Religion, Society, and Psychoanalysis: Readings in Contemporary Theory

Religion, Society, and Psychoanalysis: Readings in Contemporary Theory

Religion, Society, and Psychoanalysis: Readings in Contemporary Theory

Religion, Society, and Psychoanalysis: Readings in Contemporary Theory

Synopsis

Beginning with Freud's views on religion and mystical experience this volume surveys the work of 3 generations of psychoanalytic theorists. Special attention is given to objects relations theory and ego psychology.

Excerpt

The study of religion and psychoanalysis might naturally begin with Freud's varied writings on the illusional and delusional character of religious beliefs in Western society. Among the earliest of these writings is his 1922 essay, "A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis" (SE: 19). Complete with illustrations of a tormented artist encountering the Devil, this work lays out Freud's theories on God and Satan as father substitutes. Freud's analysis of the artist's religious redemption is in itself a fascinating case study. He based this work on a manuscript that, bearing a marked similarity to the story of Faust, told of a man who had made a pact with the Devil and was later redeemed through the intervention of the Virgin Mary. According to the manuscript, Christoph Haizmann, a painter, made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Mariazell in 1677. While at the church, he experienced convulsions and later told the priest that he had made a pact with the Devil nine years before when he had been despondent and unable to paint. Now, as the time approached for the Devil to claim Haizmann's body and soul, he sought the salvation of the Mother of God.

Freud was apparently intrigued by the manuscript and the psychosis that he believed to be at the heart of the painter's suffering. Twenty-five years earlier, Freud (1954) had written to his colleague Wilhelm Fliess on at least two occasions, suggesting that theologies of demonology originated out of psychoses that had found expression in the European witchcraze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With the essay on Haizmann and demonology, Freud returned to this hypothesis, clearly outlining his view that both God and the Devil were representations of the primal father. Through cultural evolution, these representations had become symbolized in images of divinity and supernatural evil. To support this theory, he drew on Haizmann's life. According to Freud, the painter's neurotic symptoms began soon after his father died. In a depressed and inactive state, he fantasized that the Devil had approached him nine times, offering to help him regain his art and livelihood. Finally, the painter agreed to the bond with the Devil. Freud believed that the Devil became the painter's father substitute when the painter "signed the pact."

That the Devil, as well as God, is an unconscious projection of the father is explained by Freud as the splitting off of the good parent from the feared . . .

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