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Non-Reductive Psychological Accounts of Religious Experience is a Course

Non-Reductive Psychological Accounts of Religious Experience


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Full course description

Thursday, November 2, 2023 | 7:00-8:30PM (ET) | Hybrid Lecture


Georgetown University (Copley Formal Lounge, Copley Hall at Georgetown University, 3700 O St NW, Washington, DC 20057) and Online via Zoom


This event is free to the public, please use the promotional code GLUCKLICH23 to register at no cost.

This event is $25 for practitioners seeking CEs for this lecture. As per the credentialing bodies, we can only grant CEs for synchronous attendance of events (online or in-person). Please pay and register for the lecture so that we may keep track of your attendance. Your CE registration status may not be changed after the event.


Religious phenomena that include rituals and written accounts of spiritual experiences have been subject to psychological analysis for a long time. Some, like those of Freud, have been discounted as highly reductive and prejudicial while some like those of Jung have been discounted as no more than spiritual accounts in another form. The approach of William James has attracted more serious and measured consideration by scholarship interested in ways of analyzing religious phenomena using psychological tools. Dr. Ariel Glucklich's approach since the mid-1990s has been to simplify the task by focusing on religious phenomena that are both embodied and basic. By basic, he refers to affect-based events. This has included a study of the uses of pain in religious life and more recently, the uses of pleasure (both embodied and mental). The descriptive component of this work is both rich and simple: there is a multitude of examples in religious life for voluntary and self-inflicted pain geared to the production of altered states of consciousness. There are just as many examples of the use of pleasure, both discursive and ritual, in religious documents and in anthropological descriptions.

Dr. Glucklich has sought to understand the purpose and function of both pain and pleasure in shaping “spiritual” states of consciousness and in analytically explaining the psychological and even biological mechanisms that enable the fulfilment of such functions. To give two examples: self-applied and modulated pain induces neurological processes that diminish the sense of self, which along with additional cognitive stimulation, allows for strong identification with highly prized spiritual and social goals. In contrast, highly regulated positive affect, which he calls “mastery pleasure,” leads to religious experiences and activities that are favorable for group solidarity. Given such psychological approaches to religious phenomena, Dr. Glucklich has been able to avoid many of the pitfalls of reductionism. However, given that such work focuses on fairly narrow domains (positive and negative affect), his work has now expanded to system theory as a way of broadening the agenda while still avoiding improper reduction.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Describe the variety of religious and cultural practices and modes of expression around the world in which positive and negative affect play a key role.
  2. Analyze and assess the mechanisms that account for the effectiveness of psychological theories in explaining the religious phenomena under consideration.
  3. Analyze beyond the specific mechanisms analyzed in this presentation.
  4. Assess the broader explanatory effectiveness of psychological theories that are brought to bear on religious phenomena, which (beyond affect) include emotional, cognitive and ideological dimensions of religious experience.

Timeline and Requirements:

This lecture is presenter-led and is a hybrid experience. This will be conducted synchronously online and in person at Georgetown University (Copley Formal Lounge, Copley Hall at Georgetown University, 3700 O St NW, Washington, DC 20057) as part of the Cura Psychologia Project from 7:00-8:30PM (ET).

CE Sponsorship: 

Participants must attend the lecture in full and complete the post-event survey to be eligible to receive CEs. This lecture does not offer CEs for other clinicians not listed below.

University Counseling Services of Boston College is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. As a co-sponsor of this program, University Counseling Services of Boston College maintains responsibility for this program and its content. Participants will be eligible to receive 15 CE units from University Counseling Services of Boston College.

Application for MaMHCA/MCEAP continuing education credits has been submitted. Please contact us at for the status of CE’s for LMHCs.

Application for social work continuing education credits has been submitted. Please contact us at for the status of social work CE accreditation.

Fees & Policies:

This event is free if you are NOT seeking CEs towards your license. If you plan on seeking CEs for this lecture, the cost is $25. Once you have registered for the class, your CE registration status is fixed and can not be adjusted at a later time.  

Payment is due by credit card at registration. Registration closes February 18th at 5pm. Refunds will be granted only up to the time of the lecture. 

This lecture is made possible through the support of Grant 62632 from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed by these presenters do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

We strive to host inclusive, accessible events that enable all individuals to engage fully. If you need to request an accommodation or ask a question about accessibility, please contact

Additional offerings from the Lynch School Professional & Continuing Education Office can be found on our website


Ariel Glucklich
Dr. Ariel Glucklich
is a kibbutz-born Israeli who immigrated to the United States after the 1973 Middle East War. He majored in Philosophy and Religion at Claremont Men’s College and pursued doctoral studies in Hinduism and Judaism at Harvard where he received a PhD in 1984. He has taught at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Claremont Graduate School, Pomona College, Emory University, St. Lawrence University and, finally, Georgetown. His early publications, both articles and books, focused on the normative (dharmic) traditions of Hinduism. Later he became interested in phenomenology and ritual aspects of Hinduism before broadening his interest to cover psychological studies of religion—specifically pain and pleasure. This has included bio-psychological and evolutionary-adaptive approaches to the role of affect in religious experience as well as the role of religion in social and cultural evolution.