Rick Feero

Reg. 17844

126 Clemens Hall

F, 10:00 A.M.– 10:50 A.M


Capen 108



Reading Freud: From Religion’s Illusions to Civilization’s Discontents


“One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be 'happy' is not included in the plan of 'Creation.'”

Sigmund Freud


This seminar will focus on Freud’s The Future of and Illusion and Civilization and Its Discontents.  While Freud begins both by noting the source of humanity’s suffering in nature and civilization, the earlier text ends with him lamenting the notion of God as a father protecting helpless infants.  Here, religion is a wish fulfilling illusion, evading attempts at proof, and destined to wither in the face of science, “our God Logos.”  However, Freud’s interpretation shifts, and he “[finds] a formulation” that does more “justice” to the role of religion than this “essentially negative valuation” : “while granting that [religion’s] power lies in the truth which it contains, [he shows] that that truth was not a material but a historical truth.” 


Our goal will be to explore what Freud means by “historical truth” through a close reading of  Civilization and Its Discontents, and to compare his analysis with the seemingly more generous views of  William James and Carl Jung.   We’ll conclude our enquiry with selections from H.D.’s Tribute to Freud, a text that in part traces the conflict between H.D.’s mystical Christian beliefs and Freud’s atheism,  enacting something of Jesus’s dictum  to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” 


This class is meant not only for those interested in the beginnings of psychoanalysis and its interpretation of religion, but for anyone who is interested in the ways this discourse both bears on the realm of personal experience and animates aspects of academic discourse.  It should appeal to students in a variety of disciplines, especially those that draw on the insights of Freud, Jung and James, but without necessarily spending time with their actual texts.


Required Texts:


Sigmund Freud: The Future of and Illusion and Civilization and Its Discontents (James Stachey translation, any edition)