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Psych 3231 Fall 2001

Dr. Michael E. Nielsen
Office: Carroll 2082
Phone: 681-5344
Class Meets: M, W 2:00 - 3:15 p.m.
Office Hours: M, W, F 11:00 - 11:50 p.m., and by appointment

Course Description & Objectives

This course is a survey of psychological perspectives on religious experience. We will examine the psychological research concerning religion and human development, mystical experience, conversion, new religious movements (cults), and mental health. Throughout the course, we will hear from several guest speakers about their diverse personal religious experiences. By the conclusion of the semester, students will demonstrate, by examination, discussion, or other means, an understanding of the following objectives:

Prerequisite: Introduction to Psychology. This course may be used as an elective in the psychology major, and it may count toward the minor in religious studies.

Requirements and Grades

Required Texts

Grades will be based on the following exams and projects. More details on each of these will be given in class.

Exams (worth 85% of course grade)

Three exams will be given during the semester, together comprising 85% of the course grade. The first two exams will include a combination of item types, such as multiple choice, short-answer, and essay items. The final exam will be a take-home essay exam focusing on Pargament's text. It is essential that students make every effort to take exams on the scheduled date. If you are on a university athletic team, are participating in a religious observance, or miss an exam for some other reason recognized by GSU, you must alert me to this conflict prior to the event in order to take the exam at an alternative time. If you do not discuss this with me prior to the exam, you will need to take the exam during the make-up exam date listed on the schedule. Likewise, if you are ill, mourning the death of a loved one, or miss an exam for any other reason, plan to take the exam during the make-up exam date shown on the schedule. Note that make-up exams may use a different format than regularly scheduled exams.

Personal Creed (worth 5% of course grade)

A creed is "an officially authorized, usually brief statement of the essential articles of faith of a religious community…." (Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of World Religions, 1999). Typically, they are written by people in authority over a religious body and historically have been used as a means to teach the basic beliefs of the community. As part of this course, you have the opportunity to develop your own, personal creed. The focus of this exercise is to take the opportunity to consider questions such as what do you value? What are your assumptions about the world? About people? About science and religion?

What is their place in this class? Frequently students enroll in the course with expectations and questions about issues that are close to the heart, things that psychology and religion have addressed. These are personal and important questions for which there is no single "right" answer, and it is not my intent to impose such an answer on students. It is, however, important that you grapple with the issues surrounding the thoughtful engagement of science, religion, and things "of ultimate concern". The more earnest you are in asking yourself what your basic assumptions are, the more you will gain from this assignment.

This assignment is graded on a pass/fail basis-if you do the assignment, you will earn all 5% of the points; if you don't you will earn none of the points. Students who prefer an alternative assignment will have the opportunity to read a biography, autobiography, or memoirs of someone, and distill from that reading the personal creed of that individual. I will furnish a list of suitable sources for students who wish to complete the alternative assignment. In either case, the assignment must be typed, double-spaced, in a manner consistent with the APA style guide. More guidelines for the papers, along with examples of institutional and personal creeds, will be given during the second week of the course. Be aware that the due dates, shown on the schedule, are the last possible dates to submit the assignment. I welcome papers before this due date. I do not accept late papers for any reason. I strongly recommend that you do not procrastinate.

Participation (worth 10% of course grade)

In this class we will learn from each other, as well as from our readings. Of course, we can't learn from someone who isn't here and contributing to the class. One-half of your participation grade will be gauged by attendance and by respectful contributions to class discussions. The other half of your participation grade will consist of providing definitions of terms and concepts that are in our text. There are several benefits to periodic definitions, including: (1) it helps ensure that we can discuss the topics from perspectives informed by the relevant literature; (2) students who misunderstand a concept or term have an opportunity to correct their understanding before the exam; and (3) you will be better-prepared for the definitions that will appear on the exams, which will include some of those from class. I will record participation daily, and will ask for definitions an average of once each week.


The GSU Catalog describes undergraduate grades in the following terms:

Course grades will be calculated by the weighted sum of your exams, project, reflection paper, and participation points. Grades are assigned according to the schedule below.

To help place these in perspective, during the past two years the average grade in this course was 82%.

Use this space to record your scores:

Other Course Policies


If you have a documented learning disability or some other special need that requires accommodation of some type, be sure to discuss it with me before a problem arises.

Policy on Honesty

I have found that students sometimes do not understand what plagiarism means. If you have a question about plagiarism, ask me. This is one area where it is especially true that there is no such thing as a stupid question! The following excerpt from the Student Conduct Code summarizes important guidelines that you are expected to follow.

In other words, academic dishonesty includes giving or receiving assistance on an exam, unauthorized use of notes or books during an exam, falsifying information on an assignment or project, or claiming credit for an idea or statement that belongs to someone else. Academic dishonesty may result in an "F" for the course, and the student may be referred to the Office of Judicial Affairs. If you have questions about whether or not a specific act would be considered dishonest, please read the student conduct code and then discuss the matter with me!

Classroom Conduct

I expect active participation in class. Come prepared every day to answer questions based on the previous day's lecture and on the readings for the class. We will have activities, view videotapes, and do other activities that are designed to help you learn procedures, concepts or facts that are relevant to the class. Learning is an active process, not a passive one, and your involvement in these activities will help you understand the subject better. In the process, you may learn interpersonal skills that will serve you well in other contexts. If you prefer a class that allows you to quietly sit back and take notes, I recommend that you find another professor.

A good learning environment is one without distractions. Beepers, cellular phones, and other devices that make noise are disruptive, and are not welcome in class. If you have some unusual need for such a device, please discuss its use with me. Other practices that may be disruptive include such things as reading newspapers, books or other material unrelated to the course; writing letters or notes to someone; or copying someone's class notes from days that you missed. Although I recommend that you obtain notes for days that you missed, copying them during class disrupts those around you, it limits your ability to pay attention during class, and I will ask you to refrain from doing this during class. Please do this outside of class, rather than during class. Likewise, I strongly discourage you from reading the text while you are listening to the lecture. I rarely lecture "from the book," and I have found that the students who use this technique do more poorly than those who keep their books closed during lectures. Of course, I encourage you to ask questions and offer comments about the text, but habitually reading from the text during class is associated with lower exam performance. Use class time to focus on the lecture and activities, and use your individual study time to review the text.

It is both distracting and disrespectful if you gather your things, close books, put on a jacket, etc., before class is over. If you need to leave class early, discuss this with me before class so that the disruption is minimal.

I reserve the right to change or add to assignments, and to make changes to this syllabus, with adequate notice, for good reason. I also reserve the right to move students from one seat to another, and to dismiss students whom I believe to be disruptive.

In sum, I expect you to treat your classmates, our guest speakers, and me with respect and consideration. Although you may not agree with someone, you should strive to phrase your view without attacking that person. Students who find this to be too difficult will be asked to leave so that others can enjoy the class.

Office Hours

If you have any difficulty with the course content, feel free to stop by my office during the hours indicated above, or by special appointment. Particularly after the first exam, but well before the last day to withdraw, be sure to see me if you are having problems. The week of final exams is obviously not the time to get serious about the course, so see me early. I am here to help! I use e-mail frequently, so you may find it convenient to contact me via e-mail. I will respond to your e-mail as quickly as I am able, usually within a few hours of receiving it.

Grading Disputes

I strive to grade projects and exams fairly and consistently. In order to ensure that each student's work is graded in accordance with standards that apply to the entire class, if you have a question regarding a grade, you must meet with me within two weeks after the work in question is graded. No exceptions will be made to this policy. If the exam or assignment is re-scored, the entire exam or project will be graded again. This means that your score may increase or decrease.

Study Habits

A typical course load is considered to be 15 credit hours per semester. National accreditation committees--the people whose "stamp of approval" gives meaning to a university degree--base this on the assumption that students study at least two hours outside of class for every hour that they are in class. I base the course on this assumption. Thus, for a 3-hour class such as this, you should expect to work at least 9 hours each week (3 hours in class, 6 hours studying outside of class). Notice that a person who takes a standard, 15 hour course load is committing to be involved in school 45 hours each week, which is why 15 hours represents a full schedule--it is the equivalent of a full-time job, plus overtime. Each day, you should devote at least two hours to studying for this course. In order to be successful in this course, you should do the following:

While we're on the subject, here's something to think about. A colleague sent this to me, and although I do not know the original source, I believe the statistics are sound. If we could, at this time, shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look like this:

As you can see, being in college is a rare privilege. Make good use of this opportunity!

Tentative Schedule

The following schedule is an outline listing the topics that we will discuss, and the order in which we will discuss them. Be aware that this sequence may change in order to keep the class schedule flexible so that we can meet with our guest speakers, etc. Note that in order to know the details of the reading assignments, it is essential that you attend class.

Important Dates

Aug 23 Begin Argyle, Nielsen as assigned

Sep 26 Exam 1 (Argyle chapters 1-9; Nielsen as assigned)

Oct 3 last day to withdraw without academic penalty

Oct 17 Exam 2 (Argyle chapters 10-16; Nielsen as assigned)

Oct 22 Begin Pargament

Nov 12 Personal Creed due by beginning of class

Dec 6 Last class meeting - Get final exam (Pargament); Do make-up exam, if necessary

Dec 13 12:30 a.m. Final Exam Due

Psychology 3231, Psychology of Religion, Fall 2001

I have received a copy of the syllabus for Psychology 3231, Psychology of Religion. I have read the syllabus and have been offered an opportunity to ask questions. I understand and agree to the requirements in this syllabus. I also have considered the benefits of academic honesty, and agree to the standards and procedures outlined in this syllabus.

Signed ________________________________, Date ______________

Name (Printed) _________________________

I would like my alias for posting grades to be: _____________