Book Review: Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences by Abraham H. Maslow

Post0018_Book-Review_Abraham-Maslow_Religions-Values-Peak-ExperiencesThis is a book review of Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences by Abraham H. Maslow. It may be of interest to psychologists, philosophers of education, and philosophers of religion, and perhaps also to some religious and spiritual people.

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THE  BOOK

In this book review I will be taking a look at Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences by Abraham Maslow. The edition that I am reviewing today is a paperback edition from Penguin Books. Penguin first published it in 1976, but reprinted it approximately once a year after that. I have the 1980 printing of that first edition.

Abraham-Maslow-Religions-Values-Peak-Experiences-1980-front-back-cover-for-book-reviewBut note here that any of these “first editions” of this Penguin book is not the real first edition of the book, in a wider sense.

For it has been published by other publishers before that. The original first edition was published by Kappa Delta Pi Publications (Ohio State University Press) in 1964, after which Viking Compass also started publishing it in 1970 (see more details below, in the “History of Editions” section below).

The most important thing, from my point of view at least, is that both the Viking edition and the Penguin edition has added a Preface (by Maslow) to the original text. So this gives the reader the feeling of almost a new edition, in that we get an “update” by the original author himself.

Quick Sociology: How Many Borrowed This Book?

An interesting fact about this second-hand book that I bought on the internet is that it is an old, discarded copy from a university, with all of its usual imperfections. But I don’t mind that, at all. I think that gives it a unique history, and I think it is fun to have different academic books from different university libraries all over the world.

And it’s not just that it is “charming” to discover some new logo, or system of stamping method, etc. It’s interesting also because, at least in this case, we can get a sense of how popular it was when it was still in the stacks at the university.

Abraham-Maslow-Religions-Values-Peak-Experiences-1980-inside-covers-for-book-review

So in the pictures above, we can see that it has been in the collection of the City University Library in London. And (in the image on the right) we can see that it had been borrowed eight times in the period February 1984 to March 1994. That’s not even once a year, on average.

As for the red-colored (newer) sheet on the inside front cover (left image above), we see that it had been borrowed ten times in the period November 1995 and June 2003. So it seems, on average, that the frequency increased. Maybe more courses on Maslow were given in the late 1990s and early 2000s?

The Text

Abraham Maslow’s Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences is not a self-help book. It is more of an academic text, addressing a scholarly audience. It may be relevant to readers in fields such as philosophy, religion, psychology, etc.

The book has four main parts: the front matter (pages i-xx); the main text itself (pages 1-58); the appendixes (pages 59-116); and the bibliography (pages 117-122).

The front matter consists of the normal title page and copyright page, and a half-title page with the book title, under which is a short biography of Abraham Maslow.

The “meat” of the front matter is a two-page “Editorial Introduction” (pages v-vi) by E. I. F. Williams, Editor at Kappa Delta Pi Publications, and a “Preface” (pages vii-xvii) by Abraham Maslow himself. This Preface is dated “May, 1970”, and offers a kind of “update” of the situation, compared to its original publication six years earlier, in 1964.

A two-page “Contents” (pages xiv-xx) follows the “Preface”.

The main part of the book (pages 1-58) has eight chapters: I. Introduction; II. Dichotomized Science and Dichotomized Religion; III. The “Core-Religious,” or “Transcendent,” Experience; IV. Organizational Dangers to Transcendent Experiences; V. Hope, Skepticism, and Man’s Higher Nature; VI. Science and the Religious Liberals and Non-Theists; VII.  Value-Free Education?; VIII. Conclusions.

The third part of the book contains nine appendixes that touch on topics such as “peak experiences”, “third psychology”, “ethnocentri[sm]”, “validity of knowledge”, “human values”, “B-values” and “B-analysis”.

The fourth part of the book is an enumerated list of 92 references to works that Maslow mentions in the main text. There is no attempt to annotate any of the references with a description of its thesis or content; rather, each item on the list simply informs about the usual bibliographical data: so, e.g. for a book, the author, book title, publisher, and year. Maslow does not direct us to the exact page of anything he mentions in the text, neither for books or for journal articles.

There are footnotes in most parts of the book. Occasionally, the amount of text in them  may cover 25% of the page that they are on; but most of the time it’s a matter of only half a dozen of lines or less. Also, the footnotes are not on every page, or even on every spread.

THE REVIEW

1. Physical Format

When I am now measuring the size of the book with my stainless steel “C-Thru” ruler (which you cannot “see through”, for it’s, wait for it . . ., made of stainless steel!), I find it to be approximately 4.17 x 7.12 inches (10.5 x 18 cm). And it’s approximately 0.25 inches (0.55 cm) thick. This makes it very portable.

2. Paper, Printing, and Binding Quality

The paper is of the usual type that normally is used in affordable, mass-market paperbacks. That works perfectly for reading, but has the normal drawback that it’s hard to write notes in it with any type of water-based ink (so fountain pens are almost categorically ruled out).

That means, if one wants to make notes in it, the best thing to do is probably to use a pencil (the softer the better, e.g. an HB or 2B or something like that) or perhaps a regular ballpoint pen (BIC or similar).

As for the printing, it is the regular, even quality that we usually get with Penguins. So there are no complaints there.

The binding in my copy does not hold perfectly. The front and back covers are basically loose, and have been fixed by a previous owner. It is noteworthy, though, that the previous owner was a university, so the book had been in public circulation.

3. Layout, Design, and Typography

The book is well designed. The typeface (Linotype Bodoni) works well, and its font size is big enough to be readable, in the main part of the book.

But if we look at the copyright page, the font size is much too small. One really feels that they don’t want you to read that.

4. Organization

In terms of organization, the book is all right. It is easy to locate the different parts of the book. The book could naturally have been written and divided in a different way. But I still think it is adequate enough, as a whole.

But one thing that I think is quite non-professional is not to include a good index (or even a bad one). In this book there is no index at all, and that makes the book less useful, at least to me. I think it is “standard procedure” for any serious publisher to provide an index when they are dealing with an academic-type book. I mean if they don’t treat it as a valuable academic book, why should I?

The situation would be different if it just were, say, some pure fictional work. Or, say, a book such as Penguin’s own Shine: How to Survive and Thrive at Work, by Chris Barez-Brown. That book also has no index. Still, I think that is another matter: that book is more “motivational”, and makes no attempt to be anything else than that.

And in the case of The Art of Fiction, by David Lodge, Penguin also do not supply a subject index; but at least they have an “Index of Names” (pages 237-240), which is helpful, to some degree. So we know that Penguin can do indexes, if they want.

So one wonders: was it because Penguin put The Art of Fiction in the “Literary Criticism” genre that it was endowed with a name index, but not a subject index? Or was it some other reasoning behind it?

For when one goes to other Penguin titles, one finds very good indexes: The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (combined name and subject index; pp. 343-375); Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum, by Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman (combined name and subject index; pp. 353-364); and Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (combined name and subject index; pp. 485-499).

But here one could argue that Penguin perhaps were classing all of these to be “Science”, and that that somehow motivated them to supply good indexes. However, it turns out that only one of the books were labeled as a “Penguin Science” book: the Susskind title. Wilkinson & Pickett’s book was categorized as “Penguin Sociology”, while the Kahneman title got a “Penguin Psychology” label.

So then we can say that the Maslow book, which also had the “Psychology” label on the back cover, somehow was different than the Kahneman title, and also the other two. But was it the short length of the Maslow title (123 pp.), compared to the others (375 pp., 364 pp., 499 pp.), that did it? Or was it simply that it was published in 1980, instead of recently? Who knows?

5. Writing Style

First of all, I think Abraham Maslow is a reasonably good writer. For being a scholar, he writes in a relatively simple style.

This does not mean that he completely avoids difficult words or concepts, or words and phrases that sound complicated. No, he certainly does use such words and phrases all over the place (“Dichotomized Science”, “Isomorphic Communications”, etc.). But they are reasonably well chosen and relevant, so that is what to be expected in an academic text of this nature.

And the good thing is also that he doesn’t use very much of impersonal constructions. His writing sounds relatively loose and natural on the page.

One tendency, though, is that his sentences can be rather long. But even then, he knows how to subdivide them into smaller clauses, so that they still get reasonably readable. So in the eleven-line long sentence on page 54, for example, he has subdivided it into nineteen clauses, which certainly contributes to it being less difficult to assimilate.

The best aspects of his writing style are brevity and summaries. By “brevity” I do not just mean that his chapters are relatively short (they are, on average, 7-8 pages). Also the whole book is relatively short (main content: 58 pages). So that is a great plus, from my own perspective. He knows how to get to the point, rather quickly.

As for “summaries”, I am referring to his practice of summarizing what he wants to say, and doing so in a relatively short paragraph. Sometimes he does that several times in a chapter.

So on the bottom of page 26, for example, he starts one paragraph like this: “To summarize, it looks quite probable . . .”, and then, after a half-page long aside, he starts another paragraph: “To approach this whole discussion from another angle . . .”, in which we also find, “But to say it even more simply, . . .”

This “restating” or “reformulating” characteristic is, I think, valuable. It is good for the reader to get another point of view, with another set of words, spoken in a slightly different way. And it adds to the impression that the author really wants the reader to understand the point(s) being made; presumably this indicates that the author has something valuable to say.

6. Basic Content

So what is in this book, in terms of what Maslow wants to say, or at least does say?

Well, in terms of the “correspondence” with what is announced and advertised on the back cover, it’s pretty accurate. This book is about the idea that religious (or “spiritual”) experiences are “worthy” to be studied by science.

But this book is not just a plead to scientists to start studying religious experiences. It also has educational aims, in terms of putting forth a prescriptive account of “what human education should be like”: Should general human education include religious or spiritual education, or not? (Remember: the book was originally published already in 1964.)

So then Maslow goes on to offer an account of how he wants future education to look like. In that respect, then, this is somewhat of a “philosophy of education” book, perhaps with a tinge of “ethics” or “morality” in it, as well.

But it doesn’t stop there. For it seems also that it acts almost like an “interfaith” presentation between different religious/spiritual groups and science, where Maslow seemingly tries to act like a peacekeeper or something. So it has some “harmonizing religion vs. science” flavor. And there is also some “unifying religion” flavor, as well.

So it’s not just the question about what human education should be like that sounds like politics to me; also this harmonizing has a similar feel to it. The impression I get is that  Maslow here is preparing for a role of being an “ambassador”, who will “unite” the (academic) world.

And when we take a look at his biography, it is now not very surprising to discover that he was President of Massachusetts Psychological Association 1960-1962 [note 1], then the President of the New England Psychological Association 1962-1963 [note 2], and then became President of the American Psychological Association (1967-1968) [note 3].

7.1 Theories: “Spiritual Values”

As for his theories there are both good and bad things. To start with the bad, I think he, in general, tries to be too political to be trustworthy. The impression I get from this book at least, is that he generalizes and simplifies things too much, and that he has some kind of agenda.

But not only that. Sometimes it seems as if he is trying to deliberately mislead others, by using words that might be understood in several ways. So for instance, in the opening story (p. 3) he talks about a patriotic women’s organization, who “bitterly attacked” the Supreme Court’s decision regarding prayer in schools; for that organization were protecting some “spiritual values” [note 4].

So then Maslow goes on to say that he, too, is in favor of “spiritual values” in schools. And he qualifies this by adding that churches and other religious institutions are not alone in claiming “spiritual values”; in fact, that “spiritual values” do not need any supernatural explanations, etc.

But of course, Maslow’s “spiritual values” are not the same “spiritual values” that the women’s organization were protecting. As I understood it, the issue in the Supreme Court was not just about the ceremony of prayer (i.e. as a “psychological experience”), but about the whole underlying idea of an allegiance and a subordination to a Supreme God, not to mention all the accompanying ideas and concepts promoted by the Old and New Testament and the Church: a personal God, angels, and other supernatural entities and phenomena, Jesus (as a Savior), along with the whole complex array of religion-based ethics and morality.

7.2 Theories: Simplification

In a similar “simplifying” (or “reductionistic”) fashion, Maslow uses (on p. 54) a passage from Rudolph Otto’s The Idea of the Holy to lay the ground for his idea that religion is basically nothing very much else than that which can be studied by the psychology of religion (and perhaps by other branches of science).

And he then goes on to say “What remains of disagreement? Only, it seems, the concept of supernatural beings or of supernatural laws or forces” (pp. 54-55), as if those things were worth little, or didn’t even exist. So once again, he has simplified things, and “unified” things. Bravo.

The trouble is just that such attempts seem to fool no-one that is intelligent and fair, or one who is truly invested in such religions. I mean, even intelligent non-religious (or non-spiritual) people would rather clearly see that Maslow’s simplifications and attempts to reduce everything to a human [psychological] experience would be hard to accept for those other people who are themselves truly religious.

And I also think that Rudolph Otto did not draw the same conclusion Maslow did. For if Otto had done that, then Maslow could just had quoted that conclusion instead. And if we are to believe some accounts of Otto’s life, Otto was very careful not to try to universalize religion. The reason for that could have been because Otto himself, unlike Maslow, was a Christian.

Therefore, it seems as if Maslow’s description of the state of affairs could be understood as some kind of misrepresentation of the “circumstances” that surround religion and religious movements and practitioners; and it is also a (much) too ambitious statement about the true nature of existence (basically, I think Maslow implies that there is no personal God, no angels, no afterlife, no heaven and hell, no supernatural laws, etc); and as such it is simply bad philosophy, and bad science.

7.3 Theories: Education

But now to the more positive aspects of Maslow’s book. I think that Maslow’s overarching educational ideas, as stated in the conclusion, is a topic for discussion. This is not to say that I completely agree with all the details of his account; but at least there is something there to discuss.

His stance, when he summarizes his thoughts in the final chapter (“Conclusions”), seems to be that “the teaching of spiritual values of ethical and moral values definitely does (in principle) have a place in education, perhaps ultimately a very basic and essential place,  . . .” (p. 57).

The good thing about this is that Maslow has identified, with Otto and many others, that there is something important happening in spiritual and religious activities. And that these experiences somehow or other must be included in society, not only in terms of being “good enough” to be studied by science, but also being “good enough” to be taught in schools.

So in his last paragraph (p. 58) he concludes that education must, to some degree at least, be a place where good human beings are made, so that they can create “the good life” and “the good society”. And that “morals” and “ethics” must be included in that education.

All in all, on the surface, all of this sounds good. The difficulties start when you ask questions like: What exactly is “spiritual values”? What is a “good” human being? What is “ethics” and “morals”, etc.

However, I will leave these questions alone here, for they would simply occupy much more space than this book review will have room for. But I think they may serve as an excellent starting point for readers who are interested in issues surrounding public education and ethics.

8. Conclusion

This may be an interesting book, for different audiences. For psychologists, it may serve as a historical document in terms of laying the groundwork for a psychology of religion and similar, and also as a “refresher” of many of Maslow’s concepts (“self-actualizing”; “values”, “peak experiences”, etc.).

For readers interested in the philosophy of education or ethics, it may be interesting to analyze the core components of Maslow’s prescriptive account (“spiritual values”, “good human being”, “morals”, “ethics”, etc.).

Also philosophers of religion may have something to gain from reading this book. Not only because Rudolph Otto is mentioned, but because of Maslow’s “unifying” attempts of religions. So it may give the reader who is interested in a taxonomy/typology of religions some interesting food for thought.

Some practitioners of religions and spiritual schools of thought may think it is interesting to read this book, at least as a “background reading”, to get some “awareness” of Maslow’s theory in general, perhaps as a preparation for future “interfaith” meetings with other religious or spiritual followers.

Also, for students of (academic) writing, I think it can serve as an example of how concise a scholarly book can be, and yet convey a complete idea. I am not saying that it is “perfect” in any sense, but I’m saying that its brevity and repeated summarizing are worth emulating. But for such an audience, I would not be surprised if they did not entirely agree with its observations and conclusions.

Personally, I’m not very fond of this book. This is not just because it lacks an index, or because it has (as I perceive it) a political agenda. I don’t think there is much good philosophy, or science, in it. There are some individual psychological concepts and ideas that are interesting, but most of those are not new (“peak experiences, “self-actualizing”, etc.).

So as a whole I don’t think it’s very important, or even correct, in some of its main points. But maybe you will find more value in it than I have?

Chris Bocay

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Notes:

1. Noel Sheehy, Antony J. Chapman and Wendy Conroy (1997) Biographical Dictionary of Psychology. London and New York: Routledge, p. 383.

2. Noel Sheehy, Antony J. Chapman and Wendy Conroy (1997) Biographical Dictionary of Psychology. London and New York: Routledge, p. 383.

3. As presented on the half-title page in this 1980 edition of Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences.

4. Maslow does not explicitly tell us which Supreme Court case it is, or which “patriotic women’s organization” it is. So it is difficult to judge exactly what it is about, and which focus it really had. Judging from the phrase “Some time ago”, considering Maslow’s book was published in 1964, one might guess it could have been in the early 1960s, or possibly, in the late 1950s. One possibility is then that it refers to the intensely debated “landmark” Engel v. Vitale case in 1962, where school prayer eventually was ruled out (6-1).

Edition Details:

Title: Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences
Author: Abraham H. Maslow
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year: 1980 (4th printing)
Edition: First Penguin Books ed. (includes the 1970 Preface)
Binding: Paperback
Pages: xx + 123
ISBN-10 (a): 0 14 00.4262 8 (as on copyright page and back cover)
ISBN-10 (b): 0140042628
ISBN-13 (a): 9780140042627
ISBN-13 (b): 978-0140042627

Special Details:

Printed by: Offset Paperback Mfrs, Inc., Dallas, Pennsylvania
Typeface: Set in Linotype Bodoni
Retail Price: $1.95 (as on back cover)

History of Editions:

Originally published by Kappa Delta Pi (Ohio State University Press) in 1964. That edition has no Preface, just the “Editorial Introduction”, by E. I. F. Williams, an Editor at Kappa Delta Pi Publications.

The Viking Compass edition was first published in 1970. That edition featured an added Preface by Abraham H. Maslow. In 1975 it had been reprinted eight times.

The Penguin Books edition was first published in 1976. This edition includes the Preface of the Viking Compass edition. It was reprinted in 1977, 1978, and 1980.

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris Bocay. All rights reserved.

Last update: Tue 14 Jan 2020.

Cite as: Bocay, Chris (2020) “Book Review: Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences by Abraham H. Maslow”. Website: <https://chrisbocay.com>. Accessed: [today’s date].

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