A Godless Jew


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Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis

Peter Gay

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“Why did none of the devout create psychoanalysis?  Why did it have to wait for a completely godless Jew?” Freud once asked.  In this book, the eminent historian and Freud scholar Peter Gay enters the long-running controversy about the relationship between religion and psychoanalysis.  Gay takes seriously Freud’s claim that he was an atheist and argues that atheism was an essential stance for the making of psychoanalysis.  He contends, in fact, that Judaism was not essential and that psychoanalysis is not a “Jewish science,” as both anti-Semites and ardent Freudians have often assumed.  
Peter Gay begins by discussing why psychoanalysis could only have been conceived by an atheist.  According to him, Freud saw science and religion as absolutely at odds with each other.  While some theologians and analysts have attempted to forge an alliance between psychoanalytic and religious positions, these attempts at accommodation have failed and must fail.  Psychoanalysis is not a religion, and the two comprise wholly incompatible styles of thinking about the world. 
Gay then deals with the question of whether Freud’s Jewish background contributed to the creation of psychoanalysis and describes Freud’s secular Judaism: while Freud was very much aware of his Jewishness and was in fact proud of it, this had nothing to do with the making of psychoanalysis itself.  True, Freud himself saw a possible link between his Jewishness and his daring: as a Jew he was treated ass an outsider and therefore, he thought, could approach delicate topics such as sexuality more boldly than he would have if he had been thoroughly lodged on the inside.  However, Gay maintains that this is at best a weak statement.
Writing with his customary wit and charm, Gay not only discusses Freud’s life and personality as they affected his ideas on religion but also compares Freud’s thoughts on religion to those of William James, Charles Darwin, Paul Tillich, and a host of Enlightenment figures.  The result is a book that will richly reward ever reader.

Published in association with Hebrew Union College Press

Peter Gay, Sterling Professor of History at Yale University is the highly acclaimed author of numerous books, the most recent of which are The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, Vols. I and II.  Gay is also a graduate of the Western New England Psychoanalytic Institute and an honorary member of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 

"A concise, pointed historical inquiry into Freud's atheism and Jewish cultural identity and their role in his development of psychoanalysis."—Library Journal














"A lucid, occasionally provocative close-up of Freud-as-nonbeliever, enhanced by Gay's suave, broadly allusive handling of the historical and theological contexts."—Kirkus Reviews

"In this valuable essay, Gay . . . brings great sensitivity and insight to a debate that still persists in some quarters."—Publishers Weekly

"Freud . . . would have enjoyed Peter Gay's book."—John C. Marshall, New York Times Book Review

"Freud himself asked why psychoanalysis had to be created by a 'completely godless Jew.'  Gay elegantly and convincingly answers his question."—Choice

"A brilliantly evocative extended essay treating the major influences on one of the most important and creative thinkers of our age."—Jonathan Sharp, San Francisco Chronicle/ Examiner

"It is an important and welcome contribution to the vast literature that already exists on Freud and the movement that he founded."—Lee Dembart, Los Angeles Times

"[A] learned, fluent book."—Anthony Storr, The Independent 

"An elegant and entertaining book."—Simon Rocker, Jewish Chronicle

"He has written one of the most brilliant studies ever on Freud."—Arnold Ages, Canadian Jewish News

 "Mr. Gay's conviction that psychoanalysis is a science allows him to argue, correctly, that it could not possibly be a Jewish science, however much it is (or was) a Jewish movement."—John C. Marshall, New York Times Book Review

"Gay writes elegantly and-as a historian who has trained in psychoanalysis-with deep empathy and sympathy for his subject."—Dr. Ralph Colp, Washington Jewish Week

"Gay's elegant essay . . . clears away mountains of confusion concerning Freud's religious views (belligerently atheistic), his Jewish identity (thoroughly secular, even racial), and the prospects for reconciling psychoanalysis and religion (none)."—Howard L. Kaye, Contemporary Sociology

"A scholarly treatment of the enigmatic relationship between Freud and religion and an intriguing portrayal of Freud as the iconoclastic, atheistic Jew."—A.K., Modern Psychoanalysis

"[A] marvelous, short, and pertinent book."—Martin Grotjahn, m.d., American Journal of Psychotherapy

"Gay's book is edifying for the subtle questions posed about Freud's theism and its relation to both his contributions and his psychological orientation to the world."—Thomas Parisi, ISIS

"Tremendously engaging and well worth the few hours required to read it."—Don Browning, Christian Century

"Peter Gay's book is richly informative, meticulously researched and documented, and written with wit and verve."—Richard M. Capobianco, International Philosophical Quarterly

"This is an enthralling, easily readable, and scholarly book . . . [which] offers a satisfying account of the role of religion in Freud's life, particularly as it pertains to that discovery of psychoanalysis."—Krin Gabbard, Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic

"An impressive achievement. . . . An account of Freud's life, his triumphs, and his defeats, that is eminently readable and easily accessible to the average person."—Morton I. Teicher, Judaica Book News

"Peter Gay's grand biography of Sigmund Freud is without any doubt the definitive 'Freud for our times.'  It is a major work of scholarship and erudition which presents the reader with a clear and crisp image of the life, works, and times of 'the father of psychoanalysis'. . . . Peter Gay's biography is extraordinary. It is without a doubt the best single work on Freud to appear within the past decade, and it will be mined by future scholars and teachers who need a clear and concise presentation of Freud's works and life."—Sander L. Gilman, Jewish Quarterly Review

"Argues persuasively that Freud thought of himself as a scientist first, a Jew second, and a German third and that in all of these roles he denied any affinity between science and religion."—William Johnston, American Historical Review

"A much need survey of Freud's relation to religion and to his Jewishness."—Ana-Maria Rizzuto, Psychoanalytic Quarterly

"Peter Gay in this closely argued and clearly written book, argues that the parallels between psychoanalysis and religion are not strong. . . . A valuable contribution to an understanding both of Freud's character and the nature of psychoanalysis."—The Sunday Times

"The unique appeal of this essay is that its author, a preeminent cultural historian, should so eloquently argue along the lines of the intuitive, religious right. . . . Gay is particularly well qualified to deal with the historical origins of psychoanalysis. . . . His elegant essay raises many questions regarding the relationship between man, his discoveries, and revealed truth which the faithful will do well to grapple with."—John Powell, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

"Theologians and thoughtful pastors should wrestle with Gay's research and conclusions."—Guy Greenfield, Southwestern Journal of Theology
ISBN: 9780300046083
Publication Date: September 10, 1989
Publishing Partner: Published in association with Hebrew Union College Press
182 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
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