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Richards, A. (2009). The Need not to Believe: Freud's Godlessness Reconsidered. Psychoanal. Rev., 96(4):561-578.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Review, 96(4):561-578

The Need not to Believe: Freud's Godlessness Reconsidered

Arnold Richards, Ph.D.

In considering Sigmund Freud's identity as a Jewish man of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, I (Richards, 2008) have argued that one must consider three distinct strands. The first of these strands, and the subject of numerous studies both within psychoanalysis and without, is Freud's commitment to cultural assimilation via a well-rounded classical education and participation in the wider world of European science and letters—to wit, the tradition of Bildung as an educational, moral, and assimilationist ideal, one shared by many of Freud's Jewish contemporaries (Richards, 2006). This assimilationist strand was not without its ambivalent underside for Freud and for many of his Jewish contemporaries. In terms of Freud's own biography, this strand begins quite early in Freud's life, literally in his seventh year, when his father began schooling him in that great Enlightenment and assimilationist text, The Phillipson Bible, and it can be charted as a major theme in his identity throughout his adolescence and adult years. The second strand in Freud's identity derives from his response to anti-Semitism, which first became widespread, and virulent, in Vienna from 1881 onward. Freud's response was always one of defiance, but its particulars evolved over the course of his adult life with the development of psychoanalysis and with the subsequent evolution of the psychoanalytic movement. I cannot chart all its nuances here, but I should note that Freud's response entailed a heightened sense of himself as a Jew combined with an enduring sense that the Jewish tradition is favorable to the development of intellectuality generally, and of a scientific worldview particularly.

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