Last updated: June 10, 2003

Narrative Psychology Search


[Narrative Psychology]

 Narrative in Other Disciplines

  Theology and Religious Studies; Moral Development

"In the beginning was the word..." Jn 1:1

"Jesus was not a theologian; He was God who told stories." - Madeleine L'Engle
          Background  ||  Internet  ||  Bibliographical  ||  Theorists

Background Issues

The decidedly odd word "religion" (from the Latin "re-ligio" -- that which "binds again") offers no easy boundary to its scope and subject matter. Many identify religion as the structure of communal worship and shared practices which bind individual religious adherents to the deity (and to each other). For others, religion serves as an overarching structure of personal or shared communal meaning by which various strands of reality, beliefs, and personal history are woven together in such a fashion that they "make sense" to persons or communities of their experiences in some transcendent fashion. Ultimate meanings, spiritual realities, cultural systems, universal ethical obligations -- all of these are addressed in some way by the disciplines of religious studies and religious anthropology. But, what of theology, the "queen of the sciences" as the medieval world termed it (with apologies to Gauss who gave the same title to mathematics)? Theologians tend to understand their pursuit of knowledge as a set of activities and explorations undertaken from "inside," from a stance of belief -- a position rejected by most religious studies scholars. The theologian tries to explicate the world of faith which he or she shares. And, in so doing, theologians often adopt varying strategies by which to reformulate these beliefs in order to find a deeper understanding, a new way of thinking, or a creative synthesis between past and contemporary modes of expression.

Narrative relates to religious studies and theology across an almost endless array of concerns and conditions, but the focus of the resources listed here generally avoid the role of narrative from an anthropological point of view. Rather, these resources tend to examine narrative from the specifically Christian or Judeo-Christian religious traditions. Even within such a circumscribed ambit, the importance of the topic is clear. Grounded in scriptures regarded as "God's word/Word", both Judaism and Christianity are tied in fundamental ways to a particularly rich heritage of story, fable, and parable. The earliest centuries of the Christian church saw schools of biblical interpretation resting in theories of typology, allegory, and literalism while Patristic and medieval interpreters expanded past approaches to include anagogical (or eschatological) readings of texts. The recovery of classical Greek and Latin manuscripts and ways of thinking during the Renaissance and early Modern eras in Europe lay the groundwork for the rise of historical biblical criticism during the Enlightenment and 19th centuries. Many contemporary forms of narrative research in social science was presaged by biblical scholars in the 19th and early 20th centuries seeking to understand the texts of the Jewish and Christian testaments with the newly-crafted tools of historical-critical analysis. For more regarding this issue, see Foundations in Literary Criticism and Theories of Hermeneutics.

The 20th century has seen other narrative paths opened by theological scholars. Some theologians reflect upon the propensity of human beings to structure their experiences narratively as a core datum in approaching God's interaction with the world of persons. Narrative as method in theology follows upon the philosophical work of Paul Ricoeur, Jürgen Habermas, and others.

Moral Development. Though not actually a subfield of theology, a related question taken up here is the use of narrative in understanding moral development and practice. Figures such as James Day and Mark Tappan have effectively deployed narrative research and evaluative strategies to understand the moral growth of children and adults.

Theorists*Key Figures

Internet Resouces

Image: A Journal of Religion and the Arts

James Day

Hans Wilhelm Frei: 1922-1988 (Mike Hester, U Exeter UK) Annotated bibliography and resources.

Religion-Online. A resource with more than 4700 articles and books available for educational/non-profit purposes.

Stanley Hauerwas

Terrence W. Tilley Homepage and Faculty page (U Dayton).

David Tracy

[Documentary Resources]

  Speaking of Faith (Minnesota Public Radio) Hosted by Krista Tippett, this program "ask(s) how perspectives of faith might illuminate the universal questions of humanity. What fresh vocabulary might they offer us? What distinctive perspectives could they contribute to our public dialogue? What new ways forward? ... Even when the subject is some aspect of religion itself, conversations will be framed in such a way that even the "experts" speak not out of doctrine but out of authentic depths of religious insight-theology as it is lived." (site blurb). A particular emphasis in this program lies with "first person" speech: contributors speak from their own experiences and understandings. A range of prior broadcasts have been archived. These include The Soul in Depression, Stories Behind the Story: A Program for Passover and Easter, The Spiritual Fallout of 9/11, and L'Arche: A Community of Brokeness and Beauty.


Bibliographical Resources

Bowden, J. (1983). Narrative theology. In A. Richardson & J. Bowden (Eds.), The Westminster dictionary of Christian theology (pp. 391-392). Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press.

Crossan, J. D. (1988). The dark interval: Towards a theology of story. Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press. [PN49.C7 1988]

Downey, M. (Ed.). (1993). The new dictionary of Catholic spirituality. Collegeville, MN: A Michael Glazier Book/The Liturgical Press.

While this text is written from the perspective of a particular religious tradition, Catholicism, its moderate to progressive writers provide a valuable and sympathetic reading of those intellectual, historical, and spiritual resources which have and continue to influence many different religious faiths. For example, editor Downey's own short article on "Postmodernity" (pp. 746-749) is a model of breadth, clarity, and perceptiveness.

Elshtain, J. B. (2001). Christian contrarian (Stanley Hauerwas). Time Magazine. Available online.

Frei, H. W. (1993). Theology and narrative: Selected essays (G. Hunsinger & W. C. Placher, Eds.). New York: Oxford University Press. [BT80.F74 1993]

Ganzevoort, R. R. (1993). Investigating life-stories: Personal narratives in pastoral psychology. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 21, 277-287.

Ganzevoort, R. R. (1998). Religious coping reconsidered, Part One: An integrated approach. Journal of Psychology & Theology, 26, 260-275.

Ganzevoort, R. R. (1998). Religous coping reconsidered, Part Two: A narrative reformulation. Journal of Psychology & Theology, 26, 276-286.

Attentive to the work of Pargament, Prof. R. Ruard Ganzevoort proposes a reformulation in the meaning of religious coping in which narrative assumes a central role. The first article reviews the literature and provides a multidimensional framework to which, in the second article, a narrative approach is applied.

Ganzevoort, R. R. (2001). Religion in rewriting the story: Case study of a sexually abused man. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 11, 45-62.

Goldberg, M. (1991/1981). Theology and narrative: A critical introduction (1st Trinity Press International ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Trinity Press International (originally published by Abingdon). [BT78.G63 1991]

Hauerwas, S. (2001). The Hauerwas reader (J. Berkman & M. Cartwright, Eds.). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Hauerwas, S., & Jones, L. G. (Eds.). (1989). Why narrative? Readings in narrative theology. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans. [BT83.78.W59 1989]

Hoffman, J. C. (1986). Law, freedom, and story: The role of narrative in therapy, society, and faith. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press (distributed by Humanities Press). [BT789.H55 1986]

Kort, W. A. (1988). Story, text, and scripture: Literary interests in biblical narrative. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press. [BS537.K67 1988]

Loughlin, G. (1996). Telling God's story: Bible, church, and narrative theology. New York: Cambridge University Press. [BT83.78.L68 1996]

Marty, M. E. (1992). Religion, theology, church, and bioethics. Journal of Medicine & Philosophy, 17, 273-89.

Navone, J., & Cooper, T. (1981). Tellers of the word. New York. Le Jacq Pub. [BT78.N385 1981]

An early and influential Roman Catholic approach to narrative theology.

Placher, W. C. (1989, May 24-31). Hans Frei and the meaning of biblical narrative. The Christian Century. Available at Religion-Online.

Ricoeur, P. (1995). Figuring the sacred: Religion, narrative, and imagination (David Pellauer, Trans.; Mark I. Wallace, Ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. [BL51.R43225 1995]

A collection of Ricoeur's essays on the issues of (1) the study of religion, (2) philosophers of religion, (3) the Bible and genre, (4) theological reflections, and (5) practical theology. Editor Mark Wallace provides a long introduction (32 pp.) to Ricoeur's general thought and the significance of the essays reproduced here.

Richardson, A. & Bowden, J. (Eds.). (1983). The Westminster dictionary of Christian theology. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press.

This is a particularly valuable initial guide to those intellectual movements and theories--philosophical, psychological, political, social as well as theological--which serve to situate Christian theologizing in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Shen, V. (2001). Metaphor and concept in religious narratives. Inter-Religio, 39, 3-27. [Available from the Nanzan University (Nagoya, Japan) Institute for Religion and Culture for download online as a pdf file:]

Vincent Shen, Chair in Chinese Thought and Culture at the University of Toronto, reflects here upon the differences between East and West in the use of metaphor and narrative as an movement toward contact with Ultimate Reality. He focuses broadly upon Eastern religious traditions. This was the keynote address at a conference at Fu Jen University (Taipei) in February, 2001 on "Narrating Religious Experience in East Asia".

Story and narrative in theology [special issue]. Theology Today, 32(2).

Stroup, G. W. (1975). A bibliographical critique. Theology Today, 32(2). Available online.

Important review of the notion of theology and narrative.

Stroup, G. (1991). Theological narrative or narrative of theology? A response to "why narrative"? Theology Today, 47, 424-432. Available online

Taylor, C. (1989). Conclusion: The conflicts of modernity. Sources of the self: The making of the modern identity (pp. 495-521). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [BD450.T266 1989]

In the concluding pages of his study, Taylor, who strongly supports a notion of self as "constituted through an exchange in language" (p. 509) searches for "moral sources outside the subject through language which resonate within him or her" (p. 51).

Tilley, T. W. (1985). Story theology. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier.

Tilley, T. W. (1993). Story. In M. Downey, (Ed.), The new dictionary of Catholic spirituality (pp. 947-948). Collegeville, MN: A Michael Glazier Book/The Liturgical Press.

Tilley, T. W. (1997). Narrative theology post mortem Dei? Paul Ricoeur's Time and Narrative, III, and postmodern theologies. In M. Joy (Ed.), Paul Ricoeur and narrative: Context and contestation (pp. 175-195). Calgary: University of Calgary Press.

Tilley, T. W., & Zukowski, A. A (2001, November). Narrative and communication theology in a postliterate culture. Catholic International, 12(4), 5-11.

Tracy, D. (1975). Blessed rage for order. New York: Seabury Press.
Tracy, D. (1981). The analogical imagination: Christian theology and the culture of pluralism. New York: Crossroad.

While both these volumes are specifically written as works of Christian theology (the first as a reflection upon fundamental theology and the second on systematic theology), Tracy makes frequent references to the hermeneutical tradition from the time of Schleiermacher to the contemporary era. His chapter endnotes contain quite extensive references to the hermeneutical literature.

Tracy, D., & Cobb, J. B., Jr. (1983). Talking about God: Doing theology in the context of modern pluralism. New York: Seabury Press. Available at Religion-Online.

[Icon] Moral Development

Day, J. (1991). Role-taking reconsidered: Narrative and cognitive-developmental interpretations of moral growth. The Journal of Moral Education, 20 , 305-317.

Day, J. (1992). Narrative, moral development, and psychotherapy . Cambridge Psychotherapy Archives. University of Cambridge.

Day, J. M. (1993). Speaking of belief: Language, performance, and narrative in the psychology of religion. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 3, 213-229.

Malony, H. N. (1992). Response to Vitz: The search for method. John G. Finch Symposium in Christian Theology and the Human Sciences (1990, Pasadena, California). Journal of Psychology and Theology, 20, 34-38.

Murken, S. (1993). Believing in speech: A response to James Day's application of narrative to the psychology of religion. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 3, 237-240.

Critique of J. M. Day's (1993; see above) article with a mostly negative evaluation of narrative as a useful concept in speaking about religious belief.

Nelson, P. (1987). Narrative and morality: A theological inquiry. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press. [BJ1231.N44 1987]

Vitz, P. C. (1990). The use of stories in moral development: New psychological reasons for an old education method. John G. Finch Lectures (1990, Pasadena, California). American Psychologist, 45, 709-720.

Vitz, P. C. (1992). Narratives and counseling: II. From stories of the past to stories of the future. John G. Finch Lectures (1990, Pasadena, California). Journal of Psychology and Theology, 20, 20-27.

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Hevern, V. W. (2003, June). Theology and religious studies. Narrative psychology: Internet and resource guide. Retrieved [enter date] from the Le Moyne College Web site:

     Narrative Psychology: Internet and Resource Guide
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