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Theology and the History of Psychology

The key to a proper understanding of the transition from talk of ‘passions’ and ‘affections’ to talk of ‘emotions’ is theology. Of all the gaps in the current history of passions and emotions, the most striking and consistent is the omission of a theological dimension. Histories of philosophy and, especially, of psychology, all too often display an anti-theological prejudice based not upon the contemporary importance, or lack of it, of theological psychology in past eras but upon twentieth-century intellectual trends. The views of Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Darwin and James on passions and emotions are relatively well-known and have received considerable attention, to the extent that they now form a rather stale and one-dimensional canon. Those of Augustine and Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley, Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart, James McCosh and George Trumbull Ladd are very rarely mentioned. It is impossible to have a thorough understanding of the historical processes that led to the construction of the twentieth-century concept of emotions without an appreciation of classical Christian theology of the soul and the ways that it was applied and developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

It is hoped that this study of the multifaceted emergence of emotion theories against the background of earlier Christian ideas about passions, affections and sentiments will provide evidence of the insights that are to be gained by appreciating the importance of the theological dimensions of the history of psychology rather than excluding theology from psychology’s past.

Contributed by: Thomas Dixon

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