RELIGION, FREUD, AND WOMEN

VIRTUAL INTERACTIVE SEMINAR

Hosted by the IPhA’s Faith, Psychology and Social Justice Working Group

SATURDAY, September 9th, 2023, 1:00 – 3:00 PM EDT
[virtual room opens at 12:30pm EDT]

Attendance is FREE, but RSVP is required (see the form below)

Registration form

The reading for this seminar is a same-titled article by psychoanalyst Jeffrey Rubin available at:
https://bdagostino.com/resources/Religion%2C%20Freud%2C%20and%20Women_1999.pdf

Dr. Jeffrey Rubin will start the seminar with a short presentation related to the ideas he put forward in his article, and then, we will have the four respondents commenting on these ideas. There will be a plenty of time for general discussion.

ARTICLE AND SEMINAR ABSTRACT

Religion enjoys a problematic standing in psychoanalysis. Since its inception, psychoanalysis has traditionally pathologized and marginalized religion. The standard story is that Freud, the exemplar of Enlightenment rationalism, critiqued the childish illusions underlying religious belief and revealed its seamy underside. While religion has had a Janus-faced history — fostering morality and fueling oppression; promoting civic concern and legitimating fundamentalism — it is more complex than Freud’s account of its origins in childhood fears and compensations would suggest.

“Religion, Freud, and Women” by Jeffrey Rubin (the download link is above) examines a hidden source of Freud’s rejection of religion, namely, his problematic relationship with his mother. In this essay, Jeffrey Rubin draws on revisionist psychobiographical material about Freud’s relationship with his mother to demonstrate that he unconsciously linked religion and the maternal. His fears of the latter led to his rejection of the former. If it is unanalytic to fail to explore the hidden meanings and functions of religious experience, it is anti-analytic to take anything on faith including atheism. In rejecting religion and disavowing spirit, perhaps psychoanalysis has rejected a good deal more than superstition.

A psychoanalysis that worked through its countertransference about religion would open the door to a contemplative psychoanalysis, which would open a potential space for a more meaningful spirituality.

RESPONDERS’ ABSTRACTS: 

Theresa Aiello: My response to Dr Rubin’s excellent paper will include my own thoughts, in particular as related to women and psychoanalysis. I will add some interesting content on Freud and Italy, because of some intriguing remarks Freud made about his travels there, and about women, and beauty experienced in Rome. I will focus on Fairbairn’s concept of the “Bad Exciting Object” and related material, in application to his projections and splitting over women as idealized, eroticized, or demonized.

Gabriella Gusita: Whoever writes about Religion and Freud gets a piece of eternity, or I should say, present history, and this is the case of Jeffrey Rubin’s article which after 24 years since its publication seems so interesting and contemporary as if it was written yesterday. The author presents his very rich and meaningful version of psychoanalytic perspective on religion by placing on the center of his study the hypothesis that Freud’s “problematic relationship with his mother” may be the cause Freud critiqued religion in his writings by pathologizing it and depriving it of an essential purpose, thus revolutionary introducing the idea of an unconscious linkage between “religion and the maternal.” I found the article of Jeffrey Rubin inspiring and thought provoking, and as a woman, relational psychoanalyst, and believer, I found myself thinking together with the author about the extent to which the relationship between religion and psychoanalysis can be mediated by the maternal. or the woman as that meeting point of where science and feelings can be harmonized. I applaud the desire of the author to fight for “opening a potential space for more meaningful spirituality” and I think humanity today needs improved and more flexible versions of both religion and psychoanalysis, as much as we need to give women the place they are entitled to and put an end to this belittling and diminishing of her vulnerable nature.

Trevor Pederson: Rubin gives an excellent presentation of Freud’s problematic account of the psychology of women and its likely ties to his own mother and psychology. However, his attempt to leverage this problem as a way to psychologize Freud’s dismissal of religion is highly speculative and unclear. First, I will argue that Rubin’s position equivocates two different types of illusion and that his argument would be stronger if he took up Freud’s dismissal of religion as transference from his “weak and decrepit” father. Second, I will argue that science is not a belief system as other ideologies are, but a social practice that puts limits on what counts as knowledge. Religion and art do not provide a rival way of thinking to the scientific approach but are the expression of unconscious phantasy (often symbolized) and are more akin to an experience than thinking.

Charlotte Schwartz: Dr. Rubin has presented an erudite and interesting paper on Freud, Religion and Women.  Unfortunately, I am unable to agree with his basic premise that Freud’s dismissal of religion and supposedly very negative attitudes regarding religious beliefs are due to his unconscious and unresolved ambivalence to his mother Amelia. Firstly, to psychoanalyze Freud based on his theoretical constructs is a dangerous use of Psychoanalysis. Secondly, Dr. Rubin, overlooks Freud’s statements that Religion arose as a protective, emotional defense against “the crushingly superior force of nature,” and that “religious ideas have arisen from the same need as have all the other achievements of civilization.” Freud indicated that “Religion has clearly contributed much toward the taming of the asocial instincts.” It is difficult to read into these statements angry and projected affects derived from unconscious feelings derived from his relationship to his mother. That Freud speaks of religion as a cry for childhood comforts and protection has roots in the history of mankind’s early development and religious constructs.

PRESENTER’s BIO

Jeffrey B. Rubin, Ph.D. practices psychoanalysis and psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy in New York City and North Salem, NY. He teaches at The Object Relations Institute of NY, The American Institute of Psychoanalysis, and the C. G. Jung Institute of NY. The author of six books (A Psychoanalysis for Our Time; The Good Life:Psychoanalytic Reflections on Love, Ethics, Creativity, and Spirituality;Psychotherapy and Buddhism: Toward and Integration; The Art of Flourishing: A Guide to Mindfulness, Self-care and Love in a Chaotic World; Meditative Psychotherapy: A Marriage of East and West, and Practicing Meditative Psychotherapy), he has taught at various psychoanalytic institutes and meditation and yoga centers and lectured around the country and abroad on psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis and Buddhism/meditation. Jeffrey is most interested in a pluralistic psychoanalysis that respects the genuine insights and practices from each analytic tradition and draws on the best that has been thought and said from all psychoanalytic schools as well as history, art, literature, anthropology and anything that illuminates the human condition. His pioneering approach to therapy was featured in the New York Times Magazine:
https://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/magazine/26zen-t.html.
He can be contacted at drjeffreyrubin.com or jeffreyrubinphd@gmail.com.

RESPONDENTS’ BIOS

Theresa Aiello, MS, MSW, PhD, is a graduate of The Juilliard School, Silberman Hunter College School of Social Work, and NYU Silver PhD Programs. She has been a tenured Associate Professor of Social Work at the NYU Silver school of Social Work where she taught in the PhD and DSW programs. She writes on applied psychoanalytic theories, narrative, oral history, and psychohistory. Dr Aiello received the much-coveted NYU Distinguished Teaching Award in 2000 and was elected to the National Academies of Practice as distinguished practitioner and scholar. Among other psychoanalytic institutes she has taught in the NIP Institute for the psychotherapies four-year analytic training program and at their Child and Adolescent treatment program. She is currently working on a book of Place: “Unsettled Villages: Witnessing the evolution of the East and West Villages in NYC. She is in private practice as a psychotherapist in the east village of NYC.

Gabriella Gusita, MA, is a psychologist-psychotherapist specializing in Relational Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. She is a regular member of the Association of Greek Psychologists and the International Association of Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy (IARPP) and a collaborator of Alpha Bank, where she provides psychotherapeutic services to employees of the organization. For the last eight years, she has maintained a private office as a psychologist in the Paleo Faliro region. She works with people experiencing depression, anxiety, addiction, unmanageable anger, suicidal behavior, compulsive ideology, as well as difficulty with relationships, self-knowledge, existential issues, and professional orientation. Gabriella has authored articles and conference presentations on these and other clinical topics.

Trevor C. Pederson, Ph.D., is a psychoanalytic counselor in private practice in Laramie, Wyoming. Dr. Pederson is author of The Economics of Libido: Psychic Bisexuality, the Superego, and the Centrality of the Oedipus Complex (Routledge, 2015), Psychoanalysis and Hidden Narrative in Film: Reading the Symptom (Routledge, 2018), and on the editorial board of The International Journal of Controversial Discussions. The Economics of Libido won the Gradiva Award for best book and ‘Narcissism, Echoism, Perfection, and Death: Towards a Structural Psychoanalysis’ (2020) was nominated for best article.

Charlotte Schwartz, MSS, LCSW, is a psychoanalyst in private practice in the Chicago area and has taught pediatrics and social work at New York Medical College, Smith College School for Social Work, and NYU School of Social Work. She is the author of Sex, Society and Relationships: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow and The Mythology Surrounding Freud and Klein: Implications for Psychoanalysis.

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