The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues Review

The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues
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The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues ReviewThis book was very understandable, concise, to the point, and informative. This book is not based on sensationalism, speculation, emotion, or hearsay but rather on solid empirical data. Their research is very solid and remains one of the "classic" studies that is, as far as I can tell, practically "taken for granted" today. I have read a fair amount of literature on this topic and, as far as I can tell (correct me if I'm wrong), most if not all of the author's conclusions remain virtually uncontested to this day. This is amazing considering how long ago this study was published (several decades), but let me tell you this study seems to be very solid. Later research has largely vindicated its conclusions. For example, one of the author's conclusions is that glossolalia is a learned behavior. This was supported by other studies (Samarin comes to a similar conclusion I believe) as well as an experiment done in the 80's in which researchers demonstrated that glossolalia is a learned (or at least learnable) behavior by teaching a group of university students who had no prior exposure to glossolalia to speak it fluently. For such a small book (86 pages plus bibliography) he cites a very extensive number of sources, ranging from numerous technical and scientific books and journals to Plato's Republic. His brief overview of the history of glossolalia cites two different dictionaries, Plato, Plutarch, Virgil, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible (which he appears to be quite familiar with), Morton Kelsey, church fathers Irenaeus, Origen, and Augustine, John Sherrill, and numerous others. Interestingly enough, this study (and several other studies by Samarin et al. that have had conclusions very damaging to Pentecostalism) has gone completely unanswered by charismatics for the last 30 years. The best we get from them is that "it's a divine gift and you can't reduce it to human reason" or "God wouldn't cooperate with a study" or "you can't understand tongues if you've never experienced it" or some bogus excuse like that. Talk about special pleading. Interestingly enough, I'd observed some of the same things that the author mentions on my own; for example, both me and the author independently observed the special pleading phenomenon with regard to tongues.
Some of his conclusions are downright startling. For example, the author's study found that something around 85% or more of the people who spoke in tongues had previously suffered some form of anxiety crisis whereas only 30% of those in the control group (i.e. non-tongues-speakers) had experienced one. The difference turned out to be statistically significant - which would seem to indicate that glossolalia is often directly related to some form of stress.
He even touches on "interpretation" of tongues. As part of their experiment, they recorded people speaking in tongues and gave it to several different people for it to be "interpreted." Not surprisingly, every interpretation was completely different. He also gave an example where someone who had been a missionary in Africa stood up and said the Lord's Prayer in an African dialect. Thinking he was speaking in tongues, someone "interpreted" this as a message about the imminent Second Coming of Christ.
His conclusions are also devastating to Pentecostalism. First, contrary to popular claims, people who speak in tongues are no more mentally healthy than anyone else; the mental health of both groups ended up being about the same. (Interestingly enough, they did find some differences in certain factors such as reliance on authority figures, depression, and certain types of stress/anxiety but found that apparent benefits of glossolalia were not derived from the speaking in tongues itself but in other things related to the experience of speaking in tongues; people who had had some kind of "falling out" with their original group of tongues-speakers still retained the ability to speak in tongues but did not derive any apparent benefits from it). Also, there is not a single verified instance of a tongues-speaker being able to speak in any language learned in anything but the normal way (i.e. contrary to claims by people like Randy Clark, there has not been a single verified instance of anyone "receiving" the ability to speak in a foreign language that they had not previously been exposed to). He comes to the conclusion, with much supporting evidence from his data, that "We have shown that speaking in tongues can be learned, almost as other abilities are learned. Whether one calls the practice a gift of the Spirit is, then, a matter of individual choice. Speaking in tongues does make the individual feel better... [however] Glossolalia rarely benefits a wide segment of the community. ... We hope therefore that its [glossolalia's] practitioners as well as the scientists who study the phenomenon will be modest in their claims for it. For it is not uniquely spiritual; it is not uniquely the result of God's intervention in man's speech."
I would recommend this book very heartily to anyone who is seeking to understand what to make of glossolalia or what glossolalia is as a phenomenon. I would recommend in addition to that William Samarin's study "Tongues of Men and Angels."The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues Overview

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