On The Psychology of Religion (Part 2)

                                                                                                                 

Psychology & Religion

Psychology and religion have a historically uneasy relationship. Many psychologist hold the view that religious belief is parochial, myopic, and ignorant. Many religious thinkers find psychology to be rigidly adherent to objective empiricism (only accepting as valid that which is observable and measurable) and capable of producing only shallow interpretations of spirituality. Although these attitudes are not reflective of all psychologists and theologians, we can make a general observation that what religion  might lack in certainty, psychology might lack in wisdom.

This antagonism between religion and psychology must be considered from the outstart of our thinking. Whereas we psychologists embark on the psychology of religion, a theologian might just as easily set out to study the religion of psychology. With this in mind, we must remain cognizant of the limitations to understanding which our discipline imposes.

The hostile, the hospitable, & the neutral

The texts which we discuss in the psychology of religion clearly present as either hostile, hospitable, or neutral regarding the attitude towards religion. To say that all psychology is anti-religion would be incorrect. However, to view academic criticism as a contempt is also a misjudgement. This points to one of the main issues that often divide the secular tradition from the sacred tradition; the attitude of critical thought and questioning. As many intellectuals point out, there is a problem when critical thought, questioning, and criticism of any system of knowledge is prohibited or taken as insult. When we censor our critical thought out of fear of admonition –or worse, physical harm– we are submitting to intimidation. This is not conducive to intellectual inquiry.
We can count amongst the critically hospitable thinkers William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience, Gordon Allport in The Individual and His Religion, as well as in multiple writings of Erich Fromm, Carl Jung, and Rollo May. Amongst the neutral critical thinkers we can include V.S. Ramachandran in Phantoms of the Brain and Nicholas Humphrey in Leaps of Faith. These two thinkers do not hesitate to critically assess supernatural belief, but seem to be less inclined to dismiss its efficacy as a strategy for living. It should be noted that these thinkers are more interested in the belief in belief, than in that which is believed in. Those who we consider hostile to religion include, Sigmund Freud, Theodor Reik, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. Each of these thinkers are clear regarding their hostility and disdain for religious thinking and religious belief.

The questions asked about religion

There are traditional questions that psychologist studying religious belief ask. These include: How has Western Christianity and Judaism influenced the field of psychology? How does religious belief affect thinking and behaving? Are religious people more ethical than the non-religious? Are those who follow religion more or less prejudice of others? Does prayer work? How does religious belief affect emotional and physical health and well being? What role does religious belief play in identity and sense of self? Are there personality or character structures that religious people share? Is there a human need for religious belief? Can humans find fulfilling substitutes for religion? What is the evolutionary role of religious belief?
The answers offered to these questions are characteristic of the orientation of the researcher: Cognitive neuroscientists generally offer explanations which focus of brain activity and thinking, evolutionary psychologist target the adaptive functions, psychoanalysts consider the conscious and unconscious passions and dynamics, and existential psychologists center their understanding on how the practices offer solutions to issues of meaning, free will, isolation, and mortality.
It is important to avoid monoexplanatory answers to any human question. This is a trap that many thinkers fall into, believing that the explanations produced by their chosen theoretical orientation are the most viable. This dogma makes sense in that we are attracted to research perspectives that compliment our Weltanschauung. It is important to consider each question from multiple perspectives, while remaining skeptical of one-size-fits-all explanations. We prefer the approach of multiperspectivism over monoexplanations. To follow are summary answers to some of the most common questions.

Does prayer work?

The short answer to the question does prayer work? is: it depends. Praying for other people, without their knowledge, does not work. Praying for oneself, or praying with another person, can have results. The efficacy of prayer is demonstrable. When carefully studied, we find that prayer for others without their knowledge, or prayer to alter events of nature, have no effect at all beyond chance. Prayer for oneself and prayer with others, however, has demonstrable effects. For example, prayer for and with another can significantly affect one’s psychological state. This is demonstrable through a variety of research methods.
In response to personal or group prayer, cognitive psychologists find evidence in changes in thinking, neuroscientists find physiological responses, and there are changes in social and personal actions. Although prayer is found to be a practical method for controlling anxiety, mood, and personal behavior, understanding this as evidence of divine intervention is too ambitious. It is important to not leap to the conclusion that these effects are taken as proof of the existence of supernatural powers. The most parsimonious explanation of the effects of personal and group prayer is most likely being due to the belief in the power of prayer, rather than in divine intervention. In short, belief in belief is more powerful than that which is believed in. This makes sense in view of the adaptive qualities of psycho-physical health effects through personal and social ritual.

Are religious people more ethical than nonreligious people?

There is an opinion amongst believers that religion is necessary for moral development. This view can suggest that morality is absent in the secular atheist. The research and thinking on this matter can be summed up in this way: the teaching of religious and secular ethics are equally as influential on moral development. It is clear that ethics can be effectively taught, independent of religion or belief in the supernatural. What we do see is a difference in the variety of ethics in various secular and sacred moral systems.
For example, Erich Fromm points out the distinction between authoritarian and humanistic religions. The former demands certain behavior at the risk of punishment for disobedience, the latter offers general principles, without the risk of punishment. One commands whereas the other advises. We can see the authoritarian system present in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions and the humanistic system in Buddhism, Taoism, and others. In this distinction we find an emphasis on submission to authority or personal discretion in action. Generally speaking, authoritarian religions teach obedience and humanistic religions teach mindfulness. We can find instances of humanism in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions, however, the overall atmosphere of the texts are authoritarian. We find little to no authoritarian examples in the Eastern religions mentioned.
Ethical systems are social guidelines that are learned by members of a society. Psychologists and anthropologists have found little evidence for an in-born moral code that exists at all places at all times. Traditionally, we have cross-cultural codes concerning incest and murder. We can find ethics regarding stealing in cultures based on private property, which are absurd in communal cultures. Ethics regarding adultery are also dependent on differing familial structures of a given culture. However, these codes are culturally unique and are not indicative of an innate, universal code of ethics. What we can say about ethics and morality is that there is no significant indication that morality is exclusive to religion.
We find instances of remarkable humanity (take for example the use of the Christian dogma in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s), and tragic inhumanity (for example the use of the Christian dogma by the Ku Klux Klan). What we must understand is that religious teachings are often interpreted by their followers as justifications for a means to personal gain. It is unreasonable to view religion as good or bad, instead, we see it as a powerful tool that can be used by individuals for personal or social change.

Is there a human need for religious belief?

Defining religion as a system of belief centered around an object of devotion, we can answer this question with an impartial yes. Across the various schools of psychology, we find agreement for what we can call an existential need for understanding meaning, mortality, a sense of belongingness, and willful responsibility. All evidence suggest that the absence of these things is what we define as psychopathology. Erich Fromm proposed five distinctly human needs that he felt not only define our humanness, but also have a much more profound influence on us than do the hunger and sex insticnts. Fromm points out that in modern man, these five existential needs are more pressing on us than the basic biological drives. Each of the needs, (relatedness, creativity, rootedness, identity, and orientation) are complementary to those discussed by existential psychologists, and are satisfied through the practice of religion, broadly defined. What this shows us is that religious systems function to satisfy a very human need, rather than humans functioning to satisfy a religious need.
There is abundant evidence that religious belief and practice can not only be beneficial, but also essential, to being human. The primary consideration which we must have when practicing any system of belief is one of responsibility. This means that one’s religious belief should be called into question when it encourages or commands belief at the risk of punishment or death (apostasy), encourages or teaches exclusivity or superiority over other people or groups (religious nationalism), or does not acknowledge the basic human right for one to choose how to fulfill their needs. One has a personal responsibility to keep their personal appetite in check when interpreting the teachings of their religion, be it sacred or secular. 
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References & Readings

Allport, Gordon. The Individual and His Religion. New York: MacMIllan, 1950.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. London: Norton, 1930.

James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1917.

Lowenthal, Kate, M. The Psychology of Religion: A Short Introduction. Oxford: One World, 2000.


Please direct questions, comments, & corrections to matthewgiobbi@yahoo.com.

On The Psychology of Religion and Religious Belief (Part 1)

Religion matters to many Americans. When asked, 42% of the population believes in creationism and 57% believes that religion can answer all or most of our problems. This high level of religiosity in roughly half of the population entices a number of questions regarding religiosity and the human experience of religion.
We begin with a definition of religion. In his 1950 text, Psychoanalysis & Religion, Erich Fromm offers us a definition that is broad enough to accommodate most kinds of religious experience. He writes, “Religion [is] any system of thought and action shared by a group which gives the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion.” Contrasted with William James’s proposal that religion is a personal and solitary devotion to the divine, we find that although Fromm emphasizes a shared social system over James’s personal experience, both agree on an object of devotion; the divine.
Whereas James’s use of the word divine seems to point towards the spiritual or metaphysical (James was a believer), Fromm’s definition makes room for everyday dedication to a political, economic, or cultural system. Regarding them as secular religions, these include groups of people who make their object of devotion capital (capitalism), nation (patriotism), and sports (fanatics or “fans”). The thing that all religions, rather sacred or secular, share is an object of devotion and a system of orientation.
We find in this definition the four basic questions, proposed by existential psychologists: How should I act? Why am I here? Am I alone? and Am I free?
For the existential psychologists, religious systems provide an answer to all of these needs. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, concludes that meaning is the single most important psychological need of humans. In Twilight of the Gods Nietzsche tells us that he who has a why can endure any how. Religion provides an answer to this question of purpose; why am I here? The answer is to serve the god by answering the calling. This orientation provides a sense of duty to the object of devotion; be that God, money, nation, or sports team. In this way we find a common thread running through all systems of devotion, one that Sigmund Freud described in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. What all systems of belief share is a social fidelity in which brothers and sisters come together to worship the holy father or mother. Of course the names and characters change from system to system, but the central, familial theme remains the same. The message is clear: we are not alone, and we are here to do the work of the divine.
In answer to the question, how should I act?, these religious systems provide a moral code of conduct. Fromm describes how religious belief systems can be understood as being either an authoritarian religion or a humanistic religion. The authoritarian religion is easy to spot. Demanding adherence to a precise code of conduct and thought, it threatens punishment for not obeying the law of the object of devotion. Humanistic religious systems, on the other hand, are typically nontheistic, emphasizing love, acceptance, and detachment from desires. In reading the texts of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, we find examples of authoritarian religious systems. Humanistic systems are often found in the religious practices native to Eastern cultures, such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism. In some instances, such as can be found in the Greek scriptures of the Gospel, we find a mix of authoritarian and humanistic religion. 
In The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche lays down the fundamental impulse towards religious belief; the answer to isolation, absurdity, purpose, and mortality. This view of the human need for religion was echoed by Theodor Reik who, in Dogma and Compulsion, describes religious belief as a kind of security blanket which serves adults as a surrogate parent. The belief system and object of devotion, like the child’s blanket, offers a sense of orientation, safety, belongingness, and purpose. As we mature and develop a sense of autonomy, we sever our ties with mother and father, and later talismans such as the fetishized blanket or teddy bear (the child’s totem animal?). For Reik, these objects of devotion and systems of thought fulfill the existential needs of the child. Freud pointed out that in adult life the need for the protection of the father & mother becomes projected onto a fictive god that offers protection, purpose, guidance, and empowerment. Erich Fromm and others noted the importance for individuals to cultivate a self that is capable of meeting these needs in ourselves and others. In Man For Himself, Fromm describes social interest in helping others as the way of being fully human.
Whereas Freud viewed religion as a social neurosis, Fromm argued that neurosis is a personal religion. The rituals and beliefs that we see in neurotic behavior closely resemble, and serve the same purpose, as religious rituals and beliefs. Here we see the major distinction that is made between Freud and Carl Jung, who claimed religious belief to be essential to being human. Jung did not emphasize joining a religion, but rather, developing one’s own system of belief and object of devotion, through mythology, dreams, and intuition. Jung saw the absence of spirituality as the problem of modern living, one in which individuals desperately seek to satisfy or quiet their existential needs with “spirits” which underlies alcoholism and drug addiction. For Nietzsche, Jung, and later Fromm, the biggest problem humans face in Enlightenment modernism is the absence of something to fulfill the spiritual need. Nietzsche proposed art as an answer to this problem.
Freud claimed that religion was born from guilt. Taking this view, we can begin to understand the emotional function of a god concept. If we take guilt as indicating wrongdoing; a defiant, self-motivated act which is forbidden, we can begin to understand how a believer can find a sense of security in guilt. For example, when we do something that is forbidden, and the powerful take notice and punish us, our fear of isolation is satisfied. This is not unlike the neglected child who, for want of attention from self-indulged parents, will seek out negative attention (yelling, scolding, beating). The need for acknowledgement is so strong, especially for the child from her parent, that even a beating is better than being ignored. The ultimate form of abuse is ignorance; not acknowledging the existence of another. In these cases, if we do “wrong,” and are beaten, at least we know we matter.
Freud illustrates how religion functions from a seed of guilt. Guilt is defined as the fear of the loss of love. When we feel guilty, it is not merely an indicator of wrongdoing, but rather, the panic of the possibility of losing love, protection, purpose, and meaning. As the father and mother provide this framework for the child, the adult finds this either in themselves (as is taught in humanistic religions) or in an external god (as in authoritarian religions). The result, according to Freud, is a sort of reversal of morality. Self direction, autonomy, and volition become sins, whereas submission to authority becomes virtue. These religious orientations seem to play out in political identification as well. In a recent Gallup Poll, religiosity was a strong indicator of political orientation (conservative and liberal orientation is found to be inversely correlated with high religiosity and low religiosity).
Laboratory psychology offers another lens through which to describe religious belief. An interesting theory by Lee Kirkpatrick, based on experimental psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s attachment theory, shows a strong, positive correlation between adult religiosity and insecure or ambivalent childhood attachment styles. In other words, adults who had insecure attachments with their parents are more likely to become highly religious adults. We can view this attachment theory of religion as a bridge between the psychodynamic theories and evolutionary theories of religion.
Many of the evolutionary theorists have written on the human phenomenon of religion. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Steven Pinker have all offered contributions. We surveyed two texts, Daniel Dennett’s Breaking The Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and Nicholas Humphrey’s Leaps of Faith: Science, Miracles, and the Search for Supernatural Consolation. Whereas Dennett’s book is useful in understanding the evolutionary position, the author often slips into condescending jabs at believers, which can leave the reader a bit skeptical of the author’s claim that his book is merely an exploration of religion as natural phenomenon. In fact, Dennett speaks directly to the believer as the intended audience of his book, and then lapses into ridicule of their worldview. On the other hand Leaps of Faith, by Nicholas Humphrey is rich with evolutionary insights, presented in a way that remains dignified.
One of the most compelling essays in Humphrey’s book is a proposal of a cognitive way of thinking that religious individuals share. Humphrey describes religious belief as understanding the present through an explanatory principle that serves as evidence for an agreeable future. Simply put, those who hold religious beliefs interpret the world in a way that supports their belief in a future promised to them by God. For example, a difficult circumstance in the present is seen as a test for the person to endure that will make sense when God returns on the day of judgement. Simply put, the present world is framed and understood in the context of what God has promised. Every event in the person’s life takes on meaning relative to future promised by God. Humphrey’s book is eloquently written as offers the reader rich insights into the evolutionary and cognitive functions of belief.
The cognitive neuroscience of religion focuses on the biological systems of the body, and where religious thinking and experience takes place in the body. V. S. Ramachandran presents a fascinating look into the neuroscience of religious experience. In Phantoms of The Brain, Ramachandran presents what is known about what is happening in the brain of individuals who have spiritual experiences. Ramachandran’s research focuses on the temporal lobes and offers valuable insights into the corresponding nervous system activity during religious experiences, as well as the brain structures of those who are highly religious. It is important point to make that religiosity, supernatural belief, and spirituality are related but not interchangeable phenomena.
Steven Pinker, in a lecture on the cognitive psychology of religious belief, presents a theory that is similar to the one presented by Sigmund Freud in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. Pinker’s ideas are taken from Scott Atran’s book, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscapes of Religion. In this lecture, Pinker presents three psychological qualities of religion: 1. A belief in disembodied spirits, 2. An appeal to those spirits for control of circumstances in one’s life, and 3. Ritual and ceremony that serve as reassurance of one’s belief through some of the classic theories of social psychology: social proof, ritualistic repetitive motions, public costly commitment,  and kinship psychology.
Now that we have an overview and basic understanding of how different schools of psychological thought understand religious belief, we can turn to specific questions of belief. In Part 2 we will consider some of the basic questions of belief; Does religion make us moral? Does religion offer benefits of health and well being? Does religion promote acceptance of prejudice?
  

Part 2

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References & Reading
Atran, Scott. In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscapes of Religion. UK: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Dennett, Daniel. Breaking The Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Penguine, 2006.

Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning. New York: Beacon Press, 1946.

Freud, Sigmund. Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. London: The Hogarth Press, 1921.
https://archive.org/details/grouppsychologya00freu

Fromm, Erich. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1950.

Humphrey, Nicholas. Leaps of Faith: Science, Miracles, and the Search for Supernatural Consolation. New York: Copernicus, 1996.

James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Logmans, Green, & Co, 1917.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/621/621-pdf.pdf?session_id=3ccb2eab189253112f9e8a780bea77e1b3618dbe

Kirkpatrick, Lee, A. Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion. New York: Guilford Press, 2004.

Pinker, Stephen. How The Mind Works. London: Norton, 1999.

Ramachandran, V. S. Phantoms of The Brain: Probing The Mysteries of The Human Mind. New York: Quill, 1999.

Reik, Theodor. Dogma and Compulsion: Psychoanalytic Studies of Religion and Myth. New York: International University Press, 1951.

Yalom, Irvin. Existential Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books, 1980.
http://www.slideshare.net/mh48home/existential-psychotherapy-13998312


Please direct questions, comments, & corrections to matthewgiobbi@hotmail.com.

A Chronology of Media Psychology Research

This bog originally appeared on December 7, 2014.

Research and discussion of the media has taken place long before the designation of media psychology as a field of study. The humanities and social sciences have discussed the implications of media since the written text overtook the oral tradition. Philosophers as early as Plato explored the implication of the switch from an oral to a written culture. The influence of mass media has been discussed since the entrance of the movable type printing press in the 15th century. Although thinking about media has taken place for 2,500 years, how we think about media has changed over time.

We will begin our investigation in Ancient Greece. Early philosophers discussed not only the use of persuasion and rhetoric in speaking and writing, they also considered the psychological effects of media including speaking, writing, visual arts, and music. The sophist explored how the way something is said affects how it is received. This research in rhetorical analysis continues in contemporary media studies. Plato (427-347 B.C.E.) discussed the influence of music and visual art on the individual and groups. He warned against the power of poetry and even advised on which music to avoid when sad, angry, or happy.

Perhaps one of the most extensive philosophical critiques in media comes from Plato in the dialogue The Phaedrus. Written around 379 B.C.E., this dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus explores the merits of speaking over writing. A fundamental text of media studies, The Phaedrus also explores rhetoric and the power of language. In The Phaedrus, Plato also has his character Socrates describe his theory of the soul, or personality. This dialogue is one of the essential texts for thinking about media and the individual and culture.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) is another Ancient Greek thinker on media. Ranging in topics from political rhetoric to how we come to make meaning, Aristotle is frequently cited by contemporary media philosophers. Some of his most referenced works for media psychologists are: De Anima, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Rhetorica, Politica, and De Poetica.

Philosophical discourse on media continues to be a prominent area of study. From Ancient Greece, through the Roman Empire, Medieval Scholasticism, Enlightenment Modernism, Romanticism, and existentialism, through contemporary Postmodern theory, much of media research is informed by philosophy. A few names from philosophy that you will encounter include: G.W.F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, and Slavoj Žižek.

Sociologists and political theorists have a long tradition of media critical media research. Take for example this passage from Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1840 text, Democracy in America.

“In France the space allotted to commercial advertisements is very limited, and… the essential part of the journal is the politics of the day. In America three quarters of the enormous sheet are filled with advertisements and the remainder is frequently occupied by political intelligence or trivial anecdotes; it is only from time to time that one finds a corner devoted to the passionate discussions like those which the journalists of France every day give to their readers.”

By the mid nineteenth century, newspaper and magazine circulation established circulation as the criteria for the value of advertising space. The political and economical interests in these media led to an interest in understanding the audience reception of the media and the messages. Advertisers wanted to best understand how to influence readers to purchase their products, as did the newspapers and magazines who published those ads. The greater the readership (circulation) the more valuable the ad space. The interest in audience reception was not limited to the publishers and advertisers. Politicians were interested in the reception of their political messages by audiences. Politics and commerce were the two driving forces of early media analysis.

One of the first, contemporary, shapers of media research was Walter Lippman. Lippman was a strong critic of journalism and journalists. Lippman penned two books that laid the groundwork for media research. His 1920 text, Liberty and the News called for a more scientific and objective journalism. In 1922 he published Public Opinion in which he applied the principles of psychology to journalism. According to some scholars, Public Opinion is the first, contemporary, work of media scholarship.

The 1930s were the golden age of radio. The first broadcast medium, radio quickly found itself experimenting with programming and revenue models. Taking the newspaper and magazine industry as a model, adspace became adtime, and listener numbers dictated the value of that adtime. Researchers developed new techniques in establishing who was listening to show; and when, on the radio.


The ambitions of advertisers, publishers, politicians, and academics describes the four, original kinds of research done in the media: public opinion research, propaganda analysis, marketing research, and social science research. Beginning in the 1920s, each of these groups employed various methods of research to gather data and form theories of how audiences receive media and messages.


Media historians usually point to Walter Lippmann’s 1922 text Public Opinion, as the starting point for contemporary media research and analysis. The text, divided into 28 chapters, analyzes a large spectrum of mass media issues, including how reality is shaped and how newspapers are organized. Two years earlier, Lippman published Liberty and the News, which explained journalism as a fourth-estate at the objective and just service of democracy. Chapters included titles such as Journalism and the Higher Laws. By 1925 Lippman demonstrated the susceptibility of the American political system to mass media propaganda. The Phantom Public is essential study for social and media psychologists.

Propaganda, originally referred to a kind of evangelizing done by 17th century Catholic missionaries. In its contemporary sense, it is a sort of political evangelizing of an ideology. The word refers to the Latin propagare, referring to the propagation, or spreading, of an ideology. An ideology is a systematic organization of ideas into a worldview. An awareness of government propaganda in  World War I resulted in an emergence of research into the methods and function of persuasive techniques. Propaganda Technique in the World War by Harold Lasswell is an important, early, treatise on media propaganda.

The father of public relations, Edward Bernays, was working as a government opinion shaper as early as 1913. The nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays would promote psychoanalysis to advertising and public relations for the next 60 years. Bernays published over 20 books on social influence, some of which are said to have been a part of the library of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Although his uncle and founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud did not approve of Bernays’s use of his theory for commercial and political gain, Bernays publication of Frued’s writings in America made Greenwich Village the “psychoanalytic capital of the world”.

In the 1930s, social scientists emerged as the authoritative voice in media research. In an attempt to measure the audience’s attitudes, public opinion research came to dominate the research. Mainly through polls, audiences were asked about their media consumption and data was statistically analyzed. The assumption was that people could objectively report what and why they consumed their chosen media. This was contrary to the psychoanalytic research, which assumed an unconsciously motivated, irrationally driven audience.

Between 1929 and 1932 the most significant, early study of media took place. The Payne Fund Studies was funded by a private philanthropic group and consisted of 13 studies focusing on the effects of motion pictures on the youth. The Payne Fund Studies found a correlation between juvenile delinquency, antisocial behavior, and promiscuity and movie consumption. A famous study used galvanometers to measure skin response during cinema viewing. The results showed that you people were most affected by cinema violence.

Meanwhile, marketing research was gearing up in the 1920s and by the 1930s was major part of the media industry. Applying social scientific, sociological, and psychoanalytic methods to advertising, media professionals sought the most effective way to convince audiences to purchase goods and services. Marketing research continues to be a formidable sector in the media industry. Research methods like subject interview and focus group feature prominently in advertising research.

In the 1930s, industrialization spurred a mass movement from agricultural towns to urban cities. The mass became a nameless, faceless, object of analysis for academics. Psychology, sociology, and psychoanalysis became interested in the group, in the mass psychology of the crowd. By 1933, when Hitler’s Nazi party became democratically elected by the German people, the social sciences were approaching the mass research at full-throttle. Titles such as The Mass Psychology of Fascism, The Authoritarian Personality, and The Sane Society explored the individual’s influence on the group, and the group’s influence on the individual.

By 1937, Princeton University and The Rockefeller supported the Radio Research Project. An all-star academic team including: Gordon Allport, Paul Lazarsfeld, Theodor Adorno, Frank Stanton, and Hadley Cantril investigated the effects of mass media on audiences and individuals. This research group examined listener habits and the influence of radio broadcast.

Two of the most famous studies were on the effects of the October 1938 broadcast of The War of The Worlds and the Little Annie Project, which introduced the Stanton-Lazarsfeld Program Analyzer. This research tool allowed subjects to rate programming in real-time. The researchers disagreed on methodology, resulting in Critical Theorist Theodor Adorno leaving the group in 1941. This split illustrates the ideological and methodological differences between cultural media studies and media effects studies that exists in the field. In the 1940s, Columbia University absorbed the Radio Research Project and renamed it the Bureau of Applied Social Research. Headed by Paul Lazarsfeld, the research institute functioned until 1977.

At the BASR, Lazarsfeld and his colleagues came to four major conclusions: 1. Mass media increased status for issues and institutions, 2. mass media created a sense of “normal” by showcasing oddities, 3. mass media decreased action and increased viewing, and 4. mass media propagates issues by monopolization (dominate the message), canalization (dominate the platform), and supplementation (meet face-to-face). The period of Lazarsfeld’s work is often referred to as the functionalist school of media studies.

A series of major research projects followed. In 1940, The People’s Choice study examined the 1940 presidential election between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie. Using radio broadcasts, Roosevelt secured a third-term as President of the United States. The study revealed that people seek out messages that are consistent with their attitudes (called selective exposure) and both interpret and remember messages differently, depending on their attitudes (selective perception and selective retention). The People’s Choice Study also established two other important concepts in media psychology: 1. media does not convert, it reinforces a person’s position, and 2. Media influences opinion leaders who go on to influence the masses (two-step flow model).

The effects of cinema, television, and comic books were prominent in the 1950s. Treated in much the same way as video games are today, many of our culture’s social-ills were attributed to these three media. Television in the LIves of Our Children was published by Wilbur Schramm at Stanford University. Regarding adolescent and child television viewing, Schramm concluded:
“For some children, under some conditions, some television is harmful. For other children under the same conditions, or for the same children under other conditions, it may be beneficial. For most children, under most conditions, most television is probably neither particularly harmful nor particularly beneficial. . . .”

Comic books came under close scrutiny in the 1950s. In 1954, Dr. Fredric Wertham published a text of exhaustive research on comic books and juvenile delinquency, provocatively entitled, Seduction of the Innocent. Wertham claimed that comic books promoted violence and sexual aberrations, including homosexuality in the Batman and Robin series.

Although psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychology played an influential role in media research through the 1960s, the American psychologists were largely behaviorists. After a scandalous affair with a graduate student resulted in his dismissal from Johns Hopkins University, John B. Watson, the father of behaviorism, took a position at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in New York City. Watson applied the concepts of behavioral learning to ad design. The shift in the social sciences away from qualitative research resulted in an almost rigid preference for “scientific,” quantitative, research data.

An example of early, “data driven” research is work done by Hilde Himmelweit at the London School of Economics. In one of her studies, Himmelweit examined 1,854 child television viewers in 4 British cities. through surveys and observations, they concluded that television had its greatest influence on areas in which the children had no previous influence. They also found that repeated, dramatic, contextual narrative increased the influence of the message on children.

In the 1960s a number of criticism were aimed at the media effects approach. These critics claimed that media effects used a hypodermic needle approach that understood the individual as a passive, and involuntarily controlled, object to the media message. The critics also claimed that psychology should: 1. be looking at violent individuals rather than violent media, 2. should consider children in their cognitive developmental stage, 3. be aware of their conservative biases, 4. more precisely define their area of study, 5. refine their methodology and interpretation of data, 6. become more aware of their biases regarding the masses, 7. ground itself in theory, rather than arbitrary pieces of information. There was also an interest in conducting longitudinal studies that looked a long-term, rather than immediate media effects.

George Gerbner, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, founded the Cultural Indicators Research Project in 1968. The cultural indicators that Gerbner identified include: 1. TV has long-term effects that are gradual and accumulate over time, and 2. The more television watched, the more dangerous people perceived the world to be. The findings have come to be called the cultivation effect of media. Gerbner had studied 450 children in a New Jersy, finding that heavy television viewing produced a, mean world syndrome.

In the 1970s, Elihu Katz, also researching and teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, examined how people use media to fulfill personal and social needs. His theory, called the Uses and Gratification Theory, described active viewers who actively participated in their media consumption. This model reflected the increasing popularity of the cognitive paradigm in psychology that was taking over academic psychology. Katz found that people are driven to media by needs, that they have certain expectations of the media to fulfill those needs, and that a dependency on the media for need gratification could result in unintended consequences. Another Uses and Gratifications theorist, Denis McQuail, pointed out that media serves four types of needs: diversion, personal relationships, personal identity, and surveillance.

Meanwhile, in the cultural studies tradition, a group of exiled, European, theorists were building an influential body of theoretical work in the American universities. The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory was a unique blending of Marxist political analysis and Freudian psychoanalysis. These theorists included: Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, Leo Löwenthal, Walter Benjamin, and Jürgen Habermas. On of the interests of the Critical Theorists was to illustrate the threat to democracy by “dumbing-down” of citizens by “popular” mass media. Today, we find this tradition in the critical media theories of feminism, queer theory, psychoanalysis, Marxist critique, rhetorical, and erotic analysis of the media.

Today, we find media psychology research to be a interdisciplinary field, informed by neuroscience, film studies, sociology, Critical Theory, literary theory, economics, history, art, design, communications, and political science. Media psychology is perhaps the most avant-garde of the psychologies, one that is serving as a model for the future of all of psychology.


Direct questions, comments, & corrections to Matthew Giobbi.

Four Uncanny Moments in Cinema

This blog originally appeared on April 21, 2012.


Recently a friend and I got on the subject of childhood movies and the uncanny. Sigmund Freud took up his own thinking on the uncanny in a essay from 1919 entitled The Uncanny. It is from the essay that most psychologists are familiar with Das Unheimliche. Freud makes a distinction between the heimliche (concealed) and the unheimliche (unconcealed). Freud described the phenomenon of the uncanny as a projection of the repressed id onto the figure which brings forth the discomforting experience. Here are my top 4 examples of the uncanny from familiar films.


4. Mary Poppins

There is something uncanny about the entire Mary Poppins story. This scene stands out for me as a moment of the uncanny.

3. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
I am not alone in sensing the uncanny in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The “Child Catcher” is a particularly uncanny moment. 

2. The Wizard of Oz  
What is it about the Wizard of Oz that is so familiar, yet so strange?

1. La Dolce Vita
My number one moment of the uncanny is the finalé from La Dolce Vita. Fellini is a master of resonating the unconscious.

A Chronology of Media Psychology Research

Research and discussion of the media has taken place long before the designation of media psychology as a field of study. The humanities and social sciences have discussed the implications of media since the written text overtook the oral tradition. Philosophers as early as Plato explored the implication of the switch from an oral to a written culture. The influence of mass media has been discussed since the entrance of the movable type printing press in the 15th century. Although thinking about media has taken place for 2,500 years, how we think about media has changed over time.


We will begin our investigation in Ancient Greece. Early philosophers discussed not only the use of persuasion and rhetoric in speaking and writing, they also considered the psychological effects of media including speaking, writing, visual arts, and music. The sophist explored how the way something is said affects how it is received. This research in rhetorical analysis continues in contemporary media studies. Plato (427-347 B.C.E.) discussed the influence of music and visual art on the individual and groups. He warned against the power of poetry and even advised on which music to avoid when sad, angry, or happy.


Perhaps one of the most extensive philosophical critiques in media comes from Plato in the dialogue The Phaedrus. Written around 379 B.C.E., this dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus explores the merits of speaking over writing. A fundamental text of media studies, The Phaedrus also explores rhetoric and the power of language. In The Phaedrus, Plato also has his character Socrates describe his theory of the soul, or personality. This dialogue is one of the essential texts for thinking about media and the individual and culture.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) is another Ancient Greek thinker on media. Ranging in topics from political rhetoric to how we come to make meaning, Aristotle is frequently cited by contemporary media philosophers. Some of his most referenced works for media psychologists are: De Anima, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Rhetorica, Politica, and De Poetica.

Philosophical discourse on media continues to be a prominent area of study. From Ancient Greece, through the Roman Empire, Medieval Scholasticism, Enlightenment Modernism, Romanticism, and existentialism, through contemporary Postmodern theory, much of media research is informed by philosophy. A few names from philosophy that you will encounter include: G.W.F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, and Slavoj Žižek.

Sociologists and political theorists have a long tradition of media critical media research. Take for example this passage from Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1840 text, Democracy in America.


“In France the space allotted to commercial advertisements is very limited, and… the essential part of the journal is the politics of the day. In America three quarters of the enormous sheet are filled with advertisements and the remainder is frequently occupied by political intelligence or trivial anecdotes; it is only from time to time that one finds a corner devoted to the passionate discussions like those which the journalists of France every day give to their readers.”

By the mid nineteenth century, newspaper and magazine circulation established circulation as the criteria for the value of advertising space. The political and economical interests in these media led to an interest in understanding the audience reception of the media and the messages. Advertisers wanted to best understand how to influence readers to purchase their products, as did the newspapers and magazines who published those ads. The greater the readership (circulation) the more valuable the ad space. The interest in audience reception was not limited to the publishers and advertisers. Politicians were interested in the reception of their political messages by audiences. Politics and commerce were the two driving forces of early media analysis.

One of the first, contemporary, shapers of media research was Walter Lippman. Lippman was a strong critic of journalism and journalists. Lippman penned two books that laid the groundwork for media research. His 1920 text, Liberty and the News called for a more scientific and objective journalism. In 1922 he published Public Opinion in which he applied the principles of psychology to journalism. According to some scholars, Public Opinion is the first, contemporary, work of media scholarship.

The 1930s were the golden age of radio. The first broadcast medium, radio quickly found itself experimenting with programming and revenue models. Taking the newspaper and magazine industry as a model, adspace became adtime, and listener numbers dictated the value of that adtime. Researchers developed new techniques in establishing who was listening to show; and when, on the radio.

The ambitions of advertisers, publishers, politicians, and academics describes the four, original kinds of research done in the media: public opinion research, propaganda analysis, marketing research, and social science research. Beginning in the 1920s, each of these groups employed various methods of research to gather data and form theories of how audiences receive media and messages.

Media historians usually point to Walter Lippmann’s 1922 text Public Opinion, as the starting point for contemporary media research and analysis. The text, divided into 28 chapters, analyzes a large spectrum of mass media issues, including how reality is shaped and how newspapers are organized. Two years earlier, Lippman published Liberty and the News, which explained journalism as a fourth-estate at the objective and just service of democracy. Chapters included titles such as Journalism and the Higher Laws. By 1925 Lippman demonstrated the susceptibility of the American political system to mass media propaganda. The Phantom Public is essential study for social and media psychologists.

Propaganda, originally referred to a kind of evangelizing done by 17th century Catholic missionaries. In its contemporary sense, it is a sort of political evangelizing of an ideology. The word refers to the Latin propagare, referring to the propagation, or spreading, of an ideology. An ideology is a systematic organization of ideas into a worldview. An awareness of government propaganda in  World War I resulted in an emergence of research into the methods and function of persuasive techniques. Propaganda Technique in the World War by Harold Lasswell is an important, early, treatise on media propaganda.

The father of public relations, Edward Bernays, was working as a government opinion shaper as early as 1913. The nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays would promote psychoanalysis to advertising and public relations for the next 60 years. Bernays published over 20 books on social influence, some of which are said to have been a part of the library of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Although his uncle and founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud did not approve of Bernays’s use of his theory for commercial and political gain, Bernays publication of Frued’s writings in America made Greenwich Village the “psychoanalytic capital of the world”.

In the 1930s, social scientists emerged as the authoritative voice in media research. In an attempt to measure the audience’s attitudes, public opinion research came to dominate the research. Mainly through polls, audiences were asked about their media consumption and data was statistically analyzed. The assumption was that people could objectively report what and why they consumed their chosen media. This was contrary to the psychoanalytic research, which assumed an unconsciously motivated, irrationally driven audience.

Between 1929 and 1932 the most significant, early study of media took place. The Payne Fund Studies was funded by a private philanthropic group and consisted of 13 studies focusing on the effects of motion pictures on the youth. The Payne Fund Studies found a correlation between juvenile delinquency, antisocial behavior, and promiscuity and movie consumption. A famous study used galvanometers to measure skin response during cinema viewing. The results showed that you people were most affected by cinema violence.

Meanwhile, marketing research was gearing up in the 1920s and by the 1930s was major part of the media industry. Applying social scientific, sociological, and psychoanalytic methods to advertising, media professionals sought the most effective way to convince audiences to purchase goods and services. Marketing research continues to be a formidable sector in the media industry. Research methods like subject interview and focus group feature prominently in advertising research.

In the 1930s, industrialization spurred a mass movement from agricultural towns to urban cities. The mass became a nameless, faceless, object of analysis for academics. Psychology, sociology, and psychoanalysis became interested in the group, in the mass psychology of the crowd. By 1933, when Hitler’s Nazi party became democratically elected by the German people, the social sciences were approaching the mass research at full-throttle. Titles such as The Mass Psychology of Fascism, The Authoritarian Personality, and The Sane Society explored the individual’s influence on the group, and the group’s influence on the individual.

By 1937, Princeton University and The Rockefeller supported the Radio Research Project. An all-star academic team including: Gordon Allport, Paul Lazarsfeld, Theodor Adorno, Frank Stanton, and Hadley Cantril investigated the effects of mass media on audiences and individuals. This research group examined listener habits and the influence of radio broadcast. Two of the most famous studies were of on the effects of the October 1938 broadcast of The War of The Worlds and the Little Annie Project, which introduced the Stanton-Lazarsfeld Program Analyzer. This research tool allowed subjects to rate programming in real-time. The researchers disagreed on methodology, resulting in Critical Theorist Theodor Adorno leaving the group in 1941. This split illustrates the ideological and methodological differences between cultural media studies and media effects studies that exists in the field. In the 1940s, Columbia University absorbed the Radio Research Project and renamed it the Bureau of Applied Social Research. Headed by Paul Lazarsfeld, the research institute functioned until 1977.

At the BASR, Lazarsfeld and his colleagues came to four major conclusions: 1. Mass media increased status for issues and institutions, 2. mass media created a sense of “normal” by showcasing oddities, 3. mass media decreased action and increased viewing, and 4. mass media propagates issues by monopolization (dominate the message), canalization (dominate the platform), and supplementation (meet face-to-face). The period of Lazarsfeld’s work is often referred to as the functionalist school of media studies.

A series of major research projects followed. In 1940, The People’s Choice study examined the 1940 presidential election between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie. Using radio broadcasts, Roosevelt secured a third-term as President of the United States. The study revealed that people seek out messages that are consistent with their attitudes (called selective exposure) and both interpret and remember messages differently, depending on their attitudes (selective perception and selective retention). The People’s Choice Study also established two other important concepts in media psychology: 1. media does not convert, it reinforces a person’s position, and 2. Media influences opinion leaders who go on to influence the masses (two-step flow model).

The effects of cinema, television, and comic books were prominent in the 1950s. Treated in much the same way as video games are today, many of our culture’s social-ills were attributed to these three media. Television in the LIves of Our Children was published by Wilbur Schramm at Stanford University. Regarding adolescent and child television viewing, Schramm concluded:
“For some children, under some conditions, some television is harmful. For other children under the same conditions, or for the same children under other conditions, it may be beneficial. For most children, under most conditions, most television is probably neither particularly harmful nor particularly beneficial. . . .”

Comic books came under close scrutiny in the 1950s. In 1954, Dr. Fredric Wertham published a text of exhaustive research on comic books and juvenile delinquency, provocatively entitled, Seduction of the Innocent. Wertham claimed that comic books promoted violence and sexual aberrations, including homosexuality in the Batman and Robin series.

Although psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychology played an influential role in media research through the 1960s, the American psychologists were largely behaviorists. After a scandalous affair with a graduate student resulted in his dismissal from Johns Hopkins University, John B. Watson, the father of behaviorism, took a position at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in New York City. Watson applied the concepts of behavioral learning to ad design. The shift in the social sciences away from qualitative research resulted in an almost rigid preference for “scientific,” quantitative, research data.

An example of early, “data driven” research is work done by Hilde Himmelweit at the London School of Economics. In one of her studies, Himmelweit examined 1,854 child television viewers in 4 British cities. through surveys and observations, they concluded that television had its greatest influence on areas in which the children had no previous influence. They also found that repeated, dramatic, contextual narrative increased the influence of the message on children.

In the 1960s a number of criticism were aimed at the media effects approach. These critics claimed that media effects used a hypodermic needle approach that understood the individual as a passive, and involuntarily controlled, object to the media message. The critics also claimed that psychology should: 1. be looking at violent individuals rather than violent media, 2. should consider children in their cognitive developmental stage, 3. be aware of their conservative biases, 4. more precisely define their area of study, 5. refine their methodology and interpretation of data, 6. become more aware of their biases regarding the masses, 7. ground itself in theory, rather than arbitrary pieces of information. There was also an interest in conducting longitudinal studies that looked a long-term, rather than immediate media effects.

George Gerbner, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, founded the Cultural Indicators Research Project in 1968. The cultural indicators that Gerbner identified include: 1. TV has long-term effects that are gradual and accumulate over time, and 2. The more television watched, the more dangerous people perceived the world to be. The findings have come to be called the cultivation effect of media. Gerbner had studied 450 children in a New Jersy, finding that heavy television viewing produced a, mean world syndrome.

In the 1970s, Elihu Katz, also researching and teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, examined how people use media to fulfill personal and social needs. His theory, called the Uses and Gratification Theory, described active viewers who actively participated in their media consumption. This model reflected the increasing popularity of the cognitive paradigm in psychology that was taking over academic psychology. Katz found that people are driven to media by needs, that they have certain expectations of the media to fulfill those needs, and that a dependency on the media for need gratification could result in unintended consequences. Another Uses and Gratifications theorist, Denis McQuail, pointed out that media serves four types of needs: diversion, personal relationships, personal identity, and surveillance.

Meanwhile, in the cultural studies tradition, a group of exiled, European, theorists were building an influential body of theoretical work in the American universities. The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory was a unique blending of Marxist political analysis and Freudian psychoanalysis. These theorists included: Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, Leo Löwenthal, Walter Benjamin, and Jürgen Habermas. On of the interests of the Critical Theorists was to illustrate the threat to democracy by “dumbing-down” of citizens by “popular” mass media. Today, we find this tradition in the critical media theories of feminism, queer theory, psychoanalysis, Marxist critique, rhetorical, and erotic analysis of the media.

Today, we find media psychology research to be a interdisciplinary field, informed by neuroscience, film studies, sociology, Critical Theory, literary theory, economics, history, art, design, communications, and political science. Media psychology is perhaps the most avant-garde of the psychologies, one that is serving as a model for the future of all of psychology.

Top 4 Uncanny Moments in Film

Recently a friend and I got on the subject of childhood movies and the uncanny. Sigmund Freud took up his own thinking on the uncanny in a essay from 1919 entitled The Uncanny. It is from the essay that most psychologists are familiar with Das Unheimliche. Freud makes a distinction between the heimliche (concealed) and the unheimliche (unconcealed). Freud described the phenomenon of the uncanny as a projection of the repressed id onto the figure which brings forth the discomforting experience. Here are my top 4 examples of the uncanny from familiar films.

4. Mary Poppins


There is something uncanny about the entire Mary Poppins story. This scene stands out for me as a moment of the uncanny.

3. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

I am not alone in sensing the uncanny in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The “Child Catcher” is a particularly uncanny moment.

2. The Wizard of Oz

What is it about the Wizard of Oz that is so familiar, yet so strange?

1. La Dolce Vita
My number one moment of the uncanny is the finalé from La Dolce Vita. Fellini is a master of resonating the unconscious.

1954: Psychoanalysis & Dr. Fredric Wertham

In 1954 the moral war against comic books reached a critical point of congressional action. These descendants of the pulps became public enemy number one during the hearings of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee on Juvenile Delinquency. At the center of the comic book witch-hunt was Dr. Fredric Wertham, a German-American psychiatrist who devoted most of his professional career declaring comic books as the main contributor to American juvenile delinquency. It was during this same year that EC Comics, the most widely-cited publisher of horror comics, released a short-lived series entitled Psychoanalysis.
Dr. Wertham was no stranger to the psychoanalytic tradition, as correspondence with Sigmund Freud led to his decision to become a psychiatrist. His most famous book, Seduction of the Innocent, appeared in 1954. The text, which presented Wertham’s classic analysis of the homosexual pederasty in Batman, sexual bondage in Wonder Woman, and Superman as fascist, led to the comic book industry’s preemptive establishment of the Comics Code Authority of 1954. The CCA placed regulations on the graphic depiction of violence and gore, as well as good girl art (GGA) which depicted women as sexually charged -regardless of the situation.

Psychoanalysis was one of seven titles that were published by EC Comics under the New Direction series -a reaction to the recently enacted CCA codes. Psychoanalysis saw only four issues before publisher William Gaines abandoned the comic book industry and went on to publish Mad magazine for over forty years.
Although Psychoanalysis possessed all of the intrigue and mystery of the unconscious itself, it was not the most controversial title in the series. Whereas Psychoanalysis offered young readers a voyeuristic peep at the psychoanalyst’s couch, another title Judgement Day would become the most controversial of the New Direction series. An allegory of racial tensions in America, the CCA refused to approve the story unless the final frame -a black astronaut- was removed. Code administrator, Judge Charles Murphy, rescinded his decision under threat by EC Comics to publicly expose his bigotry.
Dr. Fredric Wertham continued his work to bring attention to violent and sexual content in the media. He made frequent appearances on talk shows, at congressional committee hearings, and even debated violence in film with none other than Alfred Hitchcock.

What do we Mean When we say “Freedom”?

Giobbi Photo, 2010.

As a child I can remember seeing a man on the television, I would later come to know him  as Jimmy Carter, talk of this word that I would repeatedly hear as the reason proclaimed for many actions. I came to wonder if we were all talking about the same thing when we spoke of freedom?

Somehow the words deliverance, salvation, and grace seemed to resonate with this idea of freedom. Eleven years before my birth (to the date) Martin Luther King Jr. declared his dream for freedom in a march on Washington. Listening to that speech, I began to understand just what people mean by those enigmatic words like deliverance.


Bondage, another word of Old English origin, refers to “anything that binds” –meaning sticks together. But the etymology of the word bond originally refers to both householder and husband. The Proto-Indo-European (known as PIE to linguists) origins of free is pri, which connotes to love. In fact, all of the etymological tracings of the word free, including the French and Latin equivalent liberty, eventually leads to the term love.
So, what is it that we mean when we utter the word freedom? What is this state that so many folks seek, the longing for deliverance, salvation, redemption, and grace? When you ask folks in the United States what they mean by freedom, they usually are talking about economic freedom. If you ask the rebel on the streets of some Middle Eastern state of the Arab Spring, they are speaking mostly of political freedom. The majority of folks, when asked about their idea of freedom, regardless of their geography, nationality, or ideology, will presume one of these two types of freedom in their response.
A third kind of freedom is personal freedom and is often what those in spirituality, philosophy, or psychotherapy are seeking. Personal freedom has been referred to as free will, autonomy, awakening, and enlightenment. It is this third category of freedom that might be what those who speak of deliverance, salvation, redemption, and grace are after. When asked what precisely it is they are looking for, these people tend to describe what seems more like a personal feeling or emotional state, than a right to act, as is central to political and economic freedom.
Political freedom and economic freedom are demonstrable, tangible, and physical. One can identify political or economic oppressors, oppressive systems, and oppressive policies and laws. Political and economic freedoms are the most visible and understandable to people. For the worker who scrapes together enough money to feed and shelter her family, economic freedom is easy to comprehend, and her oppressors seem right at hand. For the person marginalized for his physical features, or beliefs, political freedom is understandable and his oppressors seem easy to name. However, with personal freedom there is a difficulty that is not apparent (however present) in bothpolitical and economic freedom. The bully here is not so easy to identify and the effect of the oppression is often not understood in an expressible way. It is, rather,  felt as an emotion. Both political freedom and economic freedom are systematic and physical manifestations of the frustration of personal freedom.
Instead, the mechanism of personality, this thing we call the I or the me, is the very thing that we are simultaneously attempting to make free and be free from. This concept is difficult to penetrate, but is the quintessential link between all strivings for freedom as well as an answer to the curious search for transcendence, redemption, and salvation.
This intersection, where the restlessness for personal freedom finds its voice in the spiritual, political, economic, and the artistic, is simultaneously manifested in the personal relation with the self. In this way a person does not express themselves or their beliefs through an economic, political, religious, or philosophical ideology, nor do they adopt an ideological system to define themselves. Instead, the mechanism of personality, this thing we call the I or the me, is the very thing that we are simultaneously attempting to make free andbe free from. This concept is difficult to penetrate, but is the quintessential link between all strivings for freedom as well as an answer to the curious search for transcendence, redemption, and salvation.
There are a few words that appear when folks are asked to express their desire for redemption, deliverance, and forgiveness –e.g., personal freedom. Guilt and responsibility seem to be what most are seeking salvation from. In many religious systems, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions in particular, the guilt and salvation are pre-established. One is guilty for being born and must submit to God in humble acknowledgement for the gift of being created. In other words, one is born into sin and can only be freed by God’s grace. Both transgression and transcendence are prearranged for the religious experience.
It seems to me that what the most adamant of the adherents  to these traditions are seeking is some kind of freedom from. I am not referring to everyone who is involved with religious practice, most of whom are involved nominally as a cultural or family tradition. I am not convinced that most feel guilty for their own existence. I do believe, however, that people with very real feelings of guilt and responsibility, over very real tragedies and experiences, find an outlet for those feelings in the religion’s system. It is not uncommon for people who have suffered through great abuses and traumas to feel a sense of responsibility for the event, especially when experienced as a child. The structure of the dogma of religion serves as a system of symbols that represent the multi-dimensional person themselves, offering a path towards transcendence and forgiveness through sublimation.
Personal freedom is not as conspicuous as political or economic freedom. What we find in the strivings for political and economic freedom are ideological systems that promise a state of freedom that is broadly defined as a freedom to. In political freedom we might find the freedom to speak or the freedom to vote. With economic freedom there is the promise that freedom to possess and to consume is being free. Whereas these two forms of freedom require some sort of doing, personal freedom seems to be some sort of freedom from, be that a memory, condition, or the very idea of I or me.
When those who seek freedom through the political or the economical achieve that system, it is not long until it is found that the state delivered is not exactly the freedom they were seeking. We see this in the massive occurrence of depression and lethargy in Communist states, and the anxious, manic-crazed need-to-consume in Capitalist systems. Each of these systems fails at the promise for economic freedom.
The promise of political freedom through a democracy or a republic, too soon becomes a façade that only those whom the system serves well, or those who do not look too closely, continue to believe in. What then, do we really mean by freedom?
Starting from the etymological origins of freedom, in both the Latin andPIE lineage, we arrived at love. As we saw, bondagebond, and binding all refer to a holding together into a whole. In the Old English, man became bound to his wife and home. This binding was experienced as freedom in that he was oriented towards the household or union. In this way, Freedom is not a right to act, a hesitation in doing, or autonomy from; rather, it is a feeling one gets when acting in accordance with an ideology that one holds deeply.
The Communist feels a great deal of freedom in putting community before capital, the Capitalist feels free with the fluctuations of the market (especially during the downturns, when there is a sense of honored commitment to the system), and the servant who believes in their monarch, feels free when they can serve that monarch (theologically as well as politically). The worker who gets his fair-price for his labor feels free within the system he believes in (after all most union protests are not against the system, rather for a sense of modest pay within the system).
Freedom, for most, is not the ability to act in any way, but rather, the love of a system that one believes in, or the satisfying of a personal desire through that system. The woman, who defines herself as a worker rather than as a person, will find freedom in a system in which she can work. Freedom is accepting and loving a system and the experience of freedom is an emotional state that one experiences when their desires align with a system. This is the core of both patriotism and dogma.
The feeling one gets from these systems is an emotional experience. Reduced to this, freedom is pleasure and control in displeasure. The feeling often described as freedom is not being able to choose what to do, but rather, not having to choose what to do. Freedom is felt when the system, environment, and people in our lives accord to our pleasure. When those things interfere with our pleasure, we feel a loss of freedom.
An illustration of this is the experience of freedom some describe in being controlled by others. There is a certain safety that some find in fascism, dogma, and masochistic abuse. A common example is found in abusive relationships between lovers.
In asking the question, what is freedom; we have arrived at a place where we understand freedom as an emotional experience that is less about the ability to do something and more about the ability to not have to do something. The experience can manifest as a political or economical endeavor, but ultimately reduces to a personal state that attempts to satisfy the constant tensions between me and myselfFreedom is, ultimately, a disregarding of the I.