The Psychology of Religion

The Psychology of Religion


Presenter: Dr Ian McCallum

Would the world today have been better off without religion? In this presentation, Dr Ian McCallum will argue No.


One of our greatest needs as human beings is the need to belong. Irrespective of the multiple expressions and denominations, religion will continue to be important in human life. It is psychologically relevant. He says: “As far as I am aware, we are the only species that seek more than food, friends, and freedom in our lives. We are seekers of continuity, meaning, values, symbols, and stories – historical and mythical – that address the deep existential issues of our lives. What we did not and do not need, however, is the politicisation and paralysis of religious dogma.”

Patients seeking psychotherapy do so for a wide range of issues, including a better understanding of the so-called existential issues of their lives, for example, coming to terms with life’s great paradoxes – commitment and freedom, right and wrong, life and death, good and bad including the feelings of a loss of a sense of a meaningful life. While religious convictions are of value to some, there are those who, more than anything, are looking for a different perspective on their lives and relationships. Every human being has a unique “once upon a time” story to tell. To hear that story is to hear the echo of ancient life-affirming myths and the search for meaning. To reflect on one’s personal stories can be life changing.

Ian McCallum is a psychiatrist, analytical psychologist, and a foundation member of SAAJA. He is an adjunct professor at the Nelson Mandela University Graduate School of Business in Port Elizabeth and an honorary lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cape Town. His interests focus on evolutionary biology, conservation psychology and environmental ethics. He is the author of two anthologies of wilderness poems: Wild Gifts (1999), Untamed (2012). He was the writer/poet for the Mail and Guardian award winning ‘UNTAMED’ exhibition at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (2010-2012). His book Ecological Intelligence – Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature won the Wild Literary Award at the World Wilderness Congress in Mexico 2009. He is a co-founder of the International League of Conservation Writers (, a specialist wilderness guide and trustee of the Cape Leopard Trust and a founding partner of safari organisation Invent Africa (