Attachment Theory, Intersubjective Systems Theory & Divine Passibility: Grounding Psychological Theory & Practice in a Theology of Divine Affectivity

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I begin this study with an assessment of influential Western philosophical understandings of emotions, and the impact of these perceptions on the western Church’s conceptions of the role of emotions in the relationship between humans and God. Thereafter, I unpack the way that “negative” emotions, such as anger, jealousy, and sadness, have been perceived in the Church, and the dual implications of these perceptions for the Church’s emotional health as well as Christian understandings of God’s capacity for, or experience of, emotion. Although much has been written in the theological literature on the intersection between emotions, human beings and God, a dearth of literature exists on the subject from a distinctly psychological point of view. Ultimately, my aim is to bridge the theoretical gap that exists between the disciplines of psychology and theology. I propose that taking a closer look at the tenets of traditional Christian theology and unpacking the implications of early Church doctrines, particularly the doctrine of Divine impassibility, offers the opportunity for a theologically sound and theoretically coherent foundation for the integration of clinical psychology and theology. In order to accomplish this goal, I draw upon attachment theory and intersubjective systems theory (a contemporary psychoanalytic perspective) and discuss the ways that these theories dovetail with contemporary theological understandings of Divine passibility to offer one theoretically cogent and theologically grounded model of the integration of clinical psychology and theology. I conclude by demonstrating the ways in which this model might be used in a clinical context.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)

First Advisor

Dueck, Alvin C.

Document Type





Attachment behavior, Intersubjectivity, Spiritual life, Psychology and religion, Pastoral psychology




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