Men, Religion, and Melancholia

Men, Religion, and Melancholia: James, Otto, Jung, and Erikson

Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 250
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    Men, Religion, and Melancholia
    Book Description:

    It is not by coincidence that the key figures in the psychology of religion-William James, Rudolph Otto, Carl Jung, and Erik Erikson-each fought a lifelong battle with melancholia, argues Donald Capps in this engrossing book. These four men experienced similar traumas in early childhood: each perceived a loss of mother's unconditional love. In the deep melancholy that resulted, they turned to religion. Capps contends that the main impetus for men to become religious lies in such melancholia, and that these four authors were typical, although their losses were especially severe because of complicating personal circumstances. Offering a new way of viewing the major classics in the psychology of religion, Capps explores the psychological origins of these authors' own religious visions through a sensitive examination of their writings.Using Freud's "Mourning and Melancholia" and "The Uncanny" as interpretive keys, the author explores James'sThe Varieties of Religious Experience, Otto'sThe Idea of the Holy, Jung'sAnswer to Job, and Erikson'sYoung Man Luther. All four texts address in significant ways the role of melancholy in religion, says Capps, and he emphasizes that melancholy is central to the authors' ways of understanding religion. Each developed an unconventional or idiosyncratic religious vision in the search for a means to address his psychological loss and to reverse or transcend its effects. Capps assesses the adequacy of each author's religious views, recommends forms of religion best suited to melancholiacs, and also considers the role that a father surrogate can play in helping a young man cope with melancholia, as did Samuel Johnson with James Boswell.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14650-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 Religious Melancholy and the Lost Object
    (pp. 1-21)

    In the epilogue ofYoung Man Luther,Erik H. Erikson concludes that he has been dealing throughout the book with “a Western religious movement which grew out of and subsequently perpetuated an extreme emphasis on the interplay of initiative and guilt, and an exclusive emphasis on the divine Father-Son.” But then he adds, “Even in this scheme, the mother remains a counterplayer however shadowy. Father religions have mother churches” (1958, 263).

    This is not a book about “mother churches,” but itisa book about that shadowy figure — the mother herself — who remains in the background not only of the...

  5. 2 “That Shape Am I”: The Bearing of Melancholy on The Varieties of Religious Experience
    (pp. 22-75)

    Although it was written by an American, most Americans today experience William James’sVarieties of Religious Experience(1982, hereafterVRE) as foreign to them, as it seems concerned with many issues that are not now very current. The subject matter of the first chapter, “Religion and Neurology,” is not likely to attract the would-be reader, as the question of whether religion is physiologically based is not one that interests us very much today. The following passage, in which James cites examples of this association of religion and physiology, seems quaint and oddly foreign to current readers: “Perhaps the commonest expression...

  6. 3 “A Thrill of Fear”: The Melancholic Sources of The Idea of the Holy
    (pp. 76-126)

    Many of us were introduced to Rudolf Otto’sIdea of the Holyduring undergraduate or graduate courses in world religions. As a result, we have formed a somewhat skewed view of both the book and the author. Otto wrote it as a Christian theologian, and although there are many references to Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic beliefs, the book has a decidedly Christian orientation, with key chapters on the numinous in the Old and New Testaments and in the theology of Martin Luther. By situating the text in a course, and now as a book in the psychology of religion, I...

  7. 4 “A Little Sun in His Own Heart”: The Melancholic Vision in Answer to Job
    (pp. 127-151)

    When Carl Gustav Jung (born 1875, died 1961) was writingAnswer to Jobin the months prior to its publication in 1952, he knew that it would be a controversial book, even for him, an author accustomed to having his work criticized and dismissed. Its actual reception substantiated his anticipatory fears. The book was widely condemned. Viewed from our perspective several decades later, its condemnation, while not altogether surprising, is odd in one respect, namely, that many intellectuals without formal biblical training have actually been praised for writing on Job, a text for which they lacked the requisite scholarly background....

  8. 5 Melancholy and Motherhate: The Parabolic Fault Line in Young Man Luther
    (pp. 152-204)

    In his preface toYoung Man Luther,Erikson leaves no doubt that what he believes is unique about his study of young Luther is its viewpoint of the clinician, especially a clinician who has spent the better part of his professional career treating individuals in their late teens and early twenties. In the opening sentence, he explains that his study of Luther as a young man “was planned as a chapter in a book on emotional crises in late adolescence and early adulthood [1959]. But Luther proved too bulky a man to be merely a chapter” (1958, 7; hereafterYML)....

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 205-214)

    In this exploration of four key texts in the psychology of religion, my concern has been to account for the origins of a boy’s disposition to be religious. I have proposed that the origins of such a disposition are in the loss of the mother whom he had perceived as loving him unconditionally but now doubts that she really does. The religious disposition emerges from the sense that something has been lost, perhaps irrevocably and irretrievably. It has, however, two discernible features, each reflecting in its own way the child’s uncertainty as to the irreversibility of the loss.

    One is...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 215-220)
  11. References
    (pp. 221-226)
  12. Index
    (pp. 227-235)