Men, Religion, and Melancholia: James, Otto, Jung, and Erikson.


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Capps, Donald. Men, Religion, and Melancholia: James, Otto, Jung, and Erikson. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997. xiii + 235 pp. $27.50.Using biographical sources and psychoanalytic theory, Donald Capps has produced an intriguing and edifying book. This work stands at the intersection of the psychology of religion, psychohistory, and psychiatry. It employs a psychohistorical, case-study approach to explore the connections among depression, masculinity, loss, and various religious proclivities.Through intensive studies of the lives of four pivotal figures in the psychology of religion, William James, Carl Jung, Rudolph Otto, and Erik Erikson, Capps develops a theory that points to melancholia and early losses as the impetuses that inspire religious vision. There are also interesting observations on other noteworthy historical figures, including Samuel Johnson and Martin Luther. The case studies are richly layered, penetrating, and quite persuasive. Capps is a careful scholar and an astute diagnostician. He blends the humanistic sensibilities of the historian with those of the clinical scientist to produce compelling but circumspect accounts.Capps shows how each of his subjects developed his own unique perspective on religion as a response to a loss and the attempt to transcend that loss. He makes a number of insightful observations on the psychology of the self and the relation of attitudes toward the self and the religious impulse. Within his formulation, religion can be salutary, can mitigate self-hatred. From James we learn of the importance of having a self we wish to care for. From Jung we derive the metaphor of a "little sun" rising in one's own heart. For Otto the image of Jesus served as a positive internalized self object. Erikson's psychology of religion pointed to faith as capable of producing a self-cohesion that could withstand the psychic ravages of the aging process.It can be argued that case studies prove or demonstrate nothing. At best they may provide hypotheses that can be subject to subsequent scientific test. Given the humanistic content of the psychology of religion, Capps' treatment may be the most rigorous kind of analysis of the "deeper" issues that we can hope for. It is certainly an engaging one.Robert L. Woolfolk, Ph.D.

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