Freud is famous for portraying religion as a collective neurosis of mankind.
He argued that religious beliefs give expression to wish-fulfilling illusions, serving the immature emotional needs of the child living on within the adult.
Such illusions – he sternly maintained – should be cast aside and replaced by ideas corresponding to reality – namely, the materialistic worldview that emerges gradually but inescapably from the cumulative process of scientific observation.
This is one side of Freud – expressing his self-image as an ‘Enlightenment philosophe’ (in Peter Gay’s accurate phrase). But there is another side to Freud – unfortunately less widely known – for in the later works he develops a subtle and complex theory of society, in which religion plays a much more positive – even vital – role. Seen from this perspective, religion may be regarded as necessary for our psychological well-being – even for the survival of humankind.
We will explore a range of psychoanalytic interpretations of religion, examining different views of its function and significance in the lives of human beings.
Day course outline:
We will engage with the full range of Freud’s subtle and insightful thoughts on the nature of religion – and consider his specific observations on the character of particular religions.
We will examine Jung’s philosophical critique of Freud, and his view of religious experience as a manifestation of latent structures of the collective unconscious – structures modern people have become estranged from, but with which they need to re-connect to access the living symbols that help human beings find meaning and direction in their lives.
We will explore Julia Kristeva’s brilliant and profound post-Lacanian theorizing in which religion performs the vital cultural function of articulating the ‘semiotic’ – a function whose atrophy in the contemporary West underlies the nihilism of modernity. We will consider her notions of the ‘semiotic’ and the ‘symbolic’, and her interpretation of religion as enabling the semiotic to take on symbolic form in discourses of love, loss and abjection.
Tea and coffee will be provided during both breaks.
Please note: there is no cafe on site, however, you are welcome to bring your own lunch, which can be consumed in the classroom, or the Museum garden if the weather is fine.
Tutor: Keith Barrett BA PhD
Having received his PhD from the Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London, Dr Barrett specialises in both philosophy and psychoanalysis and has taught at several leading institutions, including Imperial College and Birkbeck College.