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Psychology of Spirituality, The, by H.B. Danesh:

by Stephen Miller

published in Bahá'í Studies Review, 7
London: Association for Bahá'í Studies English-Speaking Europe, 1997
The Psychology of Spirituality
Author: Hossain B. Danesh
Publisher: Nine Pines, Ottawa, 1994, 270 pages
Review by: Stephen Miller

    This is a short book (270 pages including index and appendices) which, as the   author states in the preface, aims to "...provide us with an integrated and comprehensive framework for understanding our behaviour....[considering] the biological, psychosocial, and spiritual dimensions of human reality....[showing] that life can truly be good, happy, and fruitful..." This is an ambitious undertaking which, for me at least, was unsuccessful. That is not to say that there is not some value in this book.

      Danesh has been a practising psychiatrist working in the field of life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer, helping patients facing difficult issues such as their own deaths and bereavement. In that we have something in common. In places, his book is thoughtful and he begins by identifying some common and distressing problems which many patients face at these, and other, times in their lives. He goes on to offer a conceptualisation of these problems in terms of a lack of spiritual growth and development in the lives of these patients, and attempts to illustrate his approach to alleviating such distress with short case histories. There follows a description of his concept of an "integrated psychospiritual developmental model" of human beings, both individually and collectively. This chapter is entitled "Fundamentals" and is perhaps the best in the book, in that it offers a concise explanation of Danesh's concepts well-illustrated with a simple matrix. These concepts are as valid as others presented by the many other authors in the field of psychology. Using these fundamentals he broadens his scope to offer an understanding of how all psychological problems can be seen as disorders of spirit and treated accordingly, and then how each individual can reach maturity as a spiritual being and become an integrated person.

      One difficulty is the intended readership. The preface states that it "is written for those who ask difficult questions... [For example] What is the purpose of human life? What is love? What is the secret of happiness?...." Clearly this could apply to everyone, but is this book useful for those extensively read in the field of psychology? Or is it more useful to those who have little or no knowledge of the field? If you belong to the former group you will find little here that has not been said elsewhere, albeit using different terminology. I.D. Yalom, in particular, offers a clear explanation of the existential view point, J. Bowlby and E. Erikson offer detailed developmental perspectives. This reader would have preferred the author's ideas discussed in the context of those and other widely known theoretical models. Danesh frequently presents his viewpoints as if they were facts which are in opposition to current medical and psychological thinking. This is not an accurate portrayal of the field, as I am sure he knows, and many authors share some of his views. To have referred to them would have made for a more scholarly work. By the time I reached the final two chapters of the book, I had become weary of the author's dogmatic style.

      If this book is to be your introduction to this field, Danesh does provide an adequate starting point. He is, of course, right that spirituality is an essential dimension of human existence and his integrated explanations of psychospiritual development will prove useful to many readers. Whether or not this book answers the questions it poses will depend on the individual reader. At around $15, I guess it will not cost too much to find out.

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