Printer Friendly

Christian anthropology and personhood in the Catholic undergraduate psychology curriculum.

The well-known scripture passage, "What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?" (Psalm 8:4, RSV), generates many important questions regarding personhood: What is human nature? Are we mind or body? How much agency do we have? Are we rational or irrational? Are we noble or ignoble? Are we fated for suffering or created for happiness? The answers to these and similar questions have profound implications for how we understand ourselves, others, and the world around us, and for how we live our lives.

Given the importance of these enduring questions about human nature and the profound implications of the related answers, one might expect them to be well represented within the undergraduate psychology curriculum. After all, the American Psychological Association (2007), in its previous APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major, recommended that undergraduate curricula include within its learning goals and outcomes "breadth and depth" of "knowledge and understanding" in content areas including "overarching themes, persistent questions, or enduring conflicts in psychology," specifying a number of questions similar to those noted above (p. 12). The revised "version 2.0" of these APA Guidelines (2013) retains a learning outcome which includes that students will describe "overarching themes in psychology," with a baccalaureate level indicator to describe "the complexity of the persistent questions that occupy psychologists' attention" (p. 18), although specific examples of such questions are no longer provided.

The APA's call for undergraduate psychology programs to consider questions regarding overarching themes occurs within the context of a fragmented and increasingly specialized field that appears to be moving away from these traditional philosophical questions. This movement is toward a postmodern social constructivist perspective that emphasizes the "prominence of sociocultural and contextual influences in curriculum planning" (APA Guidelines, 2013, p. 4). For example, the previous APA Guidelines (2007) included a content domain of "individual differences, ... personality, and social processes" (p. 12), yet in the most recent APA (2013) guidelines, the corresponding content domain is designated simply as "sociocultural" (p. 18). The importance accorded the individual person appears to have been diminished. Within this sphere, the only eternal verities appear to be the questions themselves, with no confidence in psychology's capability of attaining or sustaining any enduring truths about human nature. The most prominent question seems to be whether or not there is any such being as a human being. Within psychology, the concept of person as either evolved through random impersonal forces or created by ourselves leaves little room for creation by, and relation with, a loving personal God.

Given the importance of these questions regarding the human condition, one might certainly expect them to be considered within the curricula of Christian colleges and universities. Stevenson and Young (1995) found that although many member institutions (72% of responding institutions) of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) offered specific coursework in the integration of psychology and Christianity, there was an "absence of consensus on form or content," and such instruction seemed "closer to the margins than the heart of many psychology curricula in Christian institutions" (p. 248). In a recent CCCU curriculum survey, Sabates (2016, this issue) similarly found that there is no apparent consistency in psychology courses designed to explore an intentionally Christian or even coherent view of persons.

Catholic Anthropological Tradition

Given a profound and longstanding anthropological heritage, one might expect that priority of the person and consideration of the enduring questions would be particularly evident within Catholic colleges and universities. Many Catholic saints and scholars (e.g., St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Blessed John Henry Newman, St. John Paul II) eloquently described the origin and destiny of the human person. Newman's (1852/1982) Idea of a University described the essential nature of the university as "a place of teaching universal knowledge" (pp. xxxvii) which also necessarily embraces "all branches of knowledge" (all of the arts and sciences), including theology (pp. 14-15). John Paul II's (1990) teaching on Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae ("From the Heart of the Church"), stated that "a Catholic University is distinguished by its free search for the whole truth about nature, man and God" (n. 4), and that such a university "can contribute further to the development of a true Christian anthropology" (n. 33). Elsewhere, John Paul II (1995) significantly noted that "Only a Christian anthropology, enriched by the contribution of indisputable scientific data, including that of modern psychology and psychiatry, can offer a complete and thus realistic view of humans" (n. 4).

Thus, the Catholic tradition emphasizes the inherent dignity of persons. In addition, it stresses the necessity of contributions from both a specifically Catholic anthropology and the empirical study of humans in order to have a more robust understanding of personhood. The present study seeks, in part, to assess the degree to which this tradition is reflected in the curricula of specific Catholic undergraduate psychology programs as described below.

Faithful Catholic Colleges and Universities

For purposes of the present investigation, it may be beneficial to distinguish between historically Catholic colleges that may have drifted from their founding principles and faithful Catholic colleges that intentionally profess fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Following Pope John Paul II's (1990) release of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Cardinal Newman Society was founded by Catholic college alumni in 1993 "to promote and defend faithful Catholic education," and to support a "renewal of Catholic higher education" that is "faithful to the teaching and tradition of the Catholic Church" (Cardinal Newman Society, 2015, "Mission Statement," "Origins and Milestones"). The Cardinal Newman Society publishes an annual college planning guide, The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, recommending Catholic undergraduate institutions (which have gone through a rigorous application, interview, and campus visit process) for their "faithful Catholic identity" and "commitment to a faithful Catholic education" (Cardinal Newman Society, College Planning Guides, Requesting Inclusion in the Newman Guide).

When it comes to general education requirements (whether a unified core curriculum or a distributive, elective-based model), Shankman (2012) found that "Catholic colleges as a whole are more comprehensive and slightly more coherent than colleges and universities overall" (p. 1). In comparison to other Catholic institutions, the Newman Guide schools were "much more likely to provide their students with a comprehensive,

coherent general education program with a significant emphasis on philosophy and theology as integrative disciplines, and a definite requirement that students study Catholic theology." (p. 12)

As suggested earlier, the study of an explicitly Christian view of personhood in the general education and undergraduate psychology curricula would be consistent with the integration of faith and reason within the Catholic tradition. The current study explores the extent to which the rich Catholic legacy and focus on a Christian anthropology is evident in the undergraduate psychology programs and general education context of Catholic colleges that are recommended by the Cardinal Newman Society. These findings are considered alongside contemporary guidelines for the teaching of psychology, with implications for ongoing curricular development.


Among the 28 Catholic colleges and universities recommended in the 2014 edition of the Newman Guide, the current study considered the 12 institutions that offer an undergraduate major in Psychology. The general education and psychology curricula of these schools was reviewed as presented within the 2014-2015 academic catalogue of each institution.

Review of Psychology Program Curricula

With regard to the psychology major, the curricula of the 12 institutions that offered a specific psychology program were evaluated according to the coding scheme used by Sabates (2016, this issue). Program descriptions, major requirements, and course descriptions were reviewed for each program. of these 12 institutions, six offered a single psychology degree program (single-track) and six offered multiple psychology degree programs (multi-track; e.g., clinical, experimental, etc.), with a total of 24 degree programs. Three highly specialized programs (i.e., biopsychology, forensic, industrial/organizational) whose courses from other departments could not be coded with the coding scheme used were not considered, leaving a total of 21 programs (14 B.A., 7 B.S.) for review in the present study. Each program, even those from multi-track schools, was considered individually.

Based in part upon previous surveys of the most frequently offered psychology courses (e.g., Perlman & McCann, 1999; Stoloff et al., 2010), each program's course names and course descriptions were carefully read and coded according to consistency with commonly recognized course titles (e.g., "Rsch" for Research, "Pers" for Personality, "Soc" for Social Psychology, etc.). Courses with different names but similar descriptions were coded according to the single most relevant code. For example, courses of various names with course descriptions that explicitly focus on integration of faith and psychology were coded as "Integration" ("Integ"). Special topics courses as well as unique and highly specialized courses were coded as "Special" ("Spec"). Various forms of similar courses within each program were coded only once (e.g., various special topics courses, various advanced research courses, various internship/practicum courses).

After courses were coded according to the most relevant course title, each course was then coded on a five-point scale based upon the degree to which it was a requirement or elective within a given program. Single-track schools were coded as follows: 1 = core requirement, 2 = recommended within a category, 3 = choice within a category, 4 = recommended elective, 5 = random elective of choice. Multi-track schools were coded as follows: 1 = core requirement of all tracks, 2 = core requirement within a track, 3 = choice within a track, 4 = recommended elective within a track, 5 = random elective of choice within a track. Within this coding system, lower numbers reflect greater program requirement and higher numbers reflect greater student elective choice.

To ensure accuracy of the coding, preliminary coding was done by the secondary author and teaching assistant, with subsequent review by the primary author. The few coding discrepancies that were noted were resolved by reviewing the course descriptions and selecting the most accurate code. Additionally, both the secondary author and the teaching assistant double-checked the coding in the SPSS file. The errors that were corrected in the coding were so minimal that any possible remaining error is not believed to significantly affect the data analysis.

In order to explore where the Christian concept of personhood might be found within the Psychology curriculum, academic catalogue (2014-2015) course titles and descriptions were further reviewed to assess the presence of certain Psychology courses that might be expected to consider the enduring questions about human nature. This investigation including the following: Does the curriculum include any required or elective Psychology/Theology integration courses? Do Personality courses and/or Senior Capstone courses specifically consider or critique theories of human nature? Is a History of Psychology course offered or required, and if so, does it consider classical philosophical psychology as well as modern scientific psychology? Examination of the latter question was refined by a review of history of psychology course textbooks (2015-2016) listed on college bookstore websites.

Review of General Education Curricula

With regard to the broader institutional context, the general education curricula were reviewed to explore where else Psychology majors might be expected to obtain education with regard to the nature of the human person. Academic catalogue (2014-2015) course titles and descriptions were further reviewed to evaluate the presence of certain courses within the institutional core curriculum that might be expected to consider the enduring questions about human nature. This exploration included the following: Does the university offer or require a first-year symposium course that considers questions of human nature? Does it offer or require a specific course in Philosophical Psychology, or any related philosophy courses? Does it offer or require a specific course in Theological Anthropology, or any related theology courses? Are there any other promising courses within the curriculum with regard to the nature of the human person?


Psychology Programs

Of the 12 institutions that offer an undergraduate degree in Psychology, six (50%) are single-track, offering a single Psychology degree program, and six (50%) are multi-track, offering two or more distinct Psychology degree programs. Of the total of 21 programs coded, six (29%) are from single-track schools and 15 (71%) are from multi-track schools. When an institution offered more than one Psychology program, the most frequent distinction (33% of institutions) was between Clinical or Counseling Psychology programs, on the one hand, and Research or Experimental Psychology programs, on the other. One university offered a Forensic Psychology program and another offered an Industrial/Organizational program that were not included within the present study because the courses were too highly specialized for the current coding system. One university offered combined Psychology/Pre-Occupational Therapy and Psychology/Pre-Physical Therapy programs, which were included/coded within the present study; however, since these two specialized tracks were essentially akin to double majors, only the psychology courses, along with a single science code and a single specialty course code, were included in the present analysis.

Offered and Required Psychology Courses

An important distinction is made between the frequency of undergraduate psychology course offerings and how often each course is required within a program. For purposes of the present study, this was explored by considering psychology and clearly related courses required within single-track programs and across all multi-track programs within a school (coded as "1"), as well as such courses required within multi-track programs (relevant portion of the data coded as "2"). By combining these amounts, the overall frequency of requirement for each course was obtained across all of the 21 programs compared within the study. Table 1 presents the most frequently offered courses and overall frequency of required courses across all Psychology major degree programs.

It is interesting to note that only two courses were absolutely required in 100% of the psychology programs: Introductory Psychology (either as a single course or two-part course) and Statistics. Three other courses were offered in 100% of the programs, but were required much less frequently: Abnormal Psychology (required 66.6%), Cognitive Psychology (required 33.3%), and Social Psychology (required 28.6%).

A second tier of courses offered more than 90% of the time showed greater variability in requirement frequency: Research was offered 95.2% of the time and absolutely required by programs that offered it (95.2% of all programs). Internships were offered by 95.2% of programs but required only 28.6% of the time. Personality was offered by 95.2% of programs but required only 23.8% of the time. Physiological Psychology and Lifespan Development were each offered by 90.5% of programs, and required by 61.9% and 57.1%, respectively. Although also offered by 90.5% of programs, Counseling was required only 14.3% of the time.

Among other findings, Assessment and Advanced Research were also frequently offered (76.2%) but much less frequently required (23.8% each). A capstone course was both frequently offered (71.4%) and frequently required (61.9%). These capstone courses were not generally a comprehensive review of the discipline, but rather quite varied, including advanced training in counseling, advanced individual research, and independent study. Independent study courses were also frequently offered (71.4%), but rarely required (4.8%).

Psychology Learning Goals

Content domain courses. How does the curricular content of the Psychology programs within these Catholic colleges and universities compare with the learning goals and content domains recommended in the current (2013) APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major? Under the first learning goal of "Knowledge Base in Psychology," the current APA Guidelines (2013) specify four major content domains in psychology: "cognition and learning, developmental, biological, and sociocultural" (p. 18). It is interesting to note that the previous APA Guidelines (2007) described the "sociocultural" domain as incorporating both "individual differences" and "social processes" (p. 12), while the current APA Guidelines (2013) appear to consider individual differences almost exclusively in its reciprocal relationship with "sociocultural and international contexts" (p. 18; cf. p. 19). In the interest of inclusiveness, an "individual differences" dimension is specifically considered in the current context. Table 2 summarizes undergraduate Psychology course offerings and requirements of the Newman Guide schools in relation to the four APA content domains, with the addition of an individual differences content area.

Course offerings of the psychology programs under consideration appear to be consistent with the APA Guidelines (2013). Each of the four content domains includes at least one course offered over 90% of the time, often with additional advanced or related specialty courses in the area. When it comes to required courses, however, greater variability is evident. The requirement level for the leading course in each area may range from over 60% of the time (Physiological) to less than 30% of the time (Social Psychology). In addition to the prototypical courses within each of these areas, a number of advanced or specialty courses were also offered with some regularity (although not typically required): Cognition/Learning (Learning and Memory 28.6%; Sensation and Perception 28.6%); Developmental (Child/Adolescent 38.1%, Adult/Aging 38.1%, Adolescent 23.8%, Child 23.8%); Biological (Psychopharmacology 14.3%); Sociocultural (Gender Psychology 28.6%, Cross-Cultural Psychology 19.0%, Psychology of Religion 14.3%). It is worth noting that whenever science courses (typically in the area of biology) were specified within the Psychology curriculum (38.1%), they were also always required. Individual differences courses (Abnormal and Personality) were offered over 95% of the time; although Abnormal Psychology was frequently required (66.6%), Personality was required much less often (23.8%).

Methods courses. The APA Guidelines (2013) specify a second learning goal of "Scientific Inquiry and Critical Thinking," involving scientific reasoning and research methods, noting consideration of both "quantitative and qualitative research methods" (p. 22). Although not considered under methods in the APA Guidelines, given that these Guidelines have considered the "history of psychology" (2007, p. 12; 2013, p. 18) among psychology's content areas, the History of Psychology course is also considered here as a potential source of training in critical thinking within the psychology curriculum. Table 3 summarizes undergraduate Psychology course offerings and requirements of the Newman Guide schools in relation to the areas of scientific inquiry and critical thinking, including the additional content area of the history of psychology, as well as any courses in psychology/theology integration.

Within the psychology programs under consideration, courses related to scientific inquiry (Statistics, Research Methods) are almost universally required, suggesting a strong emphasis on quantitative, empirical research. In contrast, and perhaps most telling with regard to consideration of the enduring questions about human nature, a course in the History of Psychology was offered by less than half of the programs and required in only one third of the programs. Courses in Psychology/Theology integration, which might also present opportunities for training in critical thinking, were offered in less than 20% of programs and required in less than 10% of programs.

Applied courses. Since the APA Guidelines (2013) consider "applications of psychological principles" and "psychology-based interventions in applied settings" (p. 19), it is important to also consider applied psychology course offerings. Table 4 summarizes undergraduate Psychology course offerings and requirements of the Newman Guide schools in relation to numerous applied psychology content areas.

Within the psychology programs under consideration, a wealth of applied courses was offered. Although some courses were offered frequently (Internship 95.2%, Counseling 90.5%, Assessment 76.2%), they were, somewhat surprisingly, required much less frequently (Internship 28.6%, Counseling 14.3%, Assessment, 23.8%). A number of applied specialty areas were offered with varying frequency, such as Industrial-Organizational Psychology (71.4%), Sport Psychology (52.4%), Educational Psychology (42.9%), Forensic Psychology (38.1%), and Health Psychology (23.8%), but were not required by any program.

Benchmark Psychology courses. Certain psychology courses within the undergraduate curriculum might serve as benchmarks or signposts with regard to the explicit consideration of personhood within the curriculum. These might reasonably include courses in psychology/theology integration, psychology of religion, the history of psychology, personality, positive psychology, and the senior capstone course.

Only 19% of programs offered and only half of these (9.5% of all programs) required a course explicitly dedicated to psychology/theology integration, with course titles such as "Foundations of Psychology as a Human Science," "Human and Spiritual Integration," and "Spiritual Dimensions of Mental Health." Perhaps related, 14.3% of programs offered an entirely elective course in the Psychology of Religion, but this was typically related to scientific consideration of this one aspect of human experience rather than a consideration of human nature as a whole. While 33.3% of programs required a History of Psychology course and an additional 9.6% offered it as an elective, this course was not even offered by well over half of programs. In a separate analysis, among those who did offer a distinct History of Psychology course, only 22% (9.5% of all programs) clearly considered the classical philosophical foundations of the discipline, and 67% (28.6% of all programs) primarily covered the history of modern scientific psychology, with 11% (4.8% of all programs) not clearly specified.

Although 95% of programs offered a Personality course, only 35% (33% of all programs) appeared to describe critical consideration of theories of human nature. Perhaps indicative of an emerging trend, 19% of schools offered (but none yet required) an elective in Positive Psychology, which considers the various virtue traditions contributing to human character. Among the 71.4% of programs that offered a Senior Capstone course, only 20% (14.3% of all programs) suggested critical consideration of anthropological perspectives.

Contributions of the General Education Curriculum

Perhaps the institutional core curricula or general education requirements of each program might serve to fill in any gaps within the Psychology curriculum with regard to human nature and the enduring questions related to personhood. This might include course offerings within first-year symposia, philosophical psychology, theological anthropology, or other relevant areas.

Although a number of institutions hosted some type of first-year symposium that considered various aspects of the liberal arts curriculum, only one or two course titles appeared to approach the topic of anthropology (i.e., "Being Human: Catholic Liberal Arts Symposium" and "Introduction to Cultural Anthropology"). A specific course in Philosophical Psychology was required in the institutional core curriculum for 24% of the Psychology programs studied, and offered as an elective for an additional 52% of programs. Numerous institutions offered a wealth of related philosophy courses (e.g., "Philosophy of St. Augustine," "Thomistic Tradition in Philosophy," "Search for Happiness," and "Philosophy of Karol Wojtyla"). A specific course in Theological Anthropology was not required by any institution, but was offered as an elective by institutions hosting 33% of the Psychology programs. Some additional offerings of related theology courses included "Virtue and Character," "Grace and the Human Condition," "Theology of the Body," and "Religion and the Life Cycle."


The present study sought to investigate the degree to which explicitly Christian views of personhood, as well as critical thinking regarding the enduring questions of human nature, are represented and facilitated within the psychology curricula and general education context of a sample of faithful Catholic colleges and universities. These considerations are crucial given the centrality of personhood in our efforts to integrate Christian faith with the scientific understanding of persons presented in psychology. The implications of the curriculum for the education and training of future generations of integrative academicians and clinicians arguably rest on the presentation of a robust Christian view of personhood. The following discussion explores how Catholic psychology programs incorporate the study of personhood, both in terms of the standard psychology curriculum as recommended by the APA Guidelines and from the perspective of specifically Catholic contributions to the curriculum.

Standard Psychology Curriculum

To what degree are the curricula within the Newman schools consistent with the current APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major (2013)? The sample of programs studied appears to demonstrate substantial fidelity to these recommended learning goals with regard to curricular coverage of content, methods, and applications. Overall, these programs routinely offer a prototypical course in each of the four recommended content domains: cognition/learning (Cognitive Psychology), developmental (Lifespan Development), biological (Physiological Psychology), and sociocultural (Social Psychology). The strongest content domain requirements appear to be in the biological and developmental areas (Physiological 61.9%, Lifespan Development 57.1%), with less rigorous requirements in the cognitive and social areas (Cognitive 33.3%, Social 28.6%). Despite seeming underrepresentation within the content domain guidelines, prototypical individual differences courses are frequently offered (Abnormal 100.0%, Personality 95.2%) and quite frequently required (Abnormal 66.6%, Personality 23.8%). These course content categories are supplemented by a range of related advanced/specialty electives (with typical offerings ranging from around 14-29% of the time). When it comes to scientific inquiry and methods courses (Research and Statistics), the programs appear consistently strong in both offerings and requirements. In terms of applications, standard course offerings (Internship, Counseling, Assessment) are again strong, and specialty courses (e.g., I/O, Sport, Educational, Forensic, Health) are broad, but requirements are relatively limited.

Within the context of these recommendations, Psychology programs within faithful Catholic institutions face an additional question: How adequately is a Christian view of persons represented within the APA Guidelines for the standard Psychology curriculum? An apparent modern emphasis on empirical natural science research at the expense of philosophical and human science ways of knowing poses a risk of reductionism, where method becomes metaphysic. An apparent materialist emphasis on brain and body threatens to negate considerations of mind and soul. An apparent postmodern drift toward the sociocultural and away from the individual suggests social constructivism, where the person is seen as an infinitely malleable being instead of a substantial and persistent self. In the face of such trends, a uniquely Catholic curriculum as foundation, complement, and addition to a standard Psychology curriculum could help provide more cohesiveness to the curriculum and address fundamental questions regarding personhood.

Catholic Contributions to the Curriculum

To what extent might the contributions of Catholic thought regarding the human person facilitate the development of the psychology curriculum within Christian undergraduate psychology programs? Such a study of personhood would draw upon the eternal verities and traditional foundations of perennial philosophy and orthodox Catholic theology. Within the sample of programs studied, there are certain promising initiatives related to the study of persons within the Psychology curriculum. One trend consistent with a Catholic view of personhood is the offering of psychology/theology integration courses, which explicitly consider how psychology and Christian faith mutually contribute to an understanding of the human person. These were offered within only a handful of programs. Some of these courses also incorporate philosophy of science considerations regarding the value of a human science approach (qualitative, phenomenological description) in addition to the strictly natural science approach (quantitative, scientific experimentation) prevalent in the field. Personality courses are frequently offered and sometimes appear to encourage critical thinking regarding theories of human nature. Similarly, the emergence of Positive Psychology courses provides opportunity to consider the contributions of classical virtue traditions to character development.

Despite the above-noted ways in which the curricula in these programs seem consistent with a Catholic view of persons, there are some trends that are inconsistent with this view. For example, most programs do not even offer a History of Psychology course, and those that do rarely consider the classical philosophical foundations of the discipline, limiting the occasion for critical thinking regarding the enduring questions about human nature. It also appears that the Senior Capstone course may be underutilized as an occasion for such considerations. For many of these programs, any such gaps within the Psychology curriculum might potentially be filled by recourse to required and/or elective offerings in Philosophical Psychology, sometimes augmented by elective offerings in Theological Anthropology.

Limitations and Future Directions

Limitations of the current study revolve around two issues. First, the coding system did not allow for the coding of specific courses from other disciplines. For example, highly specialized tracks (e.g., Industrial/Organizational Psychology) that have numerous specialty and interdisciplinary courses could not be coded. Three such tracks were not included within the current data set. In addition, the coding relied on the accuracy (and interpretability) of the course descriptions. In some cases, the course descriptions were not entirely clear, and even when they were, it is possible that different faculty focus on different facets of the course when teaching it. Thus, it is not possible to know from this study the exact degree to which course descriptions are an adequate measure of the actual course content.

Possible directions for further exploration could include several things. First, it would be interesting to conduct an evaluation of learning outcomes within the institutional core curriculum and psychology departmental curriculum in relation to human nature or Christian anthropology. It may be beneficial to go beyond review of course titles and course descriptions to examine course syllabi and required readings. In addition to consideration of courses in philosophical psychology and theological anthropology, it might also be informative to review potentially relevant offerings elsewhere within the liberal arts curriculum, perhaps within the humanities (literature, art) and social sciences (anthropology, sociology).

Curriculum of the Person

It may be beneficial for the Newman colleges and universities to collaboratively consider essential elements of a "curriculum of the person" in accord with a true Christian anthropology. Such an initiative has already begun at the graduate level (Brugger, 2009; IPS Group, 2014). Consideration of the curriculum of a sample of Catholic undergraduate institutions in comparison with trends in contemporary guidelines suggests that it may be important to address at least the following areas:

Metaphysic and method. The modern scientific/empirical focus of psychology is reflected in the significant amount of the psychology curriculum dedicated to science and practice amid a relative paucity of philosophy and theory, particularly related to the nature of reality and personhood. These trends seem to hold true even within the Catholic programs, although a distinctly Christian view of the person may typically be found somewhere within a rich variety of available coursework. Despite its significant contributions, scientific modernism mostly neglects other sources of knowledge (e.g., divine revelation, philosophical reason) that help define personhood. This is one of the inherent limitations of a curriculum in which methodological commitments may preclude a broader metaphysical perspective.

William James (1910), the preeminent early American psychologist, recognized the limits of psychology conceived strictly as a natural science. He argued that using natural science as the sole foundation of psychology is "fragile" and vulnerable to "metaphysical criticism," where psychology's "elementary assumptions and data must be reconsidered in wider connections and translated into other terms" (pp. 467-468). O'Donohue (1989) reminded us that "scientific psychotherapy rests on an infrastructure of metaphysics" (p. 1468). Aidan Elrington (1936a), Dominican priest and professor of biology and psychology, similarly recognized the fragmentation of modern scientific psychology and its need for unifying metaphysical principles: "A general synthesis of the available data can scarcely be expected in the present state of the science, until some universally accepted general principles are adopted" (p. 496). He recognized the necessity within the curriculum of "a grounding in general philosophy, logic, metaphysic, moral philosophy, as well as Scholastic Psychology, so as to provide a Catholic culture which will enable the student to discern what is antagonistic to Catholic faith and practice in modern psychology" (1936b, p. 594). He suggested that "a knowledge of the principles of the traditional Catholic psychology concerning the soul and its powers would tend to correct some of the more debatable metaphysics which not infrequently creep into a subject where, strictly speaking, they do not belong" (1936b, p. 599).

The curriculum of the Catholic university must thus draw upon the treasury of the old and the new (Matthew 13:52), where ways of knowing incorporate the best of faith (theology), reason (philosophy), natural science (empirical/quantitative experimentation), and human science (experiential/qualitative description).

Body and soul. The contemporary psychology curriculum places a strong emphasis on both the biological bases of behavior and cognition and learning. This apparent alliance between body (biology) and mind (cognition) may be one of appearance only, given the preeminence of a materialist neuroscience (monism) which proposes that brain creates mind (e.g., Damasio, 2002). Traditional philosophical considerations of body and soul (dualism), as might be included within a comprehensive history of psychology, appear to be increasingly absent from the conversation. Theological perspectives on the body-soul relationship may provide further insights, as found in the teaching of Aquinas on the integral unity of body and soul (hylomorphism), summarized here in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997):
   The unity of soul and body is so
   profound that one has to consider
   the soul to be the "form" of the
   body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual
   soul that the body made of matter
   becomes a living human body; spirit
   and matter, in man, are not two
   natures united, but rather their
   union forms a single nature. (para. 365)

The curriculum of the Catholic university must thus consider both Physiological Psychology and Cognitive Psychology, yet always within the context of the history of psychology as well as philosophical and theological explorations of personhood. Otherwise, the prevailing assumptions of neuroscience could unwittingly lead students and faculty to blur the lines between humans and other species, neglect human agency, and elevate the study of the physical being over the dignity of the person as an integral unity of body and soul.

Person and community. Within a field which long emphasized the individual, the recent APA emphasis on sociocultural aspects may serve as a beneficial corrective. This recent shift in focus, however, seems to be underemphasizing the individual alongside an increasing social constructivism and moral relativism. The Catholic psychology curriculum, therefore, should strive to reflect the Christian perspective of persons created imago Dei, in the "image of God," as embodied, free, rational, and also relational. The person exists as unique and unrepeatable for his or her own sake, yet the person is created from relationship for relationship. Karol Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II (1974/2013) eloquently described this interaction between person and community, substance and relation, self-possession and self-donation:
   From what man is as a person, that
   is, a being that possesses itself and
   governs itself, follows that he can
   "give himself," he can make himself
   a gift for others, without thereby
   violating his ontic status. The "law of
   the gift" is inscribed, so to speak, in
   the very being of the person. (p. 281)

With regard to proliferating such a view of persons, the curriculum of the Catholic university might thus beneficially incorporate courses that consider various aspects of the developing whole person in relationship. Such courses could include Personality, Lifespan Development, Abnormal Psychology, Positive Psychology, Marriage and Family, Social Psychology, and Cross-Cultural Psychology, all within the context of the grand narrative of a personal God and purposeful universe, rather than that of an impersonal, random, and empty universe.

These initial considerations for a curriculum of the person would be consistent with a true Christian anthropology and genuine concern for each person within the mission of the Church:

Her solicitude is about the whole man and is focused on him in an altogether special manner. The object of her care is man in his unique unrepeatable human reality, which keeps intact the image and likeness of God himself. (John Paul II, 1979, para. 13)

Such considerations may help to ensure that the priority of the person is evident within the psychology curriculum of the Catholic university.

Keith A. Houde

Ave Maria University

Angela M. Sabates

Bethel University

The authors acknowledge the contribution of teaching assistant, Amy Nienhuis, who helped code and edit the data for this project. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Keith A. Houde, Department of Psychology, Ave Maria University, Ave Maria, FL 34142. E-mail:


American Psychological Association. (2007). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major: Version 2.0. Retrieved from

Brugger, E. C. (2009). Psychology and Christian anthropology. Edification, 3(1), 5-18. Retrieved from

Cardinal Newman Society. (2015). [Website]. Retrieved from

Cardinal Newman Society. (2014). The Newman guide to choosing a Catholic college. Retrieved from

Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd ed.). (1997). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Damasio, A. R. (2002). How the brain creates the mind. Scientific American, 12, 4-9.

Elrington, A. (1936a). Is psychology possible? Blackfriars, 17, 491-496.

Elrington, A. (1936b). Is a Catholic psychology possible? Blackfriars, 17, 591-599.

IPS Group. (2014). The theological and philosophical premises concerning the person in the IPS model of integration. Retrieved from

James, W. (1910). Psychology (Briefer course). New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company. (Original work published 1892)

John Paul II. (1979). Redemptor hominis [Encyclical letter Redeemer of man]. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from

John Paul II. (1990). Ex corde Ecclesiae [Apostolic constitution On Catholic universities]. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from

John Paul II. (1995, February). Address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota. Retrieved from Newman, J. H. (1982). Idea of a university. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press (Original work published 1852)

O'Donohue, W. O. (1989). The (even) bolder model: The clinical psychologist as metaphysician-scientist-practitioner. American Psychologist, 44, 1460-1468.

Perlman, B., & McCann, L. I. (1999). The most frequently listed courses in the undergraduate psychology curriculum. Teaching of Psychology, 26, 177-182.

Sabates, A. M. (2016). Unwitting dehumanization? A call for a stronger undergraduate psychology core. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 35(2), 148-161.

Shankman, K. C. (2012). General education at Catholic colleges and universities (Studies in Catholic higher education). Manassas, VA: Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education. Retrieved from NTER/General%20Education%20at%20Catholic%20Co lleges%20and%20Universities.pdf

Stevenson, D. H., & Young, P. D. (1995). The heart of the curriculum? A status report on explicit integration courses in Christian colleges and universities. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 23, 248-260.

Stoloff, M., McCarthy, M., Keller, L., Varfolomeeva, V., Lynch, J., Makara, K.,...Smiley, W. (2010). The undergraduate psychology major: An examination of structure and sequence. Teaching of Psychology, 37, 4-15.

Wojtyl a, K. (2013). On the meaning of spousal love (G. Ignatik, Trans.). In K. Wojtyl a (2013), Love and responsibility (G. Ignatik, Trans.; pp. 273-294). Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media. (Original work published 1974)

Keith A. Houde (Ph.D. Clinical Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary Graduate School of Psychology) is Associate Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Ave Maria University (FL). His research interests include Catholic personalist psychology (particularly within the thought of Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II), the history of psychology, personality and character, and psychology curriculum development.

Angela M. Sabates (Ph.D. Clinical Psychology, Northwestern University) is Associate Professor of Psychology at Bethel University (MN). Her research interests include Christian views of the human condition as they relate to social psychology research, curriculum development in Christian higher education, and Christian perspectives of positive psychology.
Table 1
Most Frequently Offered and Required Courses

                      Most Frequently   How Often Required
                          Offered       Across All Programs
Course                    n = 21              n = 21

Introduction (81%)
plus Intro 1 (19%)        100.0%              100.0%
plus Intro 2 (19%)
Statistics                100.0%              100.0%
Abnormal                  100.0%               66.6%
Cognitive                 100.0%               33.3%
Social                    100.0%               28.6%
Research                   95.2%               95.2%
Internship                 95.2%               28.6%
Personality                95.2%               23.8%
Special                    95.2%               14.3%
Physiological              90.5%               61.9%
Lifespan Dev               90.5%               57.1%
Counseling                 90.5%               14.3%
Assessment                 76.2%               23.8%
Adv Research               76.2%               23.8%
Capstone                   71.4%               61.9%
Independent                71.4%                4.8%
I/O                        71.4%                0.0%

Table 2
APA (2013) Content Domain Courses Most
Frequently Offered and Required

APA Content Domain/       Newman Schools         Offered   Required
Content Area              Course Offerings

Cognition/Learning        Cognitive              100.0%     33.3%
                          Learning/Memory         28.6%      0.0%
                          Sensation/Perception    28.6%      0.0%
Developmental             Lifespan Dev            90.5%     57.1%
                          Child/Adol Dev          38.1%      9.5%
                          Adult/Aging Dev         38.1%      0.0%
                          Adolescent Dev          23.8%      0.0%
                          Child Dev               23.8%      0.0%
Biological                Physiological           90.5%     61.9%
                          Science                 38.1%     38.1%
                          Psychopharm             14.3%      0.0%
Sociocultural             Social                 100.0%     28.6%
                          Gender                  28.6%      0.0%
                          Cultural                19.0%      0.0%
                          Religion                14.3%      0.0%
Individual Differences    Abnormal               100.0%     66.6%
                          Personality             95.2%     23.8%
                          Positive                19.0%      0.0%

Table 3
Scientific Inquiry/Critical Thinking Courses
Most Frequently Offered and Required

APA Learning Goal/    Newman Schools     Offered   Required
Content Area          Course Offerings

Scientific Inquiry    Statistics         100.0%     100.0%
                      Research            95.2%      95.2%
                      Adv Research        76.2%      23.8%
Critical Thinking     History             42.9%      33.3%
                      Integration         19.0%       9.5%

Table 4
Applied Courses Most Frequently Offered and Required

               Newman Schools
Content Area   Course Offerings   Offered   Required

Applications   Internship          95.2%     28.6%
               Counseling          90.5%     14.3%
               Assessment          76.2%     23.8%
               I/O                 71.4%      0.0%
               Sport               52.4%      0.0%
               Educational         42.9%      0.0%
               Group               38.1%      4.8%
               Forensic            38.1%      0.0%
               Health              23.8%      0.0%
COPYRIGHT 2016 CAPS International (Christian Association for Psychological Studies)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2016 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Houde, Keith A.; Sabates, Angela M.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Christianity
Article Type:Report
Date:Jun 22, 2016
Previous Article:Reducing unwitting dehumanization? A call for a stronger undergraduate psychology core.
Next Article:Self-identified Christian women and divorce: the recovery and discovery of self.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters