Drawing on phenomenology and his clinical practice, the author explores religious experience and the dynamics of the numinous. The article opens with the argument that psychoanalysts, like religious healers, should be able to work with religious phenomena as part of psychoanalytic therapy. The origin of the term 'numinous' is explained, and two types of human religious experience, mysterium tremendum and fascinans, are detailed. The role of anxiety in converting a metaphorical illusion (fascinans) into a private symbol (mysterium tremendum) is described. The terms by which religion can be viewed alternatively as delusion, illusion, and tenable speculation are discussed. A patient's religious concerns with the sacred and the profane are presented as symptoms of the repression of numinous experiences. Therapy can be promoted through a psychoanalytic dialogue on the patient's religiosity and its partial replication of early object relations.
'Does Monotheism Breed Monomania?'
My specific self-questioning title for this evening – 'Does Monotheism Breed Monomania?' – which I hope is both playful and provocative, has emerged from the conversation inside me between two of these identities, as it were. The dialogue within me between the analyst immersed in particular traditions of thinking about the human mind and its unconscious processes – and the rabbi who is one link in a chain of a millennia-old Judaic cultural heritage which can be thought of as a 'concentric tradition of reading' (the phrase is George Steiner's) centred on the Torah, but spreading ever outwards, and involving a 'fidelity to the written word' from the sacred scriptures of tradition to the definitive so-called 'secular' texts of our own times, like Kafka or Freud, texts which have their own luminosity, perhaps even, at times, numinosity.