How did Sigmund Freud and William James’ opinion on religion differ?

To put it in the simplest terms, Sigmund Freud stated clearly he saw religion as pathological and studied it as a kind of mental disorder. *How I like that explanation.*

William James on the other hand saw the religious feeling as a legitimate part of human mentally, something to be understood and studied and not dismissed. *In a way, I like that explanation too.*

William James became famous as the psychologist who studied the religious experience, Sigmund Freud only dismissed it.

Here’s my own question: Do you who read this post prefer the answer from Sigmund Freud or the answer from William James? Maybe you prefer just one of the two proposed answers? In that case, which one do you think can be dismissed as kind of bullshit?


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5 responses to “How did Sigmund Freud and William James’ opinion on religion differ?

  1. Good question! Since I believe that Freud was a brilliant sociopath who tried to oversimplify the human condition, I tend to prefer William James thoughts. Indeed, religion is such a deep part of social interactions, it would seem foolish to me to ignore the phenomena if one were truly interested in understanding peoples of the world. : )

  2. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, williamleeone! Most appreciated.

    I also want you to know that I, at least partly, agree with you: Sigmund Freud was kind of sociopathic. And I believe he suffered from some sort of megalomania as well. For example, consider this quote, taken from Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalyis (1916), in James Strachey (ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1963), Vol. 16, 284-5.

    According to that quote, Sigmund Freud regarded his psychoanalytical theory as one of the most important scientific breakthroughs ever in human history. He thus told his audience:

    In the course of centuries the naïve self-love of men has had to submit to two major blows at the hands of science. The first was when they learnt that our earth was not the centre of the universe but only a tiny fragment of a cosmic system of scarcely imaginable vastness… the second blow fell when biological research destroyed man’s supposedly privileged place in creation and proved his descent from the animal kingdom and his ineradicable animal nature… But human megalomania will have suffered its third and most wounding blow from the psychological research of the present time which seeks to prove to the ego that it is not even master in its own house, but must content itself with scanty information of what is going on unconsciously in its mind.

    I can recommend this article as well: .

    BTW, I also agree with you, williamleeone, that IF you really want to understand what religion is, and means, then you should not dismiss religious experiences but rather study them. Thatäs why I, as a militant ateist, am so interested in religions, religious psychology, the neural substrates of religious bullshit thinking.

    William James was in many ways a forerunner of modern psychological science. His ideas have, generally,fared better than many of Freud’s.

    But William James made at least one enormously big mistake in his scientific career: He allowed himself to be bamboozled by the spiritualistic trance medium Leonora Piper, read more here:

  3. ONE

    I’m going through this and I feel like someone fucked me up I hate all of you and I want you to die

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