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An Insider on Freud’s Concept on Religion & explain Psychoanalysis theory

Sigmund Freud questioned the psychological significance of religious ideas and their classification. He argued that the origin of religion can be traced to dark events and deep psychological tensions. Freud believed that the birth of belief originated in the Oedipus complex, a complex interplay of emotions that led to humanity’s first significant transgression. Classical theories of religion, many derived from psychological branches, continue to generate extensive literature. Whether interpretative of religion or spirituality, these theories offer hypotheses subject to measurement-based testing and influence sociological social psychology.

Religious conflicts in the media highlight the paradoxical role of religion, simultaneously fostering prejudice and promoting altruistic and helping behavior, as noted by G.W. Alport. The need for robust theories in the psychology of religion is evident. Psychology must engage with religious issues to demonstrate its relevance to a culture seeking guidance from science and nature. Transpersonal psychology challenges the boundaries between science and spiritual discipline.

Psychoanalysis theory and religion

Freud’s psychology of religion involves two related theories. Firstly, the ontogenic theory links individual piety to infantile helplessness and the longing for protection from the omnipotent father. The superego substitutes for the father, influencing men more, who then shape religion and pass it on to women. Religious rituals serve as a defense against various impulses akin to obsessional neurosis.

Secondly, the phylogenetic theory considers men as the originators of religious traditions. Most founders and reformers of religions are male, and male dominance persists among religious leaders. Gardner Murphy emphasizes Freud’s epic view of human nature, prioritizing artistic congruity and power over internal consistency. Freud’s psychoanalysis, though based on observation, contains elements of tragicomedy, reflecting the struggle between primitive passions and civilization’s victories rooted in early childhood preoccupations.

Freud didn’t merely eliminate religious observance but analyzed it within his general theory. He viewed religion as psychology projected into the external world, explaining myths, gods, evils, immortality, and more.

Religion as neurosis

Religion and neurosis share some similarities. Both involve specific actions done carefully, without interruptions, causing anxiety when neglected. However, unlike neurotic rituals, religious ceremonies are done together with others in the community.

In religious ceremonies, every action has a meaningful purpose. Still, regular worshipers might need help understanding why they do what they do, just like in neurosis, where people may need to know why they perform certain actions. Freud, a famous psychologist, believed that neurotic rituals come from repressed sexual feelings. Similarly, he thought that religion forms when people suppress certain natural instincts. So, according to Freud, religion can be seen as a kind of “obsessional neurosis,” and neurosis can be thought of as a distorted, personal form of religion.

Religion precarious future

Freud on Religion as illusion

Religion’s future is still being determined. Some people think about it a lot. Freud, a famous thinker, talked about it. He said religion could be an illusion, but he didn’t mean believers are tricked. Instead, he wanted to show that human wishes play a big part in why people believe in and practice religion.

According to him, the roots of religious feelings go back to when people were very young, needing their mother’s care and, later, their father’s protection.

Religion masculine roots: sons & fathers

Religion’s origins, according to Freud, are rooted in the relationship between sons and fathers, especially among males. Both sexes experience infantile helplessness, but Freud’s focus is clearly on masculine reactions. In Freud’s view, the core of religion lies in the male’s ambivalent connection with his father, both in individual and collective childhoods.

He believes that males led the way in developing religion, morality, and a sense of society, eventually passing these on to women through cross-inheritance.

Religion & Personality

Let’s delve into the topic of religion and personality. People’s personalities differ, leading to various beliefs and practices. Introverts and extroverts, for example, approach religion differently. Extroverts may actively participate in religious communities, while introverts may have a more personal faith.

Religion can provide comfort and guidance for people with different personality traits. It’s intriguing to explore how personality influences one’s religious experiences. Moreover, some individuals may have a strong connection between their personality traits and religious beliefs. This connection can shape their values and behaviors. For instance, personality traits may influence an individual’s beliefs about God’s role in the world. Extroverts might perceive God as more involved, while introverts may see God as less active.

Additionally, one’s upbringing and environment can influence their religious beliefs. A strong religious background may lead to intense religious experiences and conversions. Furthermore, the way people perceive their beliefs can vary. Some individuals may view their religious beliefs as absolute truths, while others may see them as personal interpretations.

In conclusion, personality traits, upbringing, and personal interpretations significantly shape one’s religious beliefs and experiences.


In conclusion, interpreting religious phenomena using psychoanalysis depends on one’s view of religion. If we believe religion has no objective validity, it’s seen as a product of human needs. However, perceiving a reality beyond human invention allows psychoanalysis to deepen religious faith. Freud was mainly interested in the origin of religion in the human race. He explored this extensively in his work.

Additionally, Freud noted similarities between neurotic rituals and religious practices. He argued that religious beliefs were illusions, not responses to reality. Later, he acknowledged the value of religious experiences. For Freud, mystical experiences were like regressions to an earlier, infantile state linked to beliefs in God. In his view, religious beliefs were not just illusions but also delusions.

Works Cited

Allport, Gordon W. The Nature of Prejudice. Cambridge Mass., Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1954.

Capps, Walter H. Religious Studies. Fortress Press, 1995.

Deal, William E, and Timothy K Beal. Theory for Religious Studies. New York, Routledge, 2004.

Gay, Peter. Freud : A Life for Our Time. New York, Norton, 2006.

Helm, Paul. Faith with Reason. Oxford, Clarendon Press ; Oxford ; New York, 2000.

Hood, Ralph W, et al. The Psychology of Religion : An Empirical Approach. New York, Ny, Guilford Press, 2018.

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