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Parsons, W.B. (2007). Psychoanalytic Spirituality. Ann. Psychoanal., 35:83-96.

(2007). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 35:83-96

Psychoanalytic Spirituality

William B. Parsons, Ph.D.

One can only imagine what the term psychoanalytic spirituality suggests to a true Freudian. As is well known, Freud's view of religion was markedly pejorative. Even his oft-quoted remark in a letter to Swiss Protestant pastor Oskar Pfister that psychoanalysis could be viewed as a “secular cure of souls” (Freud and Pfister, 1963, p. 126) renders psychoanalysis at best a humanistic discipline and not a religion. From this perspective any hint of psychoanalysis involving a spiritual dimension must be placed quite firmly in the camp of Jung.

Then again, one does not want to conflate all psychoanalysis with Freud. Moreover, it should not be assumed that there exits any self-evident understanding of the term religion. The Latin religio initially was used to denote a power greater than the human or the feeling invoked by the encounter with said power. Only gradually did it come to designate ritual acts, myths, belief systems, inner piety, and the various accoutrements so familiar today (Wulff, 1997). In academia the term religion is seen as fraught with difficulties, as is evidenced by substantial controversies and debates over its use. Although it is understood to be a necessary, even functional term, notable figures have uncovered the term's hidden assumptions, fought for its qualification, offered substitutions, and even called for its dismissal (Smith, 1963). At any rate, we know where Freud stood on the matter. For him the only deserving definition was the common understanding of religion, an understanding that was Western, that assumed institutionalized patriarchal forms of sociocultural power, and whose normative expression was centered in the monotheistic “mighty personality” of an exalted Father–God.

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