Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Spirit, Mind, and Brain

Spirit, Mind, and Brain: A Psychoanalytic Examination of Spirituality and Religion

Mortimer Ostow
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Spirit, Mind, and Brain
    Book Description:

    Preeminent psychoanalyst Mortimer Ostow believes that early childhood emotional attachments form the cognitive underpinnings of spiritual experience and religious motivation. His hypothesis, which is verifiable, relies on psychological and neurobiological evidence but is respectful of the human need for spiritual value.

    Ostow begins by classifying the three parts of the spiritual experience: awe, Spirituality proper, and mysticism. After he pinpoints the psychological origins of these feelings in infancy, he discusses the foundations of religious sentiment and practice and the brain processes associated with spiritual experience. He then focuses on spirituality's relationship to mood regulation, and the role of negative spirituality in fostering religious fundamentalism and demonic possession.

    Ostow concludes with an analysis of an essay by the psychoanalyst Donald M. Marcus, who recounts his own spiritual experience during a Native American-style "vision quest" in the woods. Marcus's account demonstrates the constructive potential of spirituality and the way in which spirituality retrieves and recapitulates feelings of attachment to the mother.

    Persuasively and brilliantly argued, Spirit, Mind, and Brain brings the disciplines of religion, behavorial neuroscience, and philosophy to bear on a groundbreaking new method for understanding religious ritual and belief.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51120-9
    Subjects: Religion, Psychology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    “Spirituality” is a word that has no clear-cut meaning, but many resonances. It evokes a strong response from some people and virtually none from others. It is generally recognized as something to be respected or admired. Many people respond to it with enthusiasm, others find it of no interest. Although it has the power to move many people and bore others, it is not easily defined cognitively.

    Spirituality and religion are two different domains, but they are usually conflated. Even William James (1902), perhaps the finest student of the psychology of these subjects, does not distinguish them clearly. In fact,...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Spirit
    (pp. 10-33)

    This is a letter I received from a close friend, a distinguished scientist, an erudite man, well known as an especially clear thinker.

    (Report 1)

    Here is an account of the unusual experience that I had which I told you about the other evening. It occurred at the beginning of August at a time when Helen was either in the hospital or had just returned home. Now I am not sure exactly which.

    I went swimming at our community pool which is located at the edge of the bay. As I regularly do, I looked out over the water before...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Mind: The Psychodynamics of Awe, Spirituality, and Mysticism
    (pp. 34-51)

    To study the psychodynamics of Spirituality and mysticism, we shall deal with developmental issues and then examine religious records for the intuitions that they reveal.

    Let us start with the phenomenon of awe. We use the term “awe” when we are moved by percepts that transcend the usual range of perceptible phenomena, such as natural landmarks that are breathtakingly immense, off scale, as seen from our perspective as observers. Some panoramas are more “beautiful” than others, evoking awe not only by their size but also by their beauty. Mountains, hills, valleys, forests, deserts seem to possess a powerful ability to...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Religion
    (pp. 52-111)

    The concepts of religion and spirituality overlap, though they do not coincide. The word “religion” implies a certain kind of experience that is perhaps usually spiritual, but also a system of worship, a set of myths, and a kind of communal organization. Not everything that is spiritual is necessarily religious, nor is everything that is religious necessarily spiritual. Most of the examples of the spiritual that I have given could be considered religious, and in fact most spiritual experiences that are reported fall within the rubric of religious, but not all.

    Wordsworth espoused a spirituality of nature.

    The World Is...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Brain
    (pp. 112-127)

    In recent years the popular press has reported “scientific findings” claiming that imaging procedures demonstrate that one or another area of brain is active at the time that spiritual and religious feelings are experienced. The frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, the temporal lobe, the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the cingulate cortex are the structures most frequently identified. Some have inferred that “science” has demonstrated the “reality” and validity of religious belief. More careful thinkers acknowledge only that the brain is responsible for all feelings no matter how they are generated, and therefore that these images tell us nothing about their...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Mood Regulation
    (pp. 128-141)

    Let us examine another aspect of my claim that spirituality has an affective basis. Its evocation depends upon, and in turn influences, mood. Mood is the affective background of all conscious experience. We usually take it for granted and don’t notice it unless it draws attention by unusual intensity, inappropriateness, or duration. Mood may be overridden by affect that is elicited by an external event or by an internal need, and in turn, the mood may favor a congruent affect. My intention in this chapter is to describe mood fluctuation and how it influences susceptibility to spiritual experience, and especially...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Apocalypse
    (pp. 142-150)

    A discussion of apocalypse seems essential in a study of the psychology of spirituality. I consider the apocalyptic revelation the ultimate spiritual experience and aimed at mood regulation. Apocalypse is a statement that takes the form of a mystical experience and its message is clearly intended to influence mood. While scholars date the earliest classical apocalypses to the second century before the Common Era, elements of the same structure are found much earlier, in the books of the Jewish prophets, in the accounts of the flood in Genesis, and in Mesopotamian myths.

    In his book Maps of Meaning (1999), Peterson,...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Demonic Spirituality: Infanticide, Self-Sacrifice, and Fundamentalism
    (pp. 151-185)

    In this chapter I shall consider more systematically what I have called negative spirituality, that is, spiritual experience that is associated with anxiety, depression, despair, anger, or aggressive attack.

    My description of the process of mood regulation in chapter 6 was incomplete in that it did not fully describe the role of aggression. I argued that mood fluctuates continually in everyone, whether in response to external events, gratification, frustration, threats, and so on, or spontaneously as result of internal regulatory processes.

    Specifically, as mood declines toward depression, mood-elevating forces come into play so as to reverse the decline and initiate...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Analyzing an Account of a Spiritual Experience
    (pp. 186-204)

    After I had completed the first draft of this manuscript, I read an account of a “vision quest.” It was presented as an autobiographical description of an adventure entered into by Dr. Donald M. Marcus, a respected and experienced psychoanalyst, who hoped to find a week’s diversion in natural surroundings. Paula Hamm, a close colleague and mutual friend, had been chairing discussion groups at meetings of the American Psychoanalytic Association on the subject of the psychodynamics of spirituality for several years. A close friend of Dr. Marcus, she knew of his manuscript and suggested that he present it to the...

  13. References
    (pp. 205-208)
  14. Index
    (pp. 209-220)