In the previous chapter, Yoga and Buddhism were presented as lifestyle choices, but it was acknowledged that they developed within a religious context. In this chapter we continue that trend, but for Kabbalah, Christian mysticism, and Sufism, we cannot separate the lifestyle from the religion. However, one can easily make the argument that we should not ignore the influence of religion on psychology. After all, both spirituality and formal religion are significant factors in the lives of many people, regardless of whether some may not believe in the existence of God, or any other divine being(s). It is also true that religion was a significant factor in the lives of many of the theorists we have examined in this book, and as a result, their spiritual beliefs helped to shape the nature of their personality theories.
We will examine the mystical approaches that have developed within the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions. These are the three Abrahamic religions, in the order in which they were established, and together they cover an extraordinary range of cultural groups, including some 3½ billion people (55 percent of the world’s population; Haviland, Prins, Walrath, & McBride, 2005). Mysticism refers to the belief that one can know the spiritual truths of life and the universe that are beyond the intellect by being absorbed into the Deity through contemplation and self-surrender. In practice, they share common elements with Yoga and Buddhism (particularly meditation), and by bringing these five practices together, we have truly begun to take a look at the personalities, within a cultural context, of people around the entire world.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that any of the theories we have examined so far might play a role in personality development in any cultural group, in conjunction with the cultural influences of spirituality and religion. Thus, the ideas presented in these last two chapters are not meant to offer alternatives to what we have discussed within traditional Western psychology. In addition, there are other significant cultural factors beside spirituality and religion, though few of them have been studied or contemplated as deeply as religion. And undoubtedly, no other cultural phenomenon has been actively promoted and spread around the world by missionaries of many different faiths, as has been the case with religion. It is important to be open-minded and aware of some of the major factors underlying the dramatic cultural differences that exist around the world. Only then can we honestly connect with other people in a global community.