Saturday, January 26, 2008


In a lengthy letter to Pastor Tanner dated 12 February 1959, Jung explains his psychological definition for the word religion.

First he provides a definition the ancients used: religio derived from relegere or religere, “to ponder, to take account of, to observe (e.g., in prayer).”

Then he gives the definition the Church Fathers used: religio from religare, “to bind, to reconnect,” which speaks to relationship with God. Thirdly, Jung writes of a contrasting conception that was “current in pagan antiquity: the gods are exalted men and embodiments of ever-present powers whose will and whose moods must be complied with. Their numina must be carefully studied, they must be propitiated by sacrifices . . . . Here religion means a watchful, wary, thoughtful, careful, prudent, expedient, and calculating attitude towards the powers that be . . . .”

Finally, Jung provides his own thinking about the meaning of the word religion:

“By ‘religion,’ then, I mean a kind of attitude which takes careful and conscientious account of certain numinous feelings, ideas, and events and reflects upon them.” Jung’s notions about the psychological meaning of a religious attitude are more akin to that of the ancients and pagan antiquity than to that of the Church Fathers.

C.G. Jung Letters, Vol. 2, 1951 – 1961. Selected and Edited by Gerhard Adler, Princeton University Press, 1975. “To Pastor Tanner,” pp. 482-84.

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