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The importance of the freudian psychoanalysis in Vergote's theory construction in his psychology of religion.


Antoon Vergote (1921-2013) got his first assignment to lecture at the KU Leuven in 1954 and continued lecturing until 1987 at the Higher Institute of Philosophy and at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational sciences, where he founded in 1958 the Center for the Psychology of Religion. He became an internationally recognized authority in the domain of the psychology of religion with more than 300 academic publications on his name, among other also in the field of philosophy, psychoanalysis and theology. I take as a basis of my research these publications, 159 digitally registered interviews I had with Vergote in the period from 2005 to 2013, and finally lecture notes of three courses Vergote has given in the ninety eighties. It was my objective, on the basis of all these data, to closely look into the way Vergote used or integrated Freudian psychoanalysis in his work. The interviews systematically stuck to the texts as I was studying them.

The conclusion of my research is that Vergote to a large degree integrated psychoanalysis in his work, be it in a specific way. As a student and disciple of Lacan, he made a stand for the retour à Freud and oriented the  development of his psychology of religion on Freud’s theories about religion: the one of 'the nostalgia of the father',  through which Vergote approached the 'human motivations' for religion, and the one of 'the father symbol', through which he intended to think the very structure of the religious relationship. Vergote did this by supplementing this theory with the 'mother symbol', he also conceived in Freudian terms. His most important empirical inquiry into the role of the parental figures in the representation of God has to be situated within this framework. It is therefore within Vergote’s motivation psychology – broadly conceived – that we can establish that Freud’s influence is manifestly prevailing. This influence, though, has been from the very beginning mitigated by rejecting Freud’s epistemological framework and the replacement of the former by what I call Vergote’s interactionist structuralism. Herein religion is conceived of as a symbolic system with which the subject interacts. We ultimately recognize here the idea of symbolic order Vergote borrowed from Lacan, which he used as a tool to overcome Freud’s reductionism.

Freud’s psychoanalysis in other ways still played a role in Vergote’s oeuvre. In this vein, he intended to rethink the Freudian concept of 'sublimation' and render it appropriate for conceiving the process of becoming truly religious. He therefore had to redesign many a psychoanalytical concept, which he did on the basis of a philosophical critique. We finally have to mention here the concept of 'symbol', which Vergote also developed in confrontation with Freud’s psychoanalysis. This concept of symbol allowed Vergote to conceptualize the religious practice in all its aspects - rites, gestures, utterances – in substitution for Freud’s concepts of 'projection' and 'illusion'. At the basis of all this we find Vergote’s theological concern to preserve the possibility of Christian faith.

Date:1 Jun 2009  →  23 Jun 2015
Keywords:psychology of religion, freudian psychoanalysis
Disciplines:Biological and physiological psychology, General psychology, Other psychology and cognitive sciences
Project type:PhD project