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CRI TI QUE OF THE CONTEMPORARY LI TERATURE I N THE SCI ENTI FI C STUDY OF RELI GI ON By Ana Maria Rizzut o, M.D.

Present ed at t he Annual Meet ing of t he Societ y for t he Scient ific St udy of Religion

The occasion of an int erdisciplinary m eet ing offers t he opport unit y t o discuss concept s t hat , arising from one of t he disciplines m ay shed som e light on t he ot hers. Accordingly, in conduct ing a crit ique of t he cont em porary st udy of religion, I am concerned less wit h calling int o quest ion what ot her researchers are doing and m ore wit h bringing int o focus an aspect of t he problem which t hey neglect in t heir preoccupat ion wit h t heir own m et hods and concept s. One such neglect ed aspect - - essent ial t o m y discipline, psychiat ry- is t he idea I wish t o present in t his paper; nam ely, t he im port ance of dist inguishing bet ween t he concept and t he im age of God. This dist inct ion should he relevant not only t o us, psychiat rist s, but t o all t he researchers involved in t he scient ific st udy of religion. The dist inct ion bet ween t he concept and t he im age of God is not new. For m any years t he God of t he believer has been sharply different iat ed from t he god of t he philosophers. The m yst ics always t ook care t hat t he God t hey experienced

in t heir m yst ic encount er would not be confused wit h t he God present ed in t heological and philosophical t reat ises. Believers and m yst ics are dealing m ost ly wit h t heir im ages of God; philosophers and t heologians, wit h t heir concept s of God. I t is not t hat believers and m yst ics do not have a concept of God, rat her t hey are m ost ly int erest ed in t heir im age of God. Likewise, it is not t hat t heologians and philosophers do not have an im age of God. I t is t hat t hey address t hem selves t o t heir concept of God. Generally, hum an beings can be expect ed t o have bot h a concept and an im age of God. The failure t o dist inguish bet ween t hem in an individual arises from t he fact t hat up t o now we have used t he word God indiscrim inat ely t o nam e bot h concept and im age. I shall propose, t hen, t he necessit y of qualifying t he word God in every inst ance depending on whet her t he concept or t he im age is m eant .

The Significance of Dist inguishing Bet ween t he Concept and t he I m age of God in t he Scient ific St udy of Religion.

The word God is at t he very core of any scient ific st udy of religion. Let us see why. The word religion has been, and st ill is, t he subj ect of int ense cont roversy; it s m eaning is

difficult t o circum scribe because of t he enorm ous variet y of behaviors and experiences t hat can be included under t he t erm religion. These experiences are difficult t o cat egor ize or reduce t o a com m on denom inat or. But if we at t end carefully t o t he phenom enon, we find t hat t here is a basic experience t hat gives rise t o t he behaviors we call religious; nam ely, t he belief in t he ext ernal exist ence of " som et hing" signified as God. This God m ay be as varied as t he religious experiences t hem selves: a cosm ic god, an im personal power, a hierarchy of gods and supernat ural creat ures, a t ranscendent realit y, a t rinit y, or, sim ply, an exclusive godhead. I n ot her words, t he t erm religion in it self im plies t he assum pt ion t hat t here is a God or gods t o whom hum an beings relat e. Wit hout such belief, t he t erm religion would loose it s essent ial m eaning. I t is t rue t hat religious behavior m ay also include concom it ant s of such belief as rit uals, vest m ent s, habit s, social pat t erns, values, et c. But wit hout t he core of belief in an exist ing divinit y or divinit ies, we would be t alking about social rat her t han religious behavior. I n ot her words, t he St udy of religion conceived as behavior orient ed t o t he divine im plies not only st udy of t he believing subj ect but also of t he divinit y which is t he obj ect of belief. I t is t hat very divinit y which m akes t he behavior specifically religious. The sam e whit e dress used for a cerem ony would be only a socially accept ed rit ual if it were not used t o please t he divinit y. I t is t he int ent ion of pleasing

t he divinit y t hat m akes t he behavior " religious" and t he divinit y "real." I t is at t his point , when we deal wit h t he divinit y "real" for t he believer, t hat t he problem becom es com plicat ed: " divinit y" is, aft er all, not " available" for obj ect ive st udy. I t would be a lit t le hard t o obt ain a t aped int erview from God! I t m ay be obj ect ed t hat it is however available in it s obj ect ive represent at ions: sacred books, sacr ed im ages, lit urgies, prayers and t he priest ly funct ion of t he person who represent s t he divinit y or whoever renders it present . Not wit hst anding, t he st udy of t hese obj ect ive represent at ions present s us only wit h a sign or a sym bol of t he divinit y, and not wit h t he God t he individual believer experiences and t akes for real- - t he God he feels The God of t he sym bols and signs I call t he concept of God; t he expression im age of God I use t o refer t o t he God of t he inner experience of t he believer. This dist inct ion is im port ant from t he developm ent al point of view: it is t he believer's inner experience of his God t hat gives rise t o signs and sym bols and gives individual m eaning t o signs and sym bols already exist ing. For t he psychiat rist and t he psychologist bot h, t he concept and t he im age of God are im port ant , but it is t hat direct ly experienced God t hat const it ut es, st rict ly speaking, t he m ost int erest ing obj ect of his st udy. Scholars of t he ot her disciplines are in t he

sam e sit uat ion; t hat is, each discipline seizes on a special aspect of divinit y: t he t heologian, on t he God of t he Script ures or of sacred books in general; t he sociologist on t he God m anifest ed in t he cult and pract ices of t he com m unit y, and so on. Nevert heless, it is im port ant for all st udent s of religion, not only for psychiat rist s like m yself, t o dist inguish bet ween t he concept and t he im age of God. The reason is t hat we sim ply do not know t o what ext ent in part icular inst ances, t hey m ean t he sam e t hing. I ndeed, it seem s t o m e t hat alt hough concept and im age m ay converge in som e respect s, t hey m ay also diverge significant ly in ot hers. I t would be m isleading t o assum e for exam ple, t hat t he god of t he sym bol, t he sign or t he rit ual is t he sam e as t he int ernally experienced God of t he person, who displays t he sym bol or perform s t he rit ual. A sim ple exam ple m ay help t o clarify t his concept . I n t he Cat holic rit ual of penance t he rit ual conveys t he forgiving, j ust and loving God of t he New Test am ent who has already redeem ed t he sinner in his Son. A given Cat holic m ay, however, be so t errified by his inner im age of God t hat he m ay perceive t he ent ire rit ual as an indispensable subm ission t o and hum iliat ion in front of t he Alm ight y in order t o avoid his t errifying wrat h. The rit ual conveys a concept of God t hat st resses forgiveness, j ust ice and love. The inner experience of t hat part icular Cat holic penit ent is inescapable persecut ion and subm ission t o t error.

The concept of God conveyed in t he rit ual is sharply opposed by t he im age of God of t he m an part icipat ing in t he rit ual. The psychiat rist cannot , t herefore, assum e t hat t he God of t he Christ ian fait h and t he God of a part icular Christ ian believer converge t o t he point of being one and t he sam e. They m ay, in fact , diverge t o t he point of becom ing incom pat ible wit h one anot her. I ndeed, in t he field of past oral care, t he consequences of applying t he dist inct ion bet ween t he concept and t he im age of God m ay be far reaching.

Sources of t he Form at ion of t he I m age and t he Concept of God.

We want now t o pay som e at t ent ion t o t he im age of God felt as a person or in ant hropological being. What are t he sources of t hat im age? What are t he inner experiences available t o t he believer which are select ed t o form t he im age of God? What is t he select ive process t hat produces in an individual his im age of God and so on. The m ost accept able hypot hesis would be, I t hink, t hat t he im age of God is form ed wit h m at erials com ing from early int erpersonal experiences, part icularly t he im m ediat e m em bers of t he fam ily. Moreover, t he feelings by t hat also echo feelings of early personal relat ions. This use of early

personal experience t o form t he im age of God is- psychologically speaking- - t he only possible way I can t hink of arriving at t he percept ion of God as a person. There are som e furt her considerat ions which recom m end m y hypot hesis: t he way hum an beings arrive at t heir feelings about God is unique am ong psychological processes. There are t wo feat ures t hat m ake it unique: in t he first place, as I point ed out before, God is experienced as a living being, m ost of t he t im e a living person, This, in it self, is not unique, but t he fact t hat God is t he only being experienced as real, exist ing and alive t hat cannot undergo, and never did, t he powerful exam inat ion of t he realit y t est ing capacit y of t he hum an ego; God is not learned t hrough t he senses as any ot her hum an being is; t he hum an senses are im pot ent t o verify t he realit y of God. We have here t he first original qualit y of t he process of feeling God alive: A felt being t hat cannot be t est ed in t he way any ot her being would be. I n second place, such a God is perceived as exist ing in t he real and several at t ribut es are given t o him in spit e of t he fact t hat he does not ent er int o t he t wo cat egories t hat form t he hum an fram e of reference for a living being: space and t im e. I n spit e of it God is felt spat ially as being " inside" oneself, in heaven, everywhere, et c. He is also felt in a t em poral fram e of reference, e.g., t he person feels and t hinks: " He is blessing m e now" or " He will punish m e

t om orrow" or " Now I see what He did for m e in t he past ." These considerat ions reveal t he peculiar qualit y of our psychological experience wit h t he divine. None of t he t est ing devices t he hum an ego has, can be used t o verify what we feel about Him . Nevert heless, for t he experiencing person it is as real and int ense as any ot her t est able relat ion wit h living hum an beings. The point we have been t rying t o illust rat e is t hat - psychologically speaking- - t here is no ext ernal realit y called God t hat gives feedback t o t he believer. There are plent y of indirect signs and sym bols which are int erpret ed as com ing from God. But t he religious person does not feel God as a sym bol or a sign, but as t he living being whose signs he is int erpret ing. We, t hen, conclude, t hat t he personificat ion of God is purely an int ernal process t hat t akes place in t he psyche of t he believer. I t is t o explain t his int ernal process- t hat I form ulat ed t he hypot hesis t hat t he m at erial used t o form t he im age of God and t he feelings at t ached t o it originat e in previous int erpersonal exchanges. This is t he t im e for us t o com e back t o t he cent ral idea in our discussion: t he difference bet ween t he im age of t he felt God described above and t he concept of God. The concept of God com es t o us t hrough what ever t eachings, readings, lit urgies, et c. have been present ed t o us. God is described t o us by m eans of words, sym bols, et c. That

is what our m ilieu provides for us, a ready m ade God t hat belongs t o a given cult ure and subcult ure. What ever t he descript ion t his God is subj ect t o ext ernal t est ing: if I disagree wit h t he preaching I heard I as a Christ ian, can go t o t he Bible and find whet her or not t he God described t here coincides wit h t he God preached t o m e. The concept of God t herefore is t he result of t he varied t eachings we have received, int egrat ed in a m ore or less cohesive int ellect ual underst anding of what God is all about . Perhaps what I suggest is a new version of t he old dist inct ion bet ween t he God of t he philosophers and t he God of t he m yst ics wit h t his difference: t hat for m e m yst ics are not t he very select ed few, but t he everyday believers, t he everyday m yst ics. All of us know t hat out of t he t wo, it is t he second, t he aspect t hat I call t he im age of God t he one we use in our m ost int im at e life and t he part t hat gives m eaning t o t he religious experience. Just one m ore observat ion: t hings are never so cut and dry, because t he concept ual God and t he im age of God do int eract and int erplay in t he overall religious experience of an individual. But t hey are different and com e from different sources.

The Developm ent al Origin of t he I m age and t he Concept of God.

The developm ent of t he child t hrows light on t he way t he im age and t he concept of God com e int o being and int eract . The newborn child has no int erpersonal experience. The infant has t he experience of t he m ot her, t he fat her and t he siblings. The child has a m ult it ude of int erpersonal experiences. I t is at age t hree when t he child becom es consciously curious about God. The child soon discovers t hat God is invisible, t herefore, he is left t o his inner resources t o fill t he im age of God as a living being described for him and felt by him as a person. The powerful fant asy of t he child has t o " creat e" t he psychological t rait s of t hat invisible but unusually powerful being. Ant hropom orphic as t he child is at t hree he is t o m ake God at t he im age of his available st orage of hum an experiences. He im agines God and very soon his fant asy of Him will m ake it self felt upon t he child wit h all it s m ight . An im age of God has been creat ed for a new hum an being. We do not know at t his point what psychic processes t ake place inside t he child or t he select ive procedures t hat bring him t o use one t ype of int erpersonal experience and rej ect anot her t o form his im age of God. What we know is

t hat , fairly early, t he child has an im age of God which he spont aneously uses in his quest ioning about Him and in his own religious behavior. This early im age m ay, t o be sure, undergo changes in lat er life. This does not alt er t he fact t hat t he child has form ed his im age of God out of int erpersonal experiences before he is int ellect ually m at ure ( enough) t o grasp t he concept of God. I f, when t he t im e com es for him t o receive form al religious t eaching, t he dist ance bet ween his im age of God and t he concept of God he is being t aught is t oo big t o be bridged, t hen t he child will have difficult y in accept ing t he God present ed t o him . The subj ect ive God of his form al religion will not coincide or be close enough t o be int egrat ed and t he end result m ay be overlapping of t he t wo wit h oscillat ions from one t o t he ot her in lat er life.

I m plicat ions of t his Dist inct ion for t he Scient ific St udy of Religion.

I have t ried t o dist inguish bet ween a socially received concept of God and t he inner God creat ed out of t he m at erials of early int erpersonal relat ions. A researcher's failure t o allow for t his dist inct ion could well invalidat e his st udy. Take, for exam ple, a st udy which classifies people according t o t heir official religion, t he im plicat ion being t hat all t he subj ect s share t he sam e God. To be sure, t hey do

share t he sam e concept of God; but a researcher can draw no conclusions about t he im age of God t hey have. I n t he cont rary, t he likelihood t hat t heir im ages of God vary as m uch am ong t hem selves as would t he im ages of persons of different affiliat ion. I t is also ent irely conceivable t hat persons of different confessions, and who, consequent ly, have a different concept of God, m ay have st rikingly sim ilar im ages of God on t he assum pt ion t hat like hum an experiences of early life generat e sim ilar im ages of God.

Research Being Done

I n t he light of t hese t heoret ical considerat ions and because of t he lack of clinical and st at ist ical st udies in t his area, I have m yself launched a program of research int o t he inner God hum an beings form . I have asked 88 subj ect s t o draw pict ures of t heir fam ilies as well as pict ures of God and t o answer t wo quest ionnaires, one r elat ed t o personal relat ions wit h m em bers of t he original fam ily and anot her relat ed t o sim ilar relat ions wit h God. I had at hand a det ailed personal and fam ily hist ory of each subj ect . I am now t rying t o t race t he inner process of form at ion of t he im age of God, part icularly in relat ionship wit h t he available m at erial t he individual had deriving from int erpersonal relat ions. Though I cannot speak at lengt h about m y st udy. I can say t hat I am

learning m uch about different t ypes of inner Gods and t hat I hope t o be able t o correlat e t hese findings wit h what is known about int erpersonal relat ions in clinical and t heoret ical t erm s. A few clinical vignet t es will convey t he flavor of t he research. A 58 year old m an who was a non- believer and had never received form al religious educat ion could not t alk about God because he could not t hink of a non- exist ing being. When asked t o draw his im age of God, he readily drew an elderly angel- like being float ing above, am ong t he clouds, " wat ching over us." A 27 year old m an was quit e disappoint ed wit h God drew a wom an and felt quit e em barrassed when he realized what he had done. He hast ily drew a beard on her: his concept of God had him convinced t hat God is a m an. A 53 year old wom an, who was quit e religious, drew her pict ure of God wit h great at t ent ion. At t he end she st art ed crying because she realized t hat she had drawn her fat her, wit hout being aware t hat she had done it . A 50 year old m an who felt quit e left out in his childhood, drew God as his m irror im age. He, act ually, drew a m irror and his face on it , and, in front of t he m irror he drew him self looking int o t he m irror. These clinical exam ples should suggest t he m at erials m y st udy is producing and t he quest ions t hey raise. The

benefit of such st udy is t o show wit h all t he obj ect ivit y of proj ect ive pict orial t echniques t hat t he personally felt God, t hat is, t he im age of God, is a real force in a person's psychodynam ics and t hat God m ay be a very different being for each believer, even of t he sam e " concept ual" God.

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