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Participation and Giving Ultimate Meaning: Exploring the Entanglement of Psychology of Religion and Phenomenology of Religion in the Netherlands

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Psychology of religion in the Netherlands is rediscovering its historic entanglement with phenomenology of religion in the context of a current transition emancipating itself from the theological objective of re-establishing the relation between theology and faith practice (from the 1960s onwards), and developing into a discipline focusing on “lived religion” and interculturality in closer cooperation with religious studies. In this article the entanglement of psychology of religion and phenomenology of religion is explored starting with the writings of Gerardus van der Leeuw, his interest in a psychological method in phenomenology and his reception of Lévy-Bruhl’s concept of mystic participation. It is argued that psychology of religion in the Netherlands after the Second World War emerged out of the critique by Fokke Sierksma of the phenomenological method in the context of emancipating the science of religion (godsdienstwetenschap) from theology, and the reaction this provoked in the work of Han Fortmann, who defended Lévy-Bruhl and Van der Leeuw in order to “save” religiosity in a modern secularized world. This theological objective further colored developments in psychology of religion, notably the current discussion on “giving ultimate meaning” (zingeving). In the light of an expected closer cooperation between psychology of religion and religious studies, a critical reflection on the often unreflected theological positions and objectives in discussions on “giving ultimate meaning” is pleaded for.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Practical Theology and Psychology of Religion, Protestant Theological Faculty Schenkenstraße 8-10, 1010 Vienna, Austria, Email:


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