Narcissism in Religion

Authored by: Tamas Pataki

The Routledge International Handbook of Psychoanalysis and Philosophy

Print publication date:  November  2022
Online publication date:  November  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367276454
eBook ISBN: 9780429297076
Adobe ISBN:


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In this chapter, the introduction sketches the broad view of religions within which later sections unfold. The view is that all religions have two highly variable poles or functions: on the one hand, explanation, prediction and control and, on the other, communion in which intimate relationship is sought with gods or spirits. The following section focuses on communion, the most prominent feature of contemporary monotheistic religions, and argues that the modes of achieving communion with gods and spirits are essentially the same as the modes available in human-to-human relationships, including narcissistic relationships. It follows that gods and spirits must be conceived in fundamentally anthropocentric terms, even if in some unfathomable respects they surpass the human. I then sketch the psycho-historical evolution of the concept of a single, omnipotent and caring god that made intense attachment, communion and dependence possible. Of the many aspects of the peculiar relationship to an omnipotent and solicitous non-corporeal object I highlight its identificatory and more broadly defensive uses (in the psychoanalytic sense) in sustaining the economy of narcissism. This leads to a discussion of deficiencies in the accounts of religiosity advanced in contemporary attachment theory and, finally, to a novel psychoanalytic account of the role of narcissistic processes in individual and group religious belief and behaviour, especially their pernicious consequences.

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