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Sep 10 Jung, Religion and the Collective Unconscious

Today at Yale University, Carl Jung’s Terry lectures on Psychology and Religion were published. He had delivered the lectures in 1938 and had covered three themes in his lectures – The Autonomy of the Unconscious Mind, Dogma and Symbols and the History and Psychology of a Natural Symbol. In his lectures he describes what he regards as the authentic religious function of the unconscious mind. Using a wealth of material from ancient and medieval gnostic, alchemistic, and occult literature, he discusses the religious symbolism of unconscious processes and the possible continuity of religious forms that have appeared and reappeared through the centuries.


Karl Gustav Jung, was a Swiss psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology, although the impact of his work has been influential in various fields as well as psychology, from anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy, and religious studies. He worked as a research scientist at the famous Burghölzli hospital in Zurich and for a while collaborated with Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, For some years they shared a joint vision of human psychology as it was establishing itself as a scientific discipline. Originally, Freud, twenty years older that Jung, saw him as the heir he had been seeking to take forward his "new science" of psychoanalysis. When appointing him as President of his newly founded International Psychoanalytical Association in 1910, Freud even proposed Jung as "his adopted eldest son, his crown prince and successor," Jung's research and vision, however soon took him in a different direction and away from what his saw as Freud’s doctrine and a painful schism became inevitable. He disagreed with Freud about the importance of sexual development and focused on the collective unconscious: the part of the unconscious that contains memories and ideas that Jung believed were inherited from ancestors. While he did think that libido was an important source for personal growth, unlike Freud, Jung did not believe that libido alone was responsible for the formation of the core personality

He was building on Freud’s pioneering work that individuals have a personal unconscious. However Jung’s research had lead him to believe in a collective unconscious, that was neither acquired by activities within an individual's life, nor a container of things that are thoughts, but memories or ideas which are capable of being conscious during one's life. The collective unconscious consisted of universal heritable elements common to all humans, distinct from other species. Always interested in spirituality, he was disappointed by his father's academic approach to faith as a Swiss reformed pastor, his theories around the collective unconscious lead him to a type of pantheism where he placed spiritual experience as being essential to our well-being. Life for Jung had a spiritual purpose beyond material goals. Our main task was to discover and fulfil our deep, innate potential. Based on his study of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Gnosticism, Taoism, and other traditions, Jung believed that this journey of transformation, which he called individuation, was the main task of life. Individuation was at the mystical heart of all religions, a journey to meet the self and at the same time to meet the Divine.

In 1959, Jung was asked John Freeman on the BBC interview program Face to Face whether he believed in God, to which Jung answered, "I do not need to believe. I know." Jung's ideas on religion counterbalanced Freudian scepticism. Jung's idea of religion as a practical road to individuation is still treated in modern textbooks on the psychology of religion, and as a focused example of this he recommended spirituality as a cure for alcoholism. He was treating an American patient (Rowland Hazard III), suffering from chronic alcoholism and after a while, Jung had to accept that they had achieved no significant progress. He told Hazard that his alcoholic condition was near to hopeless, save only the possibility of a spiritual experience. Hazard took Jung's advice seriously and set about seeking a personal, spiritual experience. He returned home to the United States and joined a Christian evangelical movement known as the Oxford Group (later known as Moral Re-Armament). He also told other alcoholics what Jung had told him about the importance of a spiritual experience. One of the alcoholics he brought into the Oxford Group was Ebby Thacher, a long-time friend and drinking buddy of Bill Wilson, later co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Thacher told Wilson about the Oxford Group and, through them, Wilson became aware of Hazard's experience with Jung. The influence of Jung thus indirectly found its way into the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous the original twelve-step program (Aug 5 pod) ,. Wilson and Jung would later have a rich correspondence.

During his third Terry Lecture – the room in which the lecture was given was standing room only. He wrote in his diary afterwards that he had covered difficult material and very few would have understood it, but they somehow seemed to get it. At the end of the lecture he approached the wife of the Dean of Yale who was getting tea. He suddenly noticed that she had tears streaming down her face. Alarmed that he was intruding on some sort of domestic incident he backed off, but she engaged him and said. ‘ I didn’t understand any of it – but I feel it’. In a later conversation with E A Bennet, Jung reflected ‘ She got what was there – It was like a Catholic Mass – she didn’t understand but she was in it’

Jung was a fascinatingly creative thinker – his ideas about the paranormal culminated in "synchronicity" noticing that when certain coincidences manifest in the world, they have an exceptionally intense meaning to observers. Such coincidences have great effect on the observer from multiple aspects however he failed in his own experiments to confirm the phenomenon but held onto the idea even though he was never clear about how synchronicity worked. M Scott Peck at a later time said that perhaps this was a way of explain the theological concept of grace.

Jung was a solitary and introverted child. From childhood, he believed that like his mother, he had two personalities—a modern Swiss citizen and a personality more suited to the 18th century. "Personality Number 1", as he termed it, was a typical schoolboy living in the era of the time. "Personality Number 2" was a dignified, authoritative, and influential man from the past. Jung was one of the first people to define introversion and extraversion in a psychological context. In his Psychological Types, he theorizes that each person falls into one of two categories, the introvert, and the extravert. These two psychological types Jung compares to ancient archetypes, Apollo and Dionysus. The introvert is likened to Apollo, who shines a light on understanding. The introvert is focused on the internal world of reflection, dreaming, and vision. Thoughtful and insightful, the introvert can sometimes be uninterested in joining the activities of others. The extravert is associated with Dionysus, interested in joining the activities of the world. The extravert is focused on the outside world of objects, sensory perception, and action. Energetic and lively, the extravert may lose their sense of self in the intoxication of Dionysian pursuits The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a popular psychometric instrument, and the concepts of socionics were developed from Jung's theory of psychological types. Jung saw the human psyche as "by nature religious" and made this religiousness the focus of his explorations.


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