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Unsettled MindsPsychology and the American Search for Spiritual Assurance, 1830–1940$
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Christopher White

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780520256798

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520256798.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use.date: 25 May 2022

Suggestive Explanations

Suggestive Explanations

(p.158) 6 Suggestive Explanations
Unsettled Minds

Christopher G. White

University of California Press

This chapter takes a last look at the ambiguities of psychological perspectives on faith by turning to a single case, to how, in the early decades of the twentieth century, human suggestibility was measured by scientists and developed into faith therapies by liberal believers. There are two parts to this chapter. The first analyzes how believers and scientists used personality inventories and experimental tests to measure levels of suggestibility. Individuals involved in this process were fashioning a debunking discourse, a way of redescribing religious experiences (and human susceptibility to them) as the consequences of biological or psychological forces. The second part, however, shows how psychological categories like suggestion were difficult to control and how religious figures in this situation, as in others, borrowed these categories and used them to their advantage. Many religious liberals developed techniques for building suggestibility in the self. Others developed elaborate systems of suggestions and affirmations that, when administered over time, built up spiritual sensitivities. In the end, this was another situation in which religious liberals used scientific notions to reorganize and rebuild spiritual sensibilities and practices.

Keywords:   faith, human suggestibility, believers, scientists, religious liberals

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