Why Did Freud Reject God?


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A Psychodynamic Interpretation

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In this book a widely recognized authority on religion and psychoanalysis takes a fascinating journey into Freud’s past to examine the roots of his atheism. Dr. Ana-María Rizzuto reviews and reorganizes data about Freud’s development and life circumstances to provide a psychodynamic interpretation of his rejection of God. She argues that Freud’s early life and family relationships made it psychically impossible for him to believe in a provident and caring divine being.

The book traces significant aspects of Freud’s relationship with his father and mother, his childhood nanny, and other relatives and outlines his religious evolution from somewhat conventional beliefs as a young boy to adult unbelief. Dr. Rizzuto presents significant new details about the Philippson Bible—a copy of which Freud’s father presented to Sigmund on his thirty-fifth birthday—and shows how the illustrations in that edition related to Freud’s passion for collecting antiquities. The book brings to light critical aspects of Freud’s early and late object relations and their lasting impact on his rejection of God.

Ana-María Rizzuto, M.D., is a training and supervising analyst at the Psychoanalytic Institute of New England, East. She received the 1996 William C. Bier Award of the American Psychological Association and the 1997 Pfister Award of the American Psychiatric Association for her contributions to the study of religion. Among Dr. Rizzuto’s previous publications is The Birth of the Living God, a study of the psychodynamics of religious belief.

“Dr. Rizzuto offers us a compelling book and a convincing outline of what it was in Freud’s development that provided the foundation of his stand on religion.”—Stanley A. Leavy, M.D., author of The Psychoanalytic Dialogue and In the Image of God

"A nice turning of the tables. Rizzuto writes lucidly, without jargon; her book is a scholarly detective story. It will be of interest to any reader who seeks a greater understanding of Freud’s theory of religion, quite apart from the question of Freud’s own psychological development from childhood piety to programmatic atheism."—Books & Culture

"Rich and fascinating material."—Choice

“One of the most fascinating accounts of Freud’s life I have read in quite some time.”—Daniel Liechty, Journal of Religion and Health

“Rizzuto continues the examination of linkages between religion and psychoanalysis begun in her book, The Birth of the Living God. As before, Rizzuto draws on her clinical expertise, providing interpretations rooted in classic psychoanalysis and newer views emphasizing pre-Oedipal matters as well as early and late object relations.”—Susan E. Henking, Religious Studies Review

“This is undoubtedly a magisterial study of Freud’s personal development and the emergence of his position on religion. It is therefore recommended not only to specialists in the field, but to readers more generally interested in psychoanalytic readings of culture and religion.”—Maren Niehoff, Studies in Contemporary Jewry

"Nowhere have I found such a detailed and thorough account of Freud’s family background and his relationships with his parents—both the devout, learned and ineffectual father, and the domineering, demanding and narcissistically frustrated mother. . . . For anyone interested in psychoanalysis and religion, particularly the religious view of the founder of psychoanalysis, this is a ’must read.’"—W.W. Meissner, Theological Studies

Won the 2001 Gradiva Award for Best Book in Religion by the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis
ISBN: 9780300075250
Publication Date: October 11, 1998
320 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
57 b/w illus.