Two Jungian psychoanalysts, Vladislav Solc and George J. Didier, have written a
new book exploring the psychological causes and dynamics of religious fanaticism: Dark
Religion: Fundamentalism from the Perspective of Jungian Psychology (2018). Their indepth psychological analysis explores what happens when a person is possessed by the
unconscious energies of the Self, what has been called the numinous or the Holy. These
energies can possess a person for good or bad..
Radical fundamentalism is a burning issue in our world. It provides the supposed
rational and inspiration for what might be judged as un-religious acts of violence.
Extreme fanatical religion has produced conflicts that have exaggerated cultural clashes,
violent acts of aggression, religious wars, and international terrorism and genocide. These
are often committed “in the name of God.” The fundamentalists hide behind their own
literalized images of God as if they have absolute knowledge of the will or identity of
We see the rise in fundamentalism in the growth of the Christian evangelical right
in America (Religious Right, Moral Majority, the Tea Party), the rise of Islamic
fundamentalism with the Iranian revolution and the Islamic doctrine of Wahhabism, and
the modern Jewish fundamentalism in the state of Israel as it becomes an apartheid nation
rather than a liberal democracy. Religious fundamentalism has combined political with
religious goals. We are familiar with acts of aggression committed in the name of God by
fanatical religion: the jihadist movements, ISIS building on archetypal religious ideas
such as paradise on earth. Osama bin Laden was a religious fanatic. In some parts of the
world, women are stoned for infidelity and other acts.
An example of religious extremism can be found closer to home in the radical
anti-abortion activist who said he was acting in the name of God in killing Dr. George
Tiller for providing abortions. There are many gurus, priests, politicians, spiritual leaders
who are idealized and take advantage of uncritical followers. The religiously motivated
massacres at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg and in Christchurch, New Zealand
are tragic examples of violence in the name of religion.
This book reflects on the dynamics of fundamentalism through the insights of C.G.
Jung’s depth psychology. There are many short clinical vignettes which bring theory into
practice. There was a patient who grew up in a fundamentalist environment hearing, “You
cannot question God!,” “Being angry is a sin.”He sought therapy for his unconfined
angry outbursts. Another sad story was when a fundamentalist was asked what he could
learn from science. His response was, “Nothing. I am a Christian. I have all the
The authors are careful to remind the reader of the vulnerability, fear, anxiety, and
fragility the fundamentalist experiences in the face of change, doubt, and critical
thinking. They remind the reader of the importance of healthy religious institutions and
communities which have the spiritual tools to help us discover deeper religious meanings
through worship, prayer, and ritual practices which contain powerful numinous energies
for the transformation of personality and culture.
The authors argue for a more humble attitude when we talk about religion. There
is a need for us to tell our experiences of religion but respect the “otherness” of another
person’s experience and understanding. We should be careful of religious grandiosity
which might protect us from our own suffering, doubts, and from the deeper Self
emerging from valuing paradox, imagination, conflict, and emerging novelty in religious
experience and understanding.
This book is a scholarly investigation of religion which is thoughtful, readable,
comprehensive, and contemporary in its concerns. It may not appeal to the true believers
locked in dogmatism, literalization, and concrete thinking, incapable of appreciating a
more symbolic and imaginal reading of their sacred scriptures. However, this is an
important work for serious students of psychology, religion, and spirituality. Dark
religion should be a concern to all of us in our churches, temples, mosques, and also our
families, places of public discourse, and political platforms.
David J. Dalrymple, Ph.D., is affiliate minister of the Unitarian Universalist
Congregation of Charleston, a pastoral psychotherapist and Jungian psychoanalyst, and
has been adjunct faculty in Religious Studies at Marshall University.