are dynamic, and this resonates with me and the ever-changing nature of curriculum in our schools.

Davies follows an interdisciplinary approach offering a provisional framing for how worldviews may be studied in higher education. He begins with a detailed journey through different historical and philosophical understandings of the concept of worldview. He concludes that worldviews can be understood at different levels in relation to meaning-making, attachment, and orientation to the world (p.20). This leads him to offer different concepts through which worldviews may be studied (p.33f). He begins with destiny, identity and hope arguing that these are a characteristic of many worldviews. He advocates for studying ritual-symbolism, such as mantras, creeds, pilgrimage and so on. Related to this is the notion of gift theory whereby ordinary life exists in and through processes of reciprocity. Lastly, he claims that all worldviews have underlying ideas of evil, merit, and salvation; where evil depicts perceived flaws in existence and salvation offers ways of overcoming them (p.43).

It made me wonder whether this could provide a framing for studying religion and worldviews in schools?

The second half of the book offers some provisional classification of worldviews with religious studies, theology and ethics topics in mind. Davies is very open about the need for it to be improved in the future! He puts forward eight types, namely, natural; scientific; ancestral; karmic; prophetic-sectarian; mystical; ideological and ludic. He also acknowledges that there may be overlap between them as worldviews change, and some worldview traditions may sit within many different ‘types’. Whilst I am not completely convinced by his categorisation, one thing that did strike me was the overwhelming sense that we should begin study within a particular context and with people. I would also argue that his approach is a hermeneutical one; he talks about ‘seeing-through’, being human-curious and self-aware. Reflexivity lies at the heart of his approach. He acknowledges that this may be personally challenging (p.123).

This is an important book for the religion and worldviews community. It is not easy to read in places, but it is worth persevering! I would be interested to see if any curriculum designers take up his approach for schools…

You can also listen to Douglas Davies talk about his book at an online Religion Media Centre event here: (from 26:31)