As a Clinical Child and Family Psychologist who works primarily in the field of catechesis, one particular interest of mine is the integration of what both faith and science tell us about the human person. In secular society, and even among some individuals in the Church, there is the misconception that science and faith are somehow incompatible. However, some of the greatest minds both in science and religion have disputed this assumption. For example, Albert Einstein famously said, “A legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist. Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”1 Similarly, in a letter to Director of the Vatican Observatory Reverend George V. Coyne, S.J., St. John Paul II wrote, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish… We need each other to be what we must be, what we are called to be.”2
Christians have viewed the field of psychology with skepticism from its very beginning. After all, Sigmund Freud, considered by many to be the founder of psychology, called religion “an illusion.”3 But as the field of psychology has grown and its methods have improved, many have found it to be more and more compatible with Christian thinking. In fact, what we find by science to be true about the human mind and human emotion would necessarily have to be compatible with our faith, since God himself created us to think and to feel.
Using what we know about how people think, feel, and behave can make us more effective in faith formation. The following is a discussion of five pressing questions in the field of catechesis that may be answered, at least in part, by research in the social sciences.