The Quest for Spirituality: A Psychoanalytic Approach


The relationship between psychoanalysis and religion is often said to be antagonistic, as Freud famously claims that our religious beliefs are but a product of irrationality generated by our infantile phantasies. Recently, however, the philosopher John Cottingham suggests that religious faith is not only compatible with, but in fact supported by psychoanalytic theory, to the effect that both of them are motivated by our needs for self-discovery, and that a synthesis of the two is possible as long as we take religious practice as indicative of the creative and benign power of human phantasy. Following this psychoanalytic defence of religion, in this paper I shall attempt to further explore the function of phantasy in a person's quest for spirituality. I argue that in order to attain the kind of synthesis between religion and psychoanalysis that Cottingham recommends, we must first examine the conditions under which a religious faith goes astray because of the baneful effects of a person's persecutory anxieties, so much so that his religious belief is formed out of defence and self-misrepresentation. Conversely, a genuine quest for spirituality is more likely to consist in the person's loving and hopeful attitude, which in the light of Kleinian theory is best explained by the integrative phantasy of ‘being one with the universe'. Finally, I propose that this way of distinguishing between genuine and defensive religious faiths will have profound implications for a naturalist but non-deflationist approach to religion.

Author Information
Ching-wa Wong, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong

Paper Information
Conference: ACERP2013
Stream: Ethics; Religion; Philosophy

This paper is part of the ACERP2013 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Wong C. (2013) The Quest for Spirituality: A Psychoanalytic Approach ISSN: 2187-476X – The Asian Conference on Ethics, Religion & Philosophy 2013 – Official Conference Proceedings
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