Hello, I came upon your site looking for information that I could use in a philosophy research paper.
Maybe you can help me. My topic is the psychological foundations of religion. My idea is that I would
be looking for the psychological reasons for religion. At this point in time I have some thoughts from
Freud and Nietzsche. Any suggestions? Thank you.
A most interesting question, Alexa. Now, I'm not going to write up your paper for you, but you might
care to look up these chaps:
You really must include Karl Jung. I can heartily recommend his Man and his Symbolsas one of the
best written works there is (and very nicely illustrated too). Broadly, his thesis is that people can only
interact to form society, through interchange facilitated by shared symbolism, and that this collectivity
of symbols forms what is, in effect, a 'collective unconscious' which permeates all our thoughts. This
symbolic system is the basis of religion.
As an interesting contrast, you might like to include Lucien Febvre, the French historian; he also
developed an idea of 'collective mentality' that went beyond individual thinkers, but, whereas Jung
largely argues that religion grows out of our need for symbolism, Febvre (in The Problem of Unbelief
in the 16th Century) argues that for writers like Rabelais, it was rather that atheism was impossible,
because the mentality required (which Jung would see as the system of symbolism) for disbelief
simply didn't exist then. He's closely associated with the philosopher Levy-Bruhl, whose (thoroughly
non-PC) How Natives Thinkrather suggests that unbelief is impossible before people have developed
a system of logic.
Another must is probably William James, the American pioneer of experimental psychology. His The
Varieties of Religious Experienceis one of the most-quoted texts on the subject, and has the added
bonus of being almost readable.
There are two recent developments which you'll probably find very interesting. One is the work of
Richard Dawkins, whose book The Selfish Geneis a disturbingly persuasive essay arguing that living
things are just corporal vessels impelled to heed the primal dictates of selfish genes hellbent on their
own replication, rather like the philosopher Samuel Butler observing that a chicken is just the egg's
way to make another egg. Taking that idea even further, Dawkins proposed that ideascan be looked
on as competing, self-replicating, entities he called 'memes.' Religion just happens to be a particularly
efficient 'meme'. This has sparked extraordinary controversy, and at least one book about its
implications for faith; Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine.
Finally, you can hardly consider yourself up-to-date with psychology without throwing in a bit of
neuroscience, and the neuroscience of God is specially interesting. This is the discovery that religious
experience seems to be associated with a part of the brain's temporal lobes, and that, astonishingly,
mystical experiences can be induced by stimulation of that area. This has opened up a fascinating
debate as to whether this 'god-spot' proves that God doesn't exist, but is created out of our own
minds or that God must exist, or why would we be built with a special religious area of our brains?
There's a good overview of this at:
And you might care to search out V.S. Ramachandran's essay "God and the Temporal Lobes of the
Good luck! (Though, of course, if Dawkins is right, luck doesn't come into it)