Religious instinct

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Religious instinct has been theorized by some scholars as a part of human nature[1][2][3] - support for such a position being found in the fact that (as Talcott Parsons put it) “there is no known human society without something which modern social scientists would classify as religion”.[4]

Theologians however have questioned the utility of an approach to religion by way of a so-called instinct;[5]psychologists have disputed the existence of any such specific instinct;[6] while others would point to the advance of secularization in the modern world as refuting the assumption of a specific religious instinct inevitably leading to the establishment of religion as a fundamental human institution.[7]


There are no religious rituals observed in animals, including our close relatives, chimpanzees and other apes, although chimps were observed to have sometimes collective excitements for no reason.[8]

Archaeologists have established the existence of burial rituals among Neanderthals some 50,000 years ago:[9] their appearance has sometimes been taken as evidence of the human capacity to transform instinct, rather than to be driven by it.[10]

Freud and Jung[edit]

Sigmund Freud saw human weakness and helplessness as a fundamental force behind the establishment of religion[11] - a view which might seem to draw support from the Inglehart-Welzel thesis that links the insecurities of traditional economies to a search for spiritual certainty, the affluence of modernisation to a declining stress on religion.[12]

Carl Jung (1875–1961) theorized the existence of a collective unconscious, as a residue of what has been learned in humankind's evolution and ancestral past, which contains the instinctual potential for creativity as well as the spiritual heritage of mankind,[13] and which unconsciously dictates our behaviour.[14]

While he recognized in man a genetic predisposition to order experience in mythological, religious or symbolic terms,[15] Jung reserved judgement as to what bearing this had for the truth-value of religion.[16]

He never ceased however to stress the important challenge all such factors presented to any shallowly rationalistic world-view.[17]


Durkheim saw the social, not the instinctual side of mankind as the key to their religious experience.[18]

See also[edit]

Secular religion


  1. ^ John Roberts Dummelow (1920). A commentary on the Holy Bible. Macmillan.
  2. ^ "The Faith Instinct". Archived from the original on 2010-04-27. Retrieved 2010-10-14.
  3. ^ Carolyn See (December 25, 2009). "Book review: The Faith Instinct by Nicholas Wade". The Washington Post.
  4. ^ Introduction, Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion (1971) p. xxvii
  5. ^ Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (1996) p. 111-2
  6. ^ J. B. Pratt, The Religious Consciousness (2004) p. 69
  7. ^ Peter L. Berger, A Rumour of Angels (1973) p. 13-4
  8. ^,_Signals_and_rituals_of_humans_and_animals.pdf
  9. ^ Philip Zaleski, Carol Zaleski (2006). Prayer: A History. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-618-77360-2.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  10. ^ Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (1993) p. 104
  11. ^ S. Freud, Civilization, Society and Religion (PFL 12) p. 203
  12. ^ R. F. Foster, Luck of the Irish (2008) p. 66
  13. ^ Jung and religion.
  14. ^ Locke, John (2010-10-02). "Jung's Thoughts on God: The Religious Depths of Our Psyches (Jung on the Hudson Book Series) by Donald Dyer - Powell's Books". Retrieved 2010-10-14.
  15. ^ R. Gregory ed., The Oxford Companion to the Mind (1987) p. 405
  16. ^ Carl Jung, Man and his Symbols (1978) p. 75-82
  17. ^ Jung, p.90-3
  18. ^ E. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1971) p. 418

External links[edit]