The Person in Society

Course Objectives

What does it mean to be “a person”? How to answer this question in a modern/postmodern, Western, 21st century, society? Why do many people “naturally” turn to psychology to answer such a question? What is psychology? This course supplements the introduction to psychology begun with Psyc250 (which focused on the biological side), with a focus on the social side of psychology. Students will be introduced to how psychology addresses development, intelligence, motivation, the emotions, personality and abnormality, and social processes. The treatment of psychological disorders and psychotherapy will also be discussed. Basic assumptions and issues surrounding the research and practice of psychology will be examined, in methodological terms and from a Christian perspective. That all of the above themes arise in the specific historical context of modern Western society and do not arise ‘universally’, entails a corresponding historical awareness and sensitivity in understanding psychology. Any introduction to psychology is therefore thoroughly historical, and the opening historical lectures that describe the origin(s) of psychology are in fact crucially important for an understanding of all psychology and of any specific psychological theory.

There are two central course objectives: 

  1. To develop a perspectival appreciation of psychology. On the one hand, psychology, whether as a research discipline or a profession, takes a particular scientific perspective on its subject matter that is different from common sense or popular opinion. On the other hand, beneath the (misleading) appearance of ‘unity’ that the singular term “psychology” suggests, the reality is a diversity of perspectives: different approaches, emphases, methods, and theories. 
  2. To develop a contextual appreciation of psychology, which is to begin to think critically about it. Psychology is itself social (which it studies), practiced by persons (which it studies), and part of a history (which it studies). This peculiar difficulty – that psychology’s scientific perspective tries to study objectively “the psyche”, which is not an object but is a “self”, i.e., a personal, social, cultural, historical, self that we already live, already know, and already have theories about – we will examine through the theme of reflexivity.

Required Texts:

Myers, David G., & DeWall, C. Nathan. (2016). Exploring psychology. (10th Edition). New York: Worth Publishers. (Chapter 4 & Chapters 9-15)

Rilke, Rainer Maria. (2004). Letters to a young poet. Trans. by M. D. Herder Norton. New York & London: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1945.)

Note: Rilke’s Letters to a young poet are widely available in many different publications and online versions. If you are not using the Norton text, you will (literally) not be on the same page. Acknowledging this, other editions are acceptable to use. 

Recommended Texts for understanding psychology from a Christian faith perspective.

Myers, David G. & Jeeves, M.A.  (2003). Psychology through the eyes of faith.  New York:  Harper Collins.

Van Leeuwen, Mary Stewart. (1985). The person in psychology: a contemporary Christian appraisal. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

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