How significant was Jewish culture and religion for Freud’s life and work?
Jewish culture and religion inevitably left a mark on Sigmund Freud’s life and work. Although Freud himself openly and consistently labels himself as an atheist, it can be seen from his writings about how Jewish culture influenced his life and career as a psychoanalytic theorist. This can be probably rooted from his parents who are both Jewish and the presence of Jewish scriptures which were also a part of his early education.
Early in his life, he became aware of important issues such as the effects of anti-Semitism to Jewish people. Freud himself stated the pressure that he went through as a student: “I found that I was expected to feel myself inferior and an alien because I was a Jew” (1989, p. 13). Aside from his experiences inside the university, anti-Semitism caused him to struggle in order to gain more opportunities as a scholar. In his work titled Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), Freud emphasized that despite the contributions made by the Jews throughout history, they have been continuously subjected to various forms of aggression. He also connected this violence to his assertions regarding identity formation. Because of this personal attachment to the Jewish experience, many scholars have claimed that many aspects of Jewish culture have been subtly integrated into his works as a psychoanalyst.
Freud managed to publish a work titled Moses and Monotheism which expounded his psychoanalytic theory and explored Moses, one of the most important Jewish figures. However, in because of atheistic tendencies, Freud claimed in this work that the Jewish religion cannot be merely perceived as redemptive but rather, an enslaving force (Drob, 1989). Although Jewish culture and religion became influential for Freud, his rejection of dominant religious tenets still remained.
Drob (1989). Freud and Chasidim: Redeeming the Jewish Soul of Psychoanalysis. The Jewish Review 3 (1).
Freud, S. (1989). An autobiographical study. NY: W.W. Norton & Co.
Freud, S. (1930). Civilization and Its Discontents. NY: Norton.