Over the years, psychologists of religion have bemoaned the neglect of religion's role in people's behavior. A new report shows that psychology is not alone in this. Religion is ignored in political science, too. In some ways this seems a bit surprising, given the high profile religion has in US politics. Religion is often a part of presidential elections, and especially so in this cycle with numerous stories about whether Evangelical Republicans can/should/will support Mitt Romney, who seems objectionable to them both for his 'flip-flopping' stance on social issues, and for his Mormonism. The subject of religion has come up in other ways, too. For instance, there have been recent polls finding that voters in most districts would be loathe to elect an atheist or a Muslim, or Newt Gingrich's conversion to Catholicism, or Santorum or Perry's stance on issues connected with the evangelical vote. But, in terms of popular press, those stories take a distant second to Mitt's Mormonism.
So, it is interesting that the topic has been neglected in political science research in spite of its relevance to current events.
We face a similar problem in the psychology of religion. Much of our research and work deals with interesting theoretical questions. Another common topic concerns the much-less-interesting effort to devise new scales, which Gorsuch and others have bemoaned for decades. What we could use, however, is more current, socially-relevant research. Religion and spirituality are vital parts of many people's everyday lives. Religion and spirituality impact us on many levels, from how we process information, to how we interact with other individuals, to what we direct our social institutions to do.
I would argue that when we improve our discipline's connection with the world around us, we will also increase our stature within psychology. The embrace of health psychology is a good example of this change. Whereas two or three decades ago it was unusual for an introductory textbook to have a chapter devoted to health psychology, it has become common now. Psychology has much to contribute to our understanding of health, and health is an area of life that interests many of our students (as well as society at large). The same is true of religion, and if psychologists of religion investigate socially relevant aspects of our field, we will facilitate the growth and development of the psychology of religion.