Modern Psychoanalysis and Religion
One of the first questions on this topic might be: Is it useful to talk about this? The techniques used in Modern Psychoanalysis do not seem to require a religious perspective and the creeds of the major religions do not depend upon psychoanalysis. Additionally, at least some tendencies in each perspective have been noticed to consider the other either unwelcome and intrusive, or with outright hostility.
Certainly, Sigmund Freud's own ideas towards religion would fit in the latter category and at least part of the issue from the psychoanalytic view has been the inability of some to disentangle themselves from Freud's idiosyncrasies on the subject. (See e.g., Zilboorg, 1950; see also Becker, pp. 173-75, 1973).
On the other hand, it is reported that C.G. Jung "... had never, he claimed, had a patient whose neurosis was not due to his lack of religion, nor had he ever cured a patient whose cure was not due to his return to religion." (Bartemeier, p.12, 1995).
Thus, some would agree that there at least enough of an "overlap" between the goals of religion and those of psychoanalysis to warrant discussion. But, if there is to be such a discussion, what should it consist of? Alternatively, what should it not consist of? Who might be benefited by this dialogue?
In this writer's opinion, the only really useless area of inquiry concerns one trying to prove or disprove the other; i.e., advocates of religion and psychoanalysis each adhere to self-sustaining teleological tenets as part of their individual belief systems. By their very nature, these tenets are neither provable nor disprovable by outside sources; though even this should not interfere with an open dialogue if the participants are willing to respect the feelings of others. So, perhaps the dialogue should include anything the participants wish to discuss.
While one would not expect religious instruction to be included in the curriculum of psychoanalytic institutes, or psychoanalysis to be required in seminaries, it would seem to me that each could benefit from some knowledge of the other.
Modern analysts have their own spiritual existence to consider; as well as many patients who come from a religious perspective, or even have religious components integrated into their difficulties with the world. Likewise, religious leaders have their own psyches to consider; along with some followers who would be helped by being able to talk freely in a modern psychoanalytic setting. The institutional structures in place in each of the perspectives could also be broadened by further dialogue.
As a methodology, Modern Psychoanalysis should be well-suited to a dialogue about psychoanalysis and religion because of its emphasis on the role and importance of emotional communications. Individual belief systems are often highly charged with emotion, as part of the person's self-identification process with the world.
These root emotional processes have caused some to notice a correlation between the emotional forces at work in either arena, which "...emerges as the reflective awareness of powerful affectivity rather than as a purely intellectual grasp of logical relations between concepts and symbols." (Cousins, p. 36, 1995).
Perhaps it is time for us to jointly explore these powerful emotional processes.
Bartemeier, L.H. (1995, 1976). "Psychoanalysis and Religion," in Psychoanalysis and Catholicism. Wolman, B., ed., NY, Jason Aronson, Inc.
Becker, E. (1973). The Denial of Death. NY, The Free Press.
Cousins, E. (1995, 1976). "The Many-leveled Psyche: Correlation Between Psychotherapy and the Spiritual Life," in Psychoanalysis and Catholicism. Wolman, B., ed., NY, Jason Aronson, Inc.
Zilboorg, G. (1950). Psychoanalysis and Religion. NY, Barnes & Noble.
© 2006, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
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