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Meissner, W.W. (1978). Psychoanalytic Aspects of Religious Experience. Ann. Psychoanal., 6:103-141.

(1978). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 6:103-141

Psychoanalytic Aspects of Religious Experience

W. W. Meissner, S.J.


From virtually the beginning of its intellectual history, psychoanalysis had an implicit intention to extend itself to the broadest ranges of human experience and culture. Even as early as 1895, in a letter to Fliess, Freud (1887-1902) wrote:

I am plagued with two ambitions: to see how the theory of mental functioning takes place if quantitative considerations, a sort of economics of nerve-force, are introduced into it; and secondly, to extract from psycho-pathology what may be of benefit to normal psychology. Actually a satisfactory general theory of neuropsychotic disturbances is impossible if it cannot be brought into association with clear assumptions about normal mental processes [pp. 119-120].

It has always been somewhat enigmatic that the psychoanalytic attempt to bring understanding to one of mankind's broadest and farthest-reaching areas of experience, that of human religious phenomena, has continued to be relatively inadequate and impoverished. It is not difficult to find reasons for this, particularly for Freud's own religious, or if your prefer anti-religious bias. A combination of sociological, ethnic, and historical circumstances has contributed to the prolongation of this relative impoverishment.

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