Sigmund Freud; Father of the psychoanalytic school of psychology, was not a friend to religious belief. Freud’s understanding of religion, to put it bluntly, was that of an illusion. That is to say, not necessarily false, but developed in response to the need to overcome the conflict between our sexual natures and the nature of civilisation. From this, we can attempt to critique said theory in order to see how “valid” it really is in the face of religion. For Freud’s position to be truly valid, we have to prove that the Oedipus complex is a fully universal sexual trauma, and that buried trauma can really manifest itself in the form of religion. He believed himself to have proved both of these conclusively, and in turn, believed that because of the oppressive nature of religion, it should be overthrown. However, in light of recent research, very few of Freuds theories on religion seem to hold any water. And this is where this essay begins.
The place to start (in theory) is to critique the methodological issues behind Freud. As is common practice in the Psychodynamic field of psychology, Freud developed a generalized version of his theory from a limited amount of very carefully selected case studies, often from patients whom exhibited behaviours of extreme proportions (e.g. The Wolf Man; Sergei Pankejeff) . Although studies of extreme behaviours allow the psychologist to study said behaviours far easier, it would be illogical to assume that the traits exhibited would be applicable to the general public.
Naturally, it can be said that Freud was a man of revolutionary intellect, but his tendency to take mere speculations and present them as facts is the net stop on the disassembly of his theories on religion. Freud used Darwins theory of the primitive unit “The Primal Horde” as evidence for the development of the Oedipus complex and the beginning of primitive religions in his work “Totem and Taboo” (1913). Unfortunately, the whole idea of the horde was just speculation on the part of Darwin meaning that it was generally not respectable as evidence. In fact, now it’s believed that although the horde may have existed, it probably wasn’t the only social structure in early society. This now commonly accepted down-playing of the “Horde” as the primitive structure in society is possibly (in my own opinion) the greatest issue with Freuds account of religion today.
Obviously, for Freud, the psychosexual trauma present in our psyche is a crucial component to his theory on the origin of religious practice. However, the work of Bronislaw Malinowski, by using anthropological evidence, seemed to attack Freud’s position in his 1927 work “Sex and Repression in Savage Society” . Malinowski used the example of the people of the Trobriand Islands, whom he visited during the conflict in WW1 . The research produced from this study was not to prove that the Oedipus complex was false, but to state that in matriarchal societies, (such as the Trobriands) where the...