Dark Religion: Fundamentalism From The Perspective of Jungian Psychology


There has never been a greater urgency in our world today to expand and deepen, from a depth psychological perspective, our understanding of fanatical religion and fundamentalism. The phenomenon of extreme religion threatens our culture and, at times, our very existence. We have termed this phenomenon: Dark Religion. Almost everyone in one-way or another is affected by this development in our world: from the consulting room, to our families, to our churches, mosques and temples, not to mention the public arenas and political platforms. What is it that makes religion so potentially dangerous and dark?

Our argument is that religion is not only a connection to the numinous as a source of life and renewal, but also a source of extreme power that can lead to radically perverted states of mind and nefarious creeds that kill the soul’s relationship to the Transpersonal. The so called radicalized religions and movements masquerade as if they are enlightening and religious but, in their fundamentalism and one-sidedness they have a flawed core and, in the end, are the opposite of religion that in its healthy essence identical with spirituality. This book offers an in-depth-psychological analysis of what happens when a person becomes possessed by the unconscious energies of the Self. We coin the term “dark religion” to describe all forms of fanatical, radical and unhealthy religions.

Analytical psychology offers one of the most extraordinary and penetrating analyses of the dynamics of religion and the religious function of the human psyche. As a relatively newcomer to the conversation on fundamentalism, analytical psychology’s telescopic view of the interior life of one’s religious beliefs and creeds, offers a unique vision that provides unparalleled insight and understanding of what is happening in the psyche of fundamentalists. Dark Religion offers new insights and a fresh perspective on how religion is used in the mind of the individual to hide behind their image of God. In Dark Religion, we explore and explicate these dynamics of religion, whether embodied by the radical extremist or by the fundamentalist next door, by submitting them to a critical analysis and review using the tools and knowledge of depth psychology. Supported by numerous examples in the world today and in our own clinical practices, our study reveals how dark religion leads to profound conflicts on both the personal, interpersonal and cultural level; including terrorism and war.

On the other side, our study reveals that spirituality, besides being an inherent dimension of our human nature, is one of our most essential needs. Religion only becomes “dark,” we argue, when we ignore, deny or separate it from its own living roots in the unconscious. In the attempt to deepen and understand radical creed and fundamentalism, Dark Religion surveys the contemporary religious and spiritual landscape, while discovering the emergent forms of spiritual praxis in light of postmodernism and the rise of fundamentalism.

How does one recognize dark religion? What are its psychological and religious signs? Who are most vulnerable to its seduction and alluring energy? What can one do about it?  Is it as close as your local church or synagogue or mosque? This book begins to answer these and other compelling questions on the nature of dark religion.

Vlado Šolc and George J. Didier, October, 10, 2017, Whitefish Bay, WI and Rockford, IL.

To Order Book Online: http://chironpublications.com/shop/dark-religion-fundamentalism-perspective-jungian-psychology/


In this book, we have explored the questions of religion from the perspective of Jungian psychology. As themes concerning matters of religion are complex and multifaceted, the focus has been on a relatively narrow perspective. Questions of religion we explored from an empirical and naturalistic standpoint, confined to the frame of contemporary depth-analytical theory. Metaphysical and theological speculations have been avoided without dismissing them as unsubstantiated or fantastical. Instead, we rendered them simply irrelevant in terms of this study. Our religious beliefs have not been expressed, nor has the existence of God been debated. However, we stand with humility and awe in front of the great mystery which reveals itself through the psyche and life as such. Therefore, we harbor the utmost respect for human religiosity and worship with all those places it claims to have in human life. Nevertheless, we have attempted to cover the psychological and phenomenological aspects of religion, not the object of religion itself. By any means, the current work should not be considered to be a critical inquiry to theological questions and instead it should be considered an empirical exploration of religion from a psychological perspective.

Our main goal was to explore the broad question of what religion is from a psychological standpoint and to establish the functions of religion. Here, we closely examined fundamentalist, radical, excessive, unadapted, and extreme forms of religion and religious worship, as well as the social and individual aspects of religious mindsets. We have drawn important insights pertaining to this matter from various sources, which include Jungian literature, as well as works of social psychology, developmental psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, poetry, spiritual and religious texts, and mythology.

An important distinction between religion and creed has been made in Jungian theory. Religion is defined as an experience of an archetypal reality (the Self) with the concurrent rational assignment of this experience to a transcendent source (i.e., God). Religion, as used in Jungian theory is basically synonymous with spirituality. Rudolf Otto (1917) called this experience numinous and postulated two main aspects of the numinosum: tremendos and fascinans. According to Otto, the experience of the holy is always paradoxical and evokes deep emotions of mystery, fear, and fascination. Otto’s concept was adopted by Jung and his followers and was applied to all phenomena concerning the archetypal, therefore numinous experience. We have attempted to explore the idea of the numinosum and its representation in human psychology. This concept has become the most crucial cornerstone of our paper. We have recognized and delineated religion as the most important modus humans use to apprehend archetypal reality. Religion is organically intertwined with the psyche, and therefore, we cannot speak about the psyche without taking the religious function into consideration. Anima religiosus est: The psyche is naturally religious, is endowed with religious energy, and is a container and a content for the numinosum at the same time. Corbett (1996) stated it this way: “Numinous experience is synonymous with religious experience” (p. 15). Human maturation, therefore, coincides with the maturation of religious conceptions. Jungian theory refers to this spiritual maturation as the unfolding, in word and deed, of one’s individuation. The default position for religion is a primordial state of unconscious identity, which Levy Bruhl (1923) called participation mystique. The evolution of religious worship stems from this natural state of the human mind and proceeds through the stages of animism, totemism, and polytheism to monotheism. The phylogeny (and ontogeny) of consciousness advances through the withdrawal of projections of unconscious contents (archetypes) and returning the projections consciously to the projector (the Self). Thus, ego-consciousness is formed. The development of consciousness can be defined as a process of making the unconscious contents conscious. Anytime the unconscious becomes integrated into the ego, we speak about psychic transformation. Consciousness is the unconscious that became conscious. Religion (spirituality), from a Jungian perspective, is understood as a tool for transformation. Religion can thus be viewed as a creation of consciousness, a meaning-endowed connection between ego and the Self; what Edinger (1972) called ego-Self axis.

Creed, on the other hand, refers to a scripted, codified and institutionalized relationship to the numinosum. Creed is based on collectively established dogmas; therefore, its main purpose is to provide a universal nexus relevant to the experience of the numinosum. Creed, as doctrine, can provide a container for numinous experiences and thus mediate its content to individuals. However, it can also dogmatize individual experiences in such way that they become inefficient with respect to their effect on the process of psychic transformation. Creeds can promote the use of defensive functions in religions resulting in the “dilution” of the numinosum, and the exclusion and rationalization of the numinosum’s components.

The function of creed and its relevance to rituals and social structures has been delineated. With respect to ritual, we have demonstrated how ritualistic practices can foster defensive structures, and instead of integrating numinous experiences, they can be used to protect against them. The symbolic process that is crucial to the integration and regulation of numinous energy, is missing in many institutionalized religious practices. Many religious institutions are, thus, unable to provide adequate and credible religious [psychological, imaginal and ideological] containers for numinous (Imago Dei) experiences. That leads to various modes of inadequate psychological ego-adaptation, such as hubris, inflation, possession, mana personalities, and one-sidedness, among others.

These phenomena have been examined from the perspective of Jungian typology, particularly the role of the inferior function, as it pertains to the differentiation of personality and matters of creed. Thorough research has been conducted with regard to the phenomenon of ego-adaptation within the frame of Jungian psychology, and the research followed ego development as reflected in Jung’s collected works and the works of von Franz, Neumann, Jacobi, Jacoby, and Meyer, as well as the work of neo-Jungians and other psychoanalysts, such as Corbett, Edinger, Kohut, Kernberg, Winnicott, Kalsched, Hill, Nathanson, Casement, Moore, Main, Compaan, Dourley, Samuels, Hillman and others. Although our primary goal was not to ponder the question of religion from the perspective of progressive, “adequate” or “adaptive” functioning, this book has briefly touched upon it by identifying spirituality as a primary, indispensable aspect of individuation. Spirituality in Jungian psychology has more to do with a practical relationship to the numinosum than with religious faith based on the existence of a transcendent being independent from natural laws and human actions. Jung’s theory proposes exploring the psyche and establishing a conscious relationship with various components of the unconscious (complexes and archetypes) and ultimately the relationship with the Self. Further, it opens the door to finding universal ground for religiosity, stretching beyond the particular religious teachings of any one religious system. The spirituality of Jungian theory and practice seeks to encourage individual accountability as it stands in opposition to the unconscious identification (participation mystique), with mass-psychology, and with mass accepted dogmas.

This individuality, however, is not solipsistic nor does it exclude one’s individuated relatedness to a particular religious faith. Morality, arising from the Jungian concept of spirituality, is based on a sincere and responsible exploration of the inner and outer world, its corresponding knowledge, and the conscious assessment of consequences stemming from ensuing conduct. This morality is in contradiction to accepting dogmas as only credible premises for spiritual knowledge and also in contradiction to adopting religious beliefs without subjecting them to critical reality-based rationality. This does not mean the rationality of separate cognitive functions, but knowledge of the heart based on the quintessential involvement of all psychic functions (all functions of consciousness including intuition and feeling). This may lead to the deep and ever-continuous symbolic understanding of reality and the human role in it. Jung called this the individuation process.

Individuation is a process of becoming oneself, and therefore, it is the highest goal to which human beings can aspire. Individuation is not a meandering in the river of the collective unconscious, but an opus contra naturam, or a conscientious process of slowly accruing self-awareness that requires a strong ego and the willingness to sacrifice. The goal of individuation is not to seek refuge in certain rigid spiritual practices or beliefs that bring the appearance of certainty and familiarity, instead the goal is to create ego-consciousness capable of dignified living among the opposites of Complexio Oppositorum.

Jung criticized the widespread religious doctrine—privatio boni—postulating that God acts as (and is) an all-good being (Summum Bonum) without acknowledging the dark, so-called evil part of the divine mysterium (Mysterium Coniunctionis). The formation of one’s Imago Dei that, in the process, splits-off one part of the Coniunctio, has inevitable and severe psychological consequences. Jung presented a theory for the new millennium of growing consciousness that broke a taboo about the Imago Dei and allowed for the emergence of a God Image that more readily corresponds with empirical reality. He dared to try to get to know the God Image in its more complex and paradoxical nature. Jung called for knowledge, not for the sake of knowing alone, but for knowledge as a tool for achieving a higher consciousness for humanity: a humanity that can live up to the moral demands and obligations presented in the dawn of the 21st century. His message gains urgency with the technological advancements made by humankind and its frightening ability to destroy itself and all life as we know it.

Acknowledging, holding, and tolerating the tension of the paradox of existence frees the human race from an illusory one-sidedness and the accompanying religious doctrines designed to perpetuate them. This requires a secure ego capable of self-reflection, flexibility, and humility when exposed to the changing demands of life and when it encounters the numinosum and Archetypal energy. A kind of resilient ego responds to the energy of the numinosum with progressive responses instead of regressive exploit. The consequences of the latter are dire enough that existence as a whole depends on this progressive evolution and incarnation of numinous energy.

The key process for psychological and spiritual change and transformation is the creation of the transcendent function, allowing comprehension of the unconscious via the symbolic process. A symbolic understanding allows for a psychologically credible view and explanation of reality. Seeking refuge in religious doctrines that contradict reality does not mean a mere stagnation of intellectual development but leads inherently to destructive phenomena on both the individual and collective level. Rigidly held positions are especially dangerous during revolutionary times. The effects of the numinosum are not eradicated or annihilated by the act of denial. Au contraire: The more unconscious those powers are by the unwillingness or inability of the ego to face them, the more archaic, and therefore cruel, they most likely become. Religious worship as a natural phenomenon plays an indispensable role in allowing the ego to form a relationship to the numinosum, but like every other tool, it, can be used as a defense. Protection against the numinosum is equally important, as is its integration, for individuation. However, when the defenses become the sole habitual function of the creed, neurosis ensues. Henceforth, a spirituality based on reality principles are necessary to resume development. Jungian analysis and a Jungian Weltanschauung can play an indispensable role in the resumption of development and growth; they grant the ego the ability to redefine its relationship to the numinosum, thus forming a new Imago Dei.

To a greater extent, we have explored the psychological phenomena of stagnation and distorted adaptation in religious development. To better understand these phenomena, we researched and referenced the work of Almond, Appleby, and Sivan’s (2003) on fundamentalism (The Fundamentalism Project, 1987-1995). Additionally, work on fundamentalism and questions pertaining to radical creed by Armstrong, Putnam and Campbell, Hedges, Ehrman, Dourley, among others, were also referenced. Their research furthered our work in elucidating and illuminating the phenomena of fundamentalism and facilitated our work in developing and establishing connecting links between the sociological, psychological and religious aspects. The numinosum was explored with respect to individual psychology, but also collective psychology. Besides studying Jung’s collected works, as a main source in this book, the work of Main, Casement, Stein, and Corbett were reviewed and included in the present study. In this book, we have identified the major characteristics of “strong religion” and we have offered their phenomenology from the perspective of depth psychology.

In addition, the work of Edinger and his concept of the Self became the leading point for the formulation of our own contributions to the question of radical religious dynamics and their expressions.

In Jungian literature, there are different appellations for the phenomenon of possession by the archetypes, creating a strong creed. This expression includes fanaticism, radicalism, sectarianism, and fundamentalism. We noted that all of these are expressions for “getting stuck in the land of numen” (Jung, 1935, par. 221). The common denominator for these phenomena were possession and/or inflation by the Self; either by the light, conscious side or dark, unconscious side. We termed this possession theocalypsis, theocalypse, or theokalypsis.

The term theocalypse was proposed to describe the archetypal process of religious inflation by the Self where a specific religious ideology is present and the ideology is referring to a supreme, transcendent being or beings as God or gods. This ideology can exist in the form of doctrine or individual philosophy and imagery and basically corresponds to that which is known in Jungian psychology as the Imago Dei. We speak of theocalypsis only where the phenomena of inflation by unconscious contents of the Self are present: Theocalypsis = Inflation + Archetype of the Self + Imago Dei. Typically, theocalypsis involves hiding behind god/God while possessed by the archetypal energy of the Self. If inadequate regulation of the archetypal Self-energy is not a part of the process or if a religious ideology is lacking, this state would not be considered a theocalypsis; and other terms, such as assimilation, possession, inflation, one-sidedness, or mana personality would be used. The term theocalypsis is used to describe the process of “being trapped” or “deceived” by the inadequate regulation of archetypal Self-energy and by the consequent, insufficient (noncredible), or poor representation of the Imago Dei. We believe that the process and phenomenon of theocalypsis is universal and archetypal. We have provided an aggregate of historical and mythological examples to support the findings of our examination.

Odysseus’s capture on the Island of Ogygia by a nymph named Calypso and his eventual release and return to Ithaca offers a symbolic rendering of psychological stagnation that can impede individuation. Comparisons were made between the unwanted results of losing relationship with the unconscious, archetypal domain and the dynamics that govern the mind of a religious fanatic; both are trapped by unregulated Self-energy and thus prevented from continued spiritual development. The term theocalypsis does not apply to healthy religious expressions (i.e., expressions resulting from the creation of an ego-Self axis, to use Edinger’s term). Because we recognize religion as the most essential psychic expression, the term theocalypsis is applied only to cases where this function has become deformed for various reasons and is a hindrance for the “incarnation” of the Self and hindrance to one’s continuing individuation.

We have identified three basic categories (General, Affect and Cognitive) of the psychological characteristics of a theocalypsis. Within each category we have identified eight sub-characteristics. The general characteristics pertain to concepts found in the Jungian literature: 1) Hubris, 2) Ethical infantilism, 3) Unconscious identity (participation mystique), 4) Lack of Aidos, 5) Abnegation of Will, 6) Inadequate Regulation of the Numinosum, 7) Identification with the Self, and 8) Inferiority of Consciousness. The second groups of characteristics, which we called cognitive characteristics, are concerned with the cognitive process and approach to religious products (i.e., texts and teachings): 1) Concretism and Literalism, 2) Historicism and Externalism, 3) Selective Rationality, 4) Inconsistency and Intellectual Rigidity, 5) Quasi-Intellectualism, 6) Absolutism and Inerrancy, 7) Millennialism and Messianism, and 8) Dogmatism. The third group of characteristics refers to how people suffering from a theocalypsis deal with the affective (emotional) quality of the numinosum. We call them Affect Characteristics: 1) Asymbolism, 2) One-Sided orientation of consciousness, 3) Inadequate relationship to paradox (Complexio Oppositorum), 4) Externalization of archetypal Self-energy, 5) Dissociative selectivity, 6) Moral superiority and moral Manichæism, 7) Reactivity, and 8) Fear of the new and fear of change.

Clinical practice and the observation of the phenomena of theocalypsis have taught the authors that unconscious possession always yields consequences. Greek mythology recognized this archetypal process in the acts of different goddesses such as Atë, Dike, Nemesis, and others. We borrowed terminology from Greek language and proposed the term theonemesis to describe the consequences of theocalypsis. The term theonemesis was defined as a manifestation of an attempt to change the person by the Self where theocalypsis no longer provided sufficient ego-adaptation. Theonemesis is understood as a compensatory reaction of the psychic system as a result of possession by the Self. Theonemesis and theocalypsis are both in service of individuation and are mutually interrelated. Experiencing theonemesis could lead to establishing of more adequate God Image and thus a more adequate religious faith. Theonemesis attempts to attack in cases in which the ego is identified with the Self and thus under the influence of unconscious, archaic, and unadapted contents. Examples of this process were likewise found in historical material and our own clinical practice.

Lastly, we have explored the issues concerning psychological transformation and change and have identified the factors inherent in facilitating change and the basic obstacles to psychological growth and development. The role of Jungian psychology, its theory, and clinical practice have been noted in the process of facilitating change as necessary conditions for individuation. The numinosum is the alpha and omega of human conscious life; due to its paradoxical nature, it can be a source of psychological freedom or salvation, on the one hand, or the source of the worst destruction imaginable, on the other. Both remain unavoidably present. That is why Jung’s work is so vital and important for our time. A hundred years has not diminished Jung’s message, in fact it is more timely and urgent today.

It is our hope that this humble contribution will help perpetuate Jung’s message and will inspire others to explore the question of religion, not with iconoclastic intentions, but with the intention to help understand religion, so it can better serve the purpose proclaimed by the sages.

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