Psychology of religion-Freud and Jung's contributions


Psychology's contrubution-Intro

  • Psychology offers a scientific, objective view on our understanding of religion.
  • Freud’s view on religion, and explanations for it, followed by explaining two of his theories and how they offer distinctive contributions of our understanding of religion.
  • Evaluate Freud’s contributions to religion by comparing them to Jung’s explanations of religion and the use of scholars.
  • Explain in deeper detail Jung’s contributions to religion, and give them critical evaluation.
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Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

  • Grew up in a Catholic town in Moravia, Czech, where he was one of a small number of Jews.
  • Claimed he had no faith, and never felt the need for it, albeit he was still familiar with the Jewish customs and festivals
  • The two influencing factors in Freud’s anti-religious feeling were; his strong influence by his Catholic nanny, who impressed him with the ideas of heaven and hell, and also facing with anti-Semitism, making him feel inferior and an outsider as he was a Jew.
  • His work on religion was highly credible & he is a highly respected psychologist, though it is thought that his contribution to religion was in fact subjective, as a result from his childhood; especially his Christian nanny.
  • Context; Freud felt inferior in relation to his religion due to the Second World War, a time when minority groups, such as Jews and the disabled were dehumanised.
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Freud and religion

  • Freud felt that religion was an escape for most people, adding that God is an ‘illusion’
  • Like Karl Marx, he felt that religion was the ‘opiate’ of the masses and should not be propagated.
  • Religion is a form of neurosis.
  • Scholars have suggested that Freud saw religion as the disguised psychological truths he felt lie at the heart of human mental distress.
  • To argue his point, he came up with the Oedipus complex, and religion as a form of neurosis.
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Oedipus complex and religion

  •  The natural reaction of the psyche was to control feelings of guilt by transferring it away from itself onto surrounding objects and people.
  • The first stage of development is animism. When suffering from extreme guilt, the mind’s defence mechanism is to create totems, such as stones, trees or animals with spirits. Thus, the mind can redirect the feelings of guilt on to the totem, making amends via prayer and sacrifice. The mind is therefore able to control the feelings of guilt
  • The totem is a transformation of the father, regarded with ambivalence, as does the totem
  • e.g. the Wolf Man demonstrated that people suffering from the Oedipus complex frequently transferred their fear on to animals.
  • Historical support: primal horde-As the veneration of the father grew, the veneration was transferred on to a totem animal. The totem became the symbol of identity of the group
  • forbidden to harm the animal, albeit once a year there would be a ritual killing and eating of the totem animal.
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How this developes into religion:

  • As time passed, the animist emphasis on the totem proved unsatisfactory. As longing for the father grew, so did the reputation.
  • Eventually he took on divine significance, becoming transformed into god of religion ideologies.
  • Gods of religions are regarded with the same ambivalence as the original father figure according to Freud.
  • e.g. The Christian God, who’s venerated and treated with great reverence is sometimes ceremonially killed and eaten in the Communion Feast- evidently providing an exact link with the animist ritual killing of the totem.
  • Religion=an illusion created by the mind to help us come to terms with the powerfully ambivalent emotions suffered during sexual development- it’s a means of resolving this inner conflict.  
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Freud & manifestations of neurosis

  • People have layers of mental strata, which aren’t always recognisable; an unconscious as well as conscious mental process

Divided into three parts;

1. the id;  the pleasure principal; innate drive to satisfy our basic needs. Unconscious self, full of memories that might have been repressed or forgotten, unconscious desires that we don’t admit to ourselves.

2. the ego; the reality principal, balances thoughts. the part of the mind which is obvious to us, the conscious self. We’re aware of it, we know what we are thinking about, and we know our tastes and opinions, rational part of the mind

3.the super-ego; morality principal-equated with the conscience. It’s the driving moral force that tells us to do some things, and not others shaped by society what's right/wrong.

  • Freud firmly believed these moral imperatives come from our society as we grow up- this feeling of morality coming from some kind of supernatural moral law-giver is illusory.
  • Leading atheists such as R. Dawkins to explore the evolutionary benefits of an altruistic gene.
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How Freud's ideas contribute to our understanding

  • Hysterical behavior of some patients- form of compulsive-obsessional disorders e.g. cumpulsive handwashing.
  • Freud made a link with religion and OCD when he noticed similar behaviour of his patients in relation to the source of their obsession and that of religious people in relation their object of worship.
  • e.g. both patient and believer had specific ritual behaviour, filled with symbolic meanings for believers, appearing to be absolutely meaningless to the uninitiated.
  • In both cases, failure to perform a particular act resulted in severe guilt, regarded as ambivalence.
  • Leading Freud to argue religion was a form of neurotic behaviour, caused by traumas, particularly sexual; buried deep within the psyche.
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Support for Freud's contribution:

  • Darwin’s work as support for the Oedipus complex; speculating that in primitive societies, the social unit was called the primal horde.
  • (go to card 4 for details)
  • This demonstrates that the Oedipus complex isn’t simply a personal trauma, but one that’s affected all society at a historical level, helping to explain why religion is universal and why the concept of God is such a powerful one; it stems from a historical experience that still affects us.
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Critisisms of Freud's work:

  • Main issue: claims that religion and humans venerate a father figure,  only accounting for religions with father-figures, and humans with fathers.
  • What about religions without father-figures, such as Buddhism which does not support the belief in an omnipotent creator God, or children brought up without a father?
  • Do they thus avoid the aid of religion to avoid the Oedipus complex?
  • Other critiscims; M. Palmer-‘almost all the evidence that Freud presents has been discredited in one way or another’.
  • Regarding Freud’s historical and anthropological evidence for the primal horde-no longer accepted that people were grouped exclusively in hordes; it’s more likely to have been a greater variety.
  • Not all societies had totem objects that they worshipped, neither is there any evidence for the ambivalent attitude towards the totems-. E.E. Evans Pritchard doubts this ever happened.
  • These criticism damage Freud’s claim that religion is guilt-based-removes the major source of guilt & weakens the Oedipus complex theory, since the primal crime was an important illustration of its effect on society.  
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Further critisms...

  • Freud’s psychological evidence regarding the Oedipus complex has been attacked by Bronislaw Malinowski- who argues the complex is caused by the strict rules of religion, rather than being the cause of them.
  • Uses e.g. of Trobriand race, where the role of the father is more that of a weak nurse.The father figure wasn’t this macho, dominant venerated figure that Freud’s argued to demonstrate evidence for the Oedipus complex
  • This critisim argues sexual guilt is not the cause of religion.
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Carl Gustav Young (1875-1961) vs Freud

  • Criticised and rejected many of Freud’s conclusions of religion.
  • He accepted religion as a psychological phenomenon, but he objected that religion is a neurotic illness caused by s&xual trauma, & that religion is a dangerous entity, to be exposed and overthrown. -Jung felt that Freud’s attention was too focused upon s&x and its impact on behaviour.
  • What motivates and influences behaviour is a psychic energy or life force-s&xuality could be only one potential manifestation.
  • Freud and Jung disagreed with the concept and purpose of religion. Whereas Freud saw religion as a neurotic illness & a dangerous illusion that needed to be overthrown, Jung saw religion as a necessary part of the individuation process, & offered a method of communication between humans, as well as performing the role of maintaining the balance of the mind and preventing neurosis.
  • Archetypes and symbols present in many of the different religions all translate into the same meanings.
  • Jung didn't practice a specific religion, though he was curious & explored religions from the archetypal view point; Eastern philosophies and religions.
  • During the arguments and correspondence between Freud and Jung, Freud accused Jung of anti-Semitism.
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Freud vs Jung cont...

  • Jung disagreed also with oedipal impulses; the relationship between mother and child was based upon the love and protection granted by the mother to the child
  • Reinforced by John Bowlby and Main Ainsworth in basic Attachment Theory and Internal Working Models.
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Jung's contribution to our understanding of religi

  • Compared God as an Archetype; our images of God are themselves archetypal.
  • Each one of us are born with the tendency to generate religious images of gods, angels and other religious phenomena, e.g. miracles.
  • Actual images that we have of God are picked up through our own experiences in the world; known as schema; , the disposition to generate them is innate- natural.
  • ‘the numinosum- whatever its cause maybe- is an experience of the subject independent of his free will’.
  • Religious experience as always ‘due to a cause external to the individual’
  • ‘the numinosim is either a quality belonging to a visible object or the influence of an invisible presence that causes a peculiar alteration of consciousness.’; any experience, images or thoughts which is archetypical can be classed as religious, as it involves an invisible presence, independent of the subject’s will.
  • Jung affirmed God, as well as the images generated by all the other archetypes to be ineffable. (too great, powerful, beautiful, etc., to be described or expressed)
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Jung's contributions continued...

  • The balance of the libido and ensuring mental health of the individual are controlled by an innate process he coined individuation; resulting- psychically balanced personality via the integration of the various archetypes into the conscious personality.-related his concept to religion;
  • Individuation- innate process governed by the archetype known as the self, which is the innate disposition to become whole. Any process or attitude that’s governed by archetypes may be termed religious, therefore, individuation is a religious process.
  • The self aids the process of individuation by generating images of wholeness.e.g.images created by the self archetype, thus via religious images, the personality achieves its goal of integration.
  • Religious images are used by the mind to individual the personality. The value of religion becomes clear; if one rejects religion, one is simultaneously rejecting a substantial part of the individuation mechanism; therefore less likely to individuate successfully, resulting in neurosis from the remaining psychological tension.
  • Jung concluded that religion is a valuable entity. 
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Critcal analysis of Jung's contrubution

  •  Theory of archetypes; Geza Roheim -since all humans share broadly the same experiences, it’s hardly surprising that we develop myths along similar lines. Therefore, it’s argued Jung isn't justified in postulating an archetypal ‘instinct of God’ from the evidence that people believe in God.
  • Jung’s didn’t take into account that many people don’t believe in God. Albeit, Jung argued that atheism is itself a form of religion.
  • Jung’s theory of religious experience is also criticised; Martin Buber was not convinced that an experience stemming from the mind is in no way external to the subject can properly be termed religious.
  • Issues with archetypical images being described as religious; if a vision of being trapped in armour is as religious as a vision of God, he’s failed to preserve the uniqueness of religious experience. He’s also failed to explain why this type of experience is so distinctive in the minds of the subject.
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  • Like Jung, I strongly disagree with Freud’s emphasis on s&x to validate his contribution to religion.
  • Both Freud and Jung have greatly contributed to our understanding of religion because of their wide use of inductive arguments, e.g. the case study of the Wolf Man in Freud’s Oedipus theory, or Jung’s use of images to explain his comparison of God and an archetype.
  • Evident that psychology, especially the work of Freud and Jung has contributed to our understanding of religion.
  • Jung’s work is more relevant and influential to psychology’s input of religion because he avoids the lack validity Freud’s work conveys due to Freud’s subjectivity from socio-environmental factors, such as his upbringing and the significance of when his work was published; the start of WWII, a time where religions, especially Judaism were hated upon for their lack of understanding from the world.
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