Psychology and Religion by Carl Jung


This paper will shed some light on the biographical setting of psychiatric specialist Carl Jung; get to know how he went about his profession. Also, by looking at his reasoning and how he made connections in psychology and religion, we can learn more on how these two fields are intertwined. It sheds some light on Jung’s theories of Investigative Psychology and the supposition of the Archetypes. It also talks about Jung’s association with Freud. The paper goes ahead and talks about Jung’s analysis of religious conviction and the Christian belief, and the critics of Jung’s work.


Carl Jung who was a Swiss is commonly known as the one who initiated investigative psychology, a branch of psychology whose main aim is that of entirety through the integration of unconscious and conscious sections of the human mind. He lived with an extended family that was fairly learned (Boeree). Jung’s mother came from a rich family background and the father was a religious man. The mother, though from a wealthy family, had a disorder that was depressive and was in and out of hospital. This caused Jung to believe that women had no mental capability that can be relied on.

Jung’s was focused on becoming an archeologist, but due to financial constraints his family could just afford to take him to the University of Basel to pursue medicine. After finishing his studies, Jung worked as a psychiatric specialist in a hospital in Zurich.

Religious Background

Carl Jung’s father was a pastor in the Swiss Reformed Church (Jung, 58). This denomination of Christian Protestantism, as developed by its founder Ulrich Zwingli, required that religious establishments and modes of belief are much less important than an inner, personal relationship with the Supreme Being (Tambiah, 4). However, as C.G Jung viewed it, his father clearly lacked this aforementioned type of personal and experiential orientation, and hence had lost his faith with the onset of post-enlightenment logic and avidity (Jung, 113).

Jung’s mother, however, despite on the surface being a conventional Protestant, had a more positive outlook towards spiritualistic experiences, as had both of her parents (Jung, 65,120 & Jaffe, 40). Jung recognizes the influence of this domestic religious atmosphere on his various hypotheses about religion. In his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung outlines several key childhood experiences that adversely influenced his general perception and attitudes towards religion.

One such key experience occurred when he was either 3 or 4 years of age. He describes how the very sight of a Society of Jesus better known as Jesuit black-robed priest represented what he termed as his first conscious trauma (Jung 26). He mentions that at around the same time he was going through this visual terror, he recalled a nightmare he had of a huge man-eating penis in a room that somewhat resembled an underground chamber or dungeon and how this image combined with his image of Jesus Christ. Jung claimed that it was at this period that his intellectual life had its unconscious beginnings (Jung, 30).

In a more dramatic version, he points out his futile attempt, at the age of 11, to resist a strange vision he had of God defecating on the Basel Cathedral and his experience of delight and honor when he finally brought in the fantasy into consciousness (Jung, 58).

Such dramatic personal experiences differed quite sharply with his religious classes which he found undoubtedly boring and dull (Jung, 43), his clearly unsatisfactory spiritual discussions with his father (Jung: 59-60) and his utmost disappointment at the experience first communion (Jung, 72). Altogether these occurrences and impressions gave Jung a seemingly pessimistic image of modern religion, including that of Jesus Christ (Jung 25, 28, 74).

Jung’s past experiences roused his earliest theological thoughts on the issue of evil, the concept of grace and the complete submission to God’s will, and above all the importance of an honest personal experience as opposed to conventional faith (Jung 52-60). They also led him to later on become interested in the then very common phenomenon of spiritualism, which promised believers of experiential proof of the reality and post mortem examination of the survival of a person’s soul (Jung 119, 121).

Most of the statements he made during his lectures suggested that he was trying to defend religion against the foreseen threat of scientific materialism and secularization. He argued that immaterial occurrences exist and can reveal themselves both materially and immaterially (Chung 66); that a required sense of morality cannot be separated from science; all that matters is enlivened by a life force that is undoubtedly unconscious, omniscient and beyond humanly perceived space and time: and that this important opinion is proven by the data recorded and presented by spiritualism.

Jung rebuked the then present-day representatives of religion for yielding to the concept of rationalism and putting aside mystery (Chung, 74). Carl Jung also reasoned that the push for knowledge, which he termed the ‘causal instinct’ leads to religion; and advocated the view of Jesus as a scientifically mysterious God/man who, divergent to the view of the German protestant and theologian Albrecht Ritschl (1822- 1889), cannot be logically explained (Stein, 291).In this anti-modernistic spirit, Jung goes further to advocate for a complete return to the Middle Ages view of religion and completely rejects secular modernity.

The Collaborative Analysis of Religion by Jung and Freud

According to Deborah Margolis (2006), Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was an Austrian neurologist who is credited with founding the discipline of psychoanalysis. Through this field of study, Freud focused on a variety of work ranging from theories of the unconscious mind, explaining how repression occurred, diagnosing and treating psychopathology, sexual drives which he termed as libido as the primary motivational forces of any person regardless of gender, research into the disorder cerebral palsy, microscopic neuro anatomy and of course the relationship between psychology and religion.

Wulff mentions that in a variety of Freud’s published works such as Totem and Taboo, Freud gave explanations of the beginnings of religion in the human social world. The psychologist applied the notion of the Oedipus complex whereby Freud felt that the relationship of humans and God is seen as a replaying of the relationship of children to their father, with the need to reinforce this model by means of the severe determined practices of ceremonials. In other words, Freud felt religion was an escape from a reality and was nothing short of a false practice, which ought not to be spread.

Freud’s believes in the ability of the mind to curb neuroses trough its ability to unravel thoughts that are unconscious. As Freud talked of religion as a fantasy, Wulff goes on to say, that it is a form of fantasy from which one has to be set free if he is to grow to ripeness.

At one point, Jung shared a long professional relationship with Freud. The latter was perceived to be more of a teacher or scholarly master. Freud considered Jung as his heir. Their work touched on a variety of key sectors, one of them being that of religion. Papadopoulos (299) points out that over the next few years of their relationship, Jung’s professional commitments as a medical practitioner and researcher served to rage his beliefs.

Papadopoulos says that Jung first adopted a psychiatric and then a Freudian approach to religious phenomena, before his own religious attitude began to reaffirm itself. Jung’s first professional written publication was his doctoral elucidation On the psychology and pathology of so-called occult phenomena released in 1902 which presented a case study of a girl studied during a series of spiritualistic séances.

Another key paper that was released during this era of the two psychologists’ collaboration was ‘The Significance of the Father in the Destiny of the Individual’. Papadopoulos points out that, by the time this was written, Jung had become deeply involved with Freud and the psychoanalytic body of scholars. Hence, Jung’s paper presented a wholly Freudian rendition.

Freud and Jung shared a relationship for many decades. Jung was like a student to Freud in unraveling the mysteries of the unconscious theories developed by Freud. Jung, however, later came to reject some of Freud’s hypotheses, and inclined towards his own study of psychology which Papadopoulos states that Jung christened as analytical psychology. Freud never forgave Jung for leaving his line of view; he considered it a betrayal.

Jung’s Basic Theory: Analytical Psychology

Carl Jung developed a variety of concepts through which he was able to present his view on the human psychological make-up which he named the psyche. It is important to note that it is through these views that a variety of studied topics, including religion are explained through.

The Human Conscience

Boeree notes that Carl Gustav Jung’s theory divides the psyche or conscience into three major divisions. The first division is the ‘ego’, which Jung categorizes with the conscious mind. Closely connected is the second division that is commonly known as ‘personal unconscious’, which consists of something that may be conscious at a later time. The conscience that is considered personal consists of those events that exist in our memory and can be brought to mind and those that cannot be brought to mind for one reason or the other.

The final division that is mentioned by Jung and which makes his theory unique is the ‘collective unconscious’. Psychologists term it one’s “psychic inheritance” (Boeree). It is the general pool of human encounters, a type of understanding most humans get when they are born However, we can never be directly aware of it. The collective unconscious determines how we behave and more so the experiences we have as human beings. These experiences are those that will involve our feelings and emotions and mostly these cannot be measured directly.

Certain experiences show the full effect of the collective unconscious more clearly than others. Near-death experiences represent a good example. Looking at various advertisements and analysis of near-death experiences people usually give stories of their encounters of people who had died before and them having some conversations with them, others claim to have been separated from their bodies and therefore they could see what was happening to them on earth from where they were, a place where their bodies were separated from their soul, etc. Hence, the logic arises that perhaps we are all “hot-wired” to experience death in this manner.

The Theory of Archetypes

By an archetype, Jung means a disposition in the collective unconscious to produce such an image in consciousness. Jung stated that the collective unconscious specific essentials which he called archetypes. A more precise meaning of an archetype is that it is an illiterate tendency to understanding things in a certain manner.

Archetypes work in a similar manner to how instincts work as postulated by Sigmund Freud’s theory. An example can be when a baby is hungry. At first the baby would just need to eat something when they are hungry and what they are given at this point does not really matter. It has a rather unclear desire which, all the same, can be satisfied by some things and not by others. Later, with the help of knowledge, the child starts to want something more definite when he or she is hungry – a banana, a biscuit, a piece of fried chicken, or a slice of bread.

It is also crucial to bear in mind and note that these primordial images are the result of the various life experiences that always repeat themselves for example the sun rising and setting, the four seasons, the beginning of life and finally death, hunger, sadness, et cetera. They are symbols for the common experiences of all individuals.

The Mother Archetypes

All human beings whether long-ago or at present had mothers. Man has grown up in an environment that constituted a mother or some form of maternal presence. It is quite obvious that a person would never have survived without some form of connection with a nurturing person during our times as helpless babies (Jung 125). Hence, logic points out that we are built in a manner that replicates that very environment i.e. we all come into this world ready to want mother, to search for her, to familiarize her, to live with her.

Therefore, the mother archetype is our in-built tendency to recognize a certain important relationship, that of ‘mothering’. Using this information, Carl Gustav Jung pointed out that this is rather abstract, and people are likely to envisage the archetype out into the real world and onto a particular person, usually our very own mothers. Even in cases where the archetype does not have a particular real person available, many individuals would like to imagine that this person actually exists.

Connecting this with religion, the maternal archetype is represented by Gaia in mythology. This is commonly known as mother earth. In Christian circles, it is represented by Eve and Mary.

Symbols of Archetypes

Carl Jung used the concepts of certain symbols to point out certain representations of archetypes (Jung, 121). It is of utmost importance that one draws a clear division between Freud and Jung’s understanding of symbols in relation to biological desires, like Freud’s instincts. According to Jung, they are more spiritual demands. A good example can be that of sex. If a person dreamt about long objects, Sigmund Freud might have proposed that these things represent the penis and consequently sex. However, Jungians might have a very different explanation whereby even dreaming specifically about a phallus might not have much to do with some biological desire or need for sex.

The case study of primitive societies would be used to add iron to their point. Penile symbols do not always refer to sex at all. They normally stand for manna or spiritual power as Jung calls them (Jung 111)

The shadow

Another symbol developed by Jung is that of ‘the shadow’. It originates from our pre-human, animalistic past, of which our primary concerns were limited to survival and procreation, and most importantly when we were not self-conscious. Further explanation by Jung points out the shadow as being amoral. That is to say, neither good nor bad, just like all other animals.

When this is connected to religion symbols that are representative of the shadow are like the snake, the demons and the dragons.

The persona

Another symbol put forward by Jung is that of the persona. According to Jungians, it represents a person’s public image, as is drawn out from the word ‘persona’ which is obviously related to the word person and personality. It is the social disguise an individual takes on in his/her everyday life. It is what someone portrays to the outside world despite this not being the true picture.

It is worth noting that this mask could be mistaken as part of us and people might conclude that this is who we are and this might not be the case.

Anima and Animus

As mentioned earlier, the persona is the impression that people wish to present to others as they fill societal roles and functions. Jung felt that people are really bisexual by nature. When a child is growing up in the mothers’ womb, it is very hard to differentiate between male and female at first, until much later in the development stage. When a child is born they do not assume any male or female roles at first but because of how people have been cultured, later in life, women and men end up assuming different roles. However, Jung points out that in every male has a female side and every female has a male side and therefore it is impossible to put a clear distinction on what a man is capable of or what a woman is capable of. He argues that most human beings realize half their potential because of this distinction of male roles and female roles.

Greek Mythology

Greek Mythology is a good example of the anima and animus archetype. Looking at it from a religious background, both the anima and animus represent the archetype that is responsible for our romantic life. This mythology points out that all human beings are always looking for their ‘better half’ and that is why people end up falling in love. When one finds the person they feel is their ‘better half’, then they are fulfilled because this is how human beings have been wired.

The Self Archetype

Jung pointed out that the most important archetype of all is that of the self. The self is more often times considered to be the ego. Wulff states that the ego gives us a structure that we can use to survive on the earth, the self he considers as being of more importance than the ego. Hence, the Self can be defined as what we are elemental. The self is the medium archetype in the collective unconscious. It unifies the whole intellectual being of a person.

Religious Personalities that Represent the Self Archetype

Carl Gustav Jung went forward to illustrate the personifications that best represent the self archetype. These personifications are/were Jesus Christ and Buddha. These are two individuals who many believe achieved complete perfection. Nevertheless, Jung was of the opinion that perfection could only be brought about by someone’s death.

Religious Archetypes

The two main archetypes that generate God as the ‘complete supreme being’ or ‘whole powerful entity’ are the God archetype, and the Self archetype. Jung said that the images generated by these archetypes are very similar and are dominant in the process of individuation.

The God and the Self archetypes are near congruent, and so an image of ‘God’ is also an image of ‘Self’, and is identical for the other way around. This interpretation allows for nearly all experiences to be religiously connected. This is as long as the conscious element of the mind is affected by the desire that is being focused through an archetype. Jung’s conception of religious is similar to that of the German theologian Rudolph Otto’s ‘numinous’ which he brought out as a divine power in control of the experience and originating outside the individual’s conscious mind. It follows that any experience conditioned by an archetype is religious, as archetypes are only in the collective unconscious of man.

Jung, therefore, states that there are three levels of the way religion evolved. It all started with the shamans, it was later followed by the era of priests and prophets and finally by the present Christian tradition (Thevathasan).

The Individuation Process and Religion

Jung gave an initial clear meaning of religion which he derived from the Latin word religio stating that it was a careful thought and scrutiny of certain factors in his (man’s) world that he has found profound, unsafe or helpful enough to be taken into careful reflection, or expansive, beautiful and meaningful enough to be devoutly worshipped and loved.

Jung (213), views religion as ‘an appearance of the combined lifelessness of man’. It is through religion that an individual is able to fully undergo the individuation process. The process of individuation is the mental process by which the individual’s psyche is ‘synchronized’, the collective and personal unconscious, and the conscious parts are all incorporated and happiness is finally realized. This also helps to clarify the way some people behave differently from others when faced with similar circumstances. The discoveries of oneself also help one operate at their full potential as opposed to living a mediocre life.

Jung’s Analysis of Religion in the Western Hemisphere

Stein developed three principles that summarized Jung’s ideas on the merging of psychological concepts and theological concepts in the Western hemisphere:

  1. Words about theological elements for example, ‘God’, can be interpreted as referring to constitutions within the psyche.
  2. Psychologists can assess the sufficiency of theological constructs against the dynamics of the psyche.
  3. Words that involved the conscious also involved God, due to the association between the forms of subjectivity and impartiality.

Jung’s analysis of the Christian faith

Jung analyzed the Christian faith and labeled each constituent of the Holy Trinity based on his own developed and aforementioned psychological theories. He analyzed the heavenly Father as being the Self, the one who ignites the conscious. Jesus Christ, also known as the Son as one who gives form to the structure and the Holy Spirit was considered as the mediator of the Father and Son.

Thevathasan outlines that Jung found similarities with the Trinity in Babylonian, Egyptian and Greek mythologies. Jung states that without the rebellion of Satan, who is clearly one of the Father’s sons, the Trinity would have remained one and there would be no development of the psyche and no actualization of the self.

Critics of Carl Jung’s Analysis of Psychology and Religion

Victor White

According to Moore and Gillette (1), English Dominican priest and theologian Fr. Victor conducted a 15-year study on the analysis of religion and psychology. Through this communication, White arrived at the conclusion that by virtue of the fact that Jung was not a professional theologian but a psychiatric specialist, there were important theological issues which Jung seemed, for whatever possible reason, not to comprehend or appreciate.

This can clearly be seen through the two disagreeing on the nature of good and evil. White viewed evil as a state where nothing good existed, whereas Jung argued that good and evil must exist to create a balance in the way people live.

Martin Buber

Buber (121-124) points out that Martin Buber was a renowned Jewish theologian and philosopher with a profound interest in psychoanalysis. Later, Buber went on to claim that Jung had clearly strayed outside his area of scholarly expertise and gone into theology which he clearly did not understand. He supported his claim by stating that God does not exist independent of the psyches of humankind. His analysis led to the conclusion that Jung’s theories on Christianity and Psychology were a modern manifestation of Gnosis.


Carl Gustav Jung, in a similar fashion to Sigmund Freud and other psychologists, has become a scholarly phenomenon when it comes to the field of psychology and religion. His ideas have formed a backdrop for academic discussions and debates for decades (before and after his death) amongst psychologists and between Jungian and Freudian followers. But his ideas have also led to serious criticisms from other scholars of different fields of study, predominantly theology such as the aforementioned Father White and Martin Buber. Both faces of the coin give the current scholar a means to develop stronger scientific theories that seek to establish whether or not a relationship exists between psychology and religion.

From the above discussion, it is clear that religion and psychology intertwine and some very important conclusions can be derived. It is clear that this is a widely researched area and different scholars have tried to explain different phenomena in a very interesting and insightful manner. Jung who is one of the gurus in this area has proposed different ways of explaining the connections and has therefore provided a lot of insight in this area.

Works Cited

Boeree, George. Carl Jung. The Collected Works of Carl G. Jung. Web.

Buber, Martin. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Essays, Letters and Dialogue. Syracuse University Press: New York.1999. 121-124.

Chung, Edward. Sciences Religiousness/Studies in Religion. Oxford: London. 1983.

Jung, Carl. Man and His Symbols. New York: Ferguson. 1988. 111-154.

Jung, Carl. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Ferguson. 1963. 65-123.

Margolis, Deborah. “D.P. Morgalis, Freud and his Mother”. Web.

Moore, Robert and Gillette, Douglas. The Lover Within. New York: William Morrow & Co.1993.

Papadopoulos, Renos. The Handbook of Jungian Psychology. East Sussex: Routledge. 2006. 299.

Stein, Murray. Christianity in Dialogue: Faith, Feminism and Hermeneutics. Paulist Press: Boston. 1990. 313-340.

Thevathasan, Pravin. Carl Gustav Jung: Enemy of the Church. Theotokos Catholic Books. 1998. Web.

Wulff, David. Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. New York: Springer. 2010. 733

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