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Meissner, W.W., S.J. (1991). Catholic Cults and Devotions: A Psychological Inquiry: By Michael P. Carroll. Montreal: McGill-Queen's Univ. Press, 1989, xxi + 230 pp., $29.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 39:257-259.
(1991). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 39:257-259
Catholic Cults and Devotions: A Psychological Inquiry: By Michael P. Carroll. Montreal: McGill-Queen's Univ. Press, 1989, xxi + 230 pp., $29.95.
Review by: W. W. Meissner, S.J.
Michael Carroll teaches sociology at the University of Western Ontario. The present volume extends his interest in the psychoanalytic study of popular Catholic devotions which he began in his previous work on Marian apparitions (Carroll, 1986). In the present work Carroll takes up devotional practices familiar in Catholic folk religion—some of which can lay claim to general prevalence among the faithful, and some that have a more localized or restrictive appeal. The former include the rosary, the Angelus, the stations of the cross, the forty hours devotion, the brown scapular of Our Lady, and the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. These devotions have had widespread appeal and can be found throughout the world. The more restrictive devotions include the phenomena of blood liquefaction, particularly that of St. Januarius, and the occurrence of stigmata.
In each case, the collection of data is adequate, the historical documentation impeccable as far as I can tell, and the analytic argument thin, weak, and unsatisfying. Carroll is correct in his observation that analysts have not paid as much attention to these phenomena as they should, but his own effort to redress that imbalance is marred by a limited theoretical perspective, by his reductionist handling of the data, and by his failure to recognize that in many instances other influences may have been at work determining the course of events than the more restrictively psychoanalytic. Contemporary analysts will be disappointed in the theoretical grounding which is restricted to the early Freudian instinctual theory and a few of the more basic Kleinian concepts. Concepts of psychoanalytic ego psychology, narcissism, object relations, and self psychology (Kohutian or otherwise) seem to have no place.
Much of the huffing and puffing seems to come to a thin, even reductionist, conclusion. To take an example, the rosary is explained by a Freud-style analysis of the repetition and orderly character of the devotion as accounted for by anal-erotic origins, so that the popularity of the devotion is due to its gratification of anal-erotic desires.
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