Person, Culture, and Religion Group Self-Review
October 15, 2001

NOTE: The PCR Group was recertified by the American Academy of Religion at the Annual Meeting in Denver in November 2001. The renewal is in effect for five years. See details in PCR NEWS for Winter 2002.

From: Franz Metcalf and Kelley Raab

To: The Program Committee of the AAR and reviewer, Naomi Goldenberg

We submit this self-review in support of the following petition: that the Person, Culture and Religion Group (hereafter, PCR) be renewed and allowed to continue as a group serving the AAR constituency. What follows is a summary of the group's basic mission, how this mission has been carried out over the past five years, and future directions for the group.


PCR is an informal association of scholars and practitioners in the fields of religion and psychology who share common interests in the relationship between religion, psychology, and contemporary cultures. The group's primary purposes are:

  1. to foster creative research in the fields of the group's interest, both academic and applied, though presentations given at the annual meeting of the group and through the group's newsletter and web presence;
  2. to encourage the exchange of ideas among the membership, through discussion and the announcement of research topics, course syllabi, publications, and projects; and
  3. to provide a forum associated with the American Academy of Religion for those with shared backgrounds in the fields of psychology, religion, and cultural theology.

With regard to the first two of PCR's purposes, we want to emphasize that we are an unusually inclusive group. We come from a variety of theoretical and even disciplinary perspectives and we both study and follow different religious paths. With regard to the third purpose, it is important to note that PCR is currently the only section, group, or consultation within the AAR in which psychology is a primary focus. Over the past five years, the steering committee has been diligent in focusing PCR sessions on themes relevant to the above mission. The continuation of the group is even more important than it was five years ago, since the Religion and the Social Sciences Section has offered fewer and fewer sessions on psychological and anthropological themes since our last review. For a number of long-time PCR members, PCR is the only reason for continued attendance and participation in the AAR.

Since its reorganization as the PCR in 1986, our group has functioned both as a group and as an affiliated society of the AAR. We are petitioning for renewal as a group within the AAR; our status as an affiliated society is not under review. As a group, PCR has held two 2 1/2 hour sessions at each AAR annual meeting. As an affiliated society we have held presession meetings before the beginning of the AAR main program, usually on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. These are separate programs in terms of their scheduling, but inseparable in terms of interests, membership, history, planning, and leadership. In this self-review we will, therefore, include information here on PCR as both group and affiliated society.

The PCR community is a rich, varied, and intellectually lively group united not only by a remarkable collegiality at its annual meeting sessions, but also by its thrice-yearly newsletter, its website, and its listserv. The newsletter is edited by the Secretary-Treasurer, who is also a member of the steering committee. The newsletter goes to all who pay their yearly dues, currently $15.00. The newsletter publishes PCR's call for papers early in the year and its upcoming annual meeting programming later in the year. Every issue includes notices of the activities and interests of PCR members, including publications, projects, career moves, course syllabi, teaching strategies, recommended articles and books, etc. The size of the PCR membership and mailing list and the ongoing vitality of the newsletter attest to PCR's enduring capacity to interest a significant portion of AAR membership. (Please find several numbers of the newsletter in the supporting materials sent along with this document.)

Since our last review, we have added a website and a listserv to the newsletter as methods of communicating in between AAR meetings. The website, in addition to posting all PCR sessions, includes copies of papers to be presented at those sessions. We encourage members to read these in advance, and thus can strongly advise presenters to "teach" rather than "read" their papers. In this way, the website contributes mightily to our exceptionally informal yet informed AAR sessions. The papers remain on the website for a period of time after the AAR so that they may be downloaded and printed after the sessions as well as before them. The listserv allows PCR members to ask questions of each other and engage in discussions throughout the year. Anyone may subscribe or unsubscribe to this listserv. The website and the listserv, both designed and maintained by steering committee member D. Andrew Kille, are testimony to our commitment to the group's flourishing.

The transitions in leadership, both in 1997 and 2000, also demonstrate the degree of commitment in PCR's constituency and its prospects for continuing energy and excellence in leadership. In each case, the new chair or co-chairs were already members of the steering committee and agreed to take on the additional responsibilities of chair for the next three years. Lucy Bregman, chairperson from 1997-2000, provided excellent direction for the group and for the steering committee and actively recruited younger scholars, such as the current co-chairs and authors of this document. We had each served for three years on the steering committee before our election last year as co-chairs. This three-year period allowed us to become familiar with PCR and AAR procedures and eased the transition for the group and ourselves. The PCR steering committee continues to have a mix of senior and junior scholars. Last year's election of both Pamela Cooper-White and Bill Barnard, for example, testifies to the group's inclusion of both older and newer PCR constituencies.

Activities from 1997-2001:

Our discussion of activities over the past five years is framed largely in terms of the criteria for group renewal, which for the reviewer's benefit are briefly listed as follows:

  1. imagination, conceptual richness, and scholarship
  2. participation of the unit's constituency (with attention to diversity of age, race, ethnicity, and gender)
  3. degree of commitment on the part of the unit's constituency
  4. field of interest reflective of a major area of interest for a significant portion of AAR membership
  5. range of appeal to AAR members whose fields of specialization do not normally fall within the unit's field of interest
  6. intellectual caliber and distinction of work carried on by the unit
  7. promise that the unit holds for advancing the academic study of religion and/or strengthening its relationship to other disciplines

1) The provided bibliography attests to the strength of scholarship of papers presented over the life of the group, including the past five years. Many papers presented at PCR sessions find homes in journals or books. The conceptual richness of PCR is illustrated through the variety of programming offered, from "Buddhism and Psychology," to "History, Psychology, and Religious Experience," to "Can We Use Evolutionary Psychology to Study Religion?" The presessions have also included some unusually imaginative and memorable sessions. For example, in 2000 we invited Dr. Ralph Hood of the University of Tennessee to present on "Serpent-Handling Christians." This was a wonderful session, utilizing the expertise of a local expert in the Nashville area to illuminate universal questions of community and faith. By contrast, two years prior we drew "spiritual genograms" under the guidance of Trevor Watt of Canisius College, clarifying questions of individual development.

The impressive diversity of perspectives illustrated by even the few examples just listed testifies to PCR's central function: the encouragement of dialogue and scholarship on the complex relations of persons, cultures, and religions. In PCR, scholarship informs therapy, pastoral counseling, and religious practice, and all three in turn inform scholarship. This can happen because PCR provides a place for a sharing of perspective and experience, uniting religion and psychology on an academic level unparalleled in North America.

2) We see the participation of PCR membership in the strong attendance figures at the presessions and main sessions alike. PCR continues to make strides in dealing with issues of racism and diversity in the field of psychology. In 1999, for example, our panel on Carol Watkins Ali's Survival and Liberation: Pastoral Theology in African-American Context as part of the presession included a racially diverse panel of long-time and newer PCR participants. Celia Brickman's paper on racism and the concept of the "primitive" (which also equates to the "feminine") in 1999 also generated lively discussion. Celia's presentation (and indeed those of the authors of this review) also exemplifies our efforts at providing junior scholars and even well-prepared graduate students a chance to learn from the responses of senior colleagues.

Since much work in the field of psychology of religion deals with Western religious traditions, PCR has designed panels on Buddhism and on "Varieties of Self Experience" that have moved beyond the West and a Christocentric frame of scholarship. These panels have attracted interest from outside our group (e.g., from Buddhologists) and have been gratifyingly well-attended. In 2000, Jacob Belzen of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, gave a presentation on: "Psychology of Religion: The Need for an International Organization?" At a time when the AAR is seeking to become more international, PCR was glad to make a relevant contribution in the area of diversity and global awareness. As stated below, we intend to further such contributions.

3) We earlier stated that a number of PCR members maintain AAR membership and attend AAR meetings primarily because of PCR programming. This is simply because they want to engage issues of psychology and religion, and PCR is now the only forum where such discussion is guaranteed in the AAR. PCR members' continuing attendance at meetings, despite a frustrating lack of discussion of their interests at other venues of the AAR, shows their commitment to this group. Further, the non-meeting activity on the PCR newsletter, website, and listserv attest to ongoing commitment of its constituency. Currently the PCR-List has 82 members.

4) PCR sessions regularly attract between 45 and 85 persons, and our rooms are often overfilled. Since we are an interdisciplinary group, our sessions appeal to a wide variety of scholars interested in contemporary cultural issues-from biology to history to theology to anthropology. Because our sessions offer conversation intentionally integrating the biological, psychological, historical, theological, etc., perhaps it is no surprise that session attendance often exceeds the entire membership total of PCR. We receive many paper proposals on contemporary cultural themes and must be careful to screen out those that do not fit our mission to further dialogue between psychology, religion, and culture, our first purpose as a group. Yet we know that in bringing these proposals together into cohesive sessions, we are expanding the scope of PCR and of new presenters and audience members, our third purpose as a group.

5) We have already mentioned some ways in which PCR appeals to AAR members outside of the field of psychology and religion. This year, for example, we are offering a presession panel on "Contemporary Perspectives on Dying, Death, and Bereavement" a subject of ongoing appeal well beyond psychology and a subject of particular poignancy in light of the recent terrorist attacks on the US. On that same day we will also have a roundtable discussion of religion in film, a field that has become extremely popular within AAR programming as a whole and appeals to persons of diverse backgrounds and training. Again, we have developed these sessions not only as opportunities to deepen our group, but also as attractive and accessible sessions for those in other fields in religious studies.

6) Designing panels of high intellectual caliber and distinction has always been central to PCR. An excellent example is 1999's "Evaluations of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams on the Centennial of its Original Publication." The panel and respondents included three longtime PCR members, but also two non-AAR members: James DiCenso, the cultural semiologist from the University of Toronto, and Allan Hobson, the physiologist of dreaming, from Harvard Medical School, whose challenging and provocative perspectives sparked a long and high-level discussion. This year we will again host another leader in a related field: Holmes Rolston III, the evolutionary biologist, who is participating in our session "Can We Use Evolutionary Psychology to Study Religion?" It is the introduction of these sorts of new perspectives that distinguish our discourse.

7) PCR holds great promise for advancing the academic study of religion. In an era when study of "traditions" predominates, PCR reminds the AAR as a whole of the importance and relevance of interdisciplinary approaches to the study of religion. We continue to devote real energy to forging and maintaining ties to a variety of other disciplines. A good example of this is our most recent co-sponsored panel, done with History of Christianity in 2000, and titled "History, Psychology, and Religious Experience: Sandra Dixon's Augustine: The Scattered and Gathered Self, and Ann Taves' Fits, Trances and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James." This panel consisted of internationally recognized scholars (John C. Cavadini, University of Notre Dame; Roger Johnson, Wellesley College; Robert Orsi, Indiana University; and Wayne Proudfoot, Columbia University), attracted 85 audience members, and featured responses by both authors. This is one example of how PCR is committed to bringing attention to psychological themes in the context of other disciplines, and with the attention of sparking the interest of scholars in those disciplines.

Future Directions:

In 1997, our reviewer recommended that PCR "continue to take risks and to reach out beyond itself in order to maintain its role as a group on the boundary between disciplines." The variety of topics and papers presented at PCR meetings and in our other venues over the past five years show how the risk-taking and outreach she called for lie at the core of our self-definition as a group. Further, our current steering committee also reflects our position "on the boundary." Of its five official and two ex-officio members, four teach at universities (of which two are strongly affiliated with Christian denominations) and one at a seminary, one is a minister, one an independent scholar, three are non-Christian, and one is a therapist. We feel our diversity will help keep the group creative over these next five years.

Over these years, we plan to continue to build our international network, especially with the newly-established International Association for the Psychology of Religion. Many prominent European scholars are relatively unknown in the American context and their appearance here at PCR sessions panelists or respondents would be to our advantage and the advantage of the AAR. Additionally, as a group on the boundary between disciplines, we would like to increase PCR activity by appealing to clinical psychologists, pastoral counselors, theologians, and other scholars who work outside the immediate field of psychology of religion. In particular we want to strive to attract scholars who might not otherwise attend the AAR but who may attend the APA (American Psychological Association), the AAA (American Anthropological Association), and the SSSR (Society for the Social Scientific Study of Religion). Finally, we would like to encourage other AAR sections and groups to incorporate more psychology into their sessions by continuing to offer joint sessions with those sections and groups. As you can see, all these future directions for the group are integrative, collaborative. This kind of intellectual cross-pollenization will always be the direction of our movement and our effort.

Respectfully submitted by,
Kelley Raab and Franz Metcalf

Additional signatures:
Greg Schneider
Pamela Cooper-White

Additional Materials Submitted:

PCR Annual Meeting Program Reports, 1996-2000
List of PCR Sessions, 1996-2000
PCR Mailing List
PCR Newsletters (three recent numbers)
PCR Bibliography of Published Materials Originating in AAR Sessions
Letter of Support from Lucy Bregman