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Putting religion in its place : belief, trauma, faith and healing

St John, EC 2008 , 'Putting religion in its place : belief, trauma, faith and healing', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Western culture is suffering from a serious malaise characterised by social, personal and environmental breakdown. Many contemporary and influential commentators blame much of this breakdown on the failings of religion and advocate its complete eradication from civic life. In this thesis I argue that this diagnosis is erroneous for a number of reasons, but particularly because it focuses on the "truth claims or content of religion rather than its process. I use a different construct of religion based on the work of Jakob Fries and Friedrich Schleiermacher who argue that religion is not about beliefs, but rather about the human capacity to feel, which is an indelible capacity of the human mind and body. I have been led by this conceptualisation to discern a subtle but inextricable link between theology and psychotherapy and to argue that perhaps one can directly inform the other. The recently developed fields of attachment and trauma theory are used to illustrate and support this argument. Dissociation or feeling distortion is a natural and healthy response to trauma but unmanaged, it gives rise to isolation which leads to the development of a variety of dysfunctional conditions including addiction, criminality, violence, depression and suicide. Such isolation is a microcosmic replication of ontological isolation - the inevitable and unavoidable condition of self-conscious human being which can lead to the same kinds of dysfunction that can be observed in dissociated and traumatised individuals. The various structures, of which, perhaps the most notable is religion, that have developed in human societies as a way to manage both personal and ontological isolation have been significantly eroded since the beginning of the European Enlightenment. This erosion has combined with the traumas of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and now the threat of environmental catastrophe to leave human beings ill-equipped to manage the chaotic and terrifying character of the contemporary world. The result is destructive dissociative behaviour on a global scale. In response, I make a case for a fundamental reconstruction of social institutions, including religious ones, to promote awareness of the dangers of isolation and trauma, and to provide structures for the re-establishment of authentic affective relationships between people, and between people and their place of being, the earth.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:St John, EC
Keywords: Religion, Philosophical theology, Humanistic psychology, Isolation (Philosophy)
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Copyright 2008 the author

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Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2008. Includes bibliographical references. Pt 1. Dualities and externalities: religion and God revisited. Ch. 1. The new God wars -- Ch. 2. Religion and rationality - some old paradigms -- Ch. 3. Talking about God: from JHVH to TGOR -- Pt. 2. Internality and unity: disposition, dysfunction and deadlock. Ch. 4. Religion and feeling - a different paradigm -- Ch. 5. Feeling and connectivity -- Ch. 6. Feeling and disintegration -- Pt. 3. Healing and the happeningness of being. Ch. 7. Feeling and society - attachment and trauma writ large -- Ch. 8. Feeling and healing -- Conclusion.

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