"Unlike Freud, I do not claim that religion is just an illusion and a source of neurosis. The time has come to recognize, without being afraid of 'frightening' either the faithful or the agnostics, that the history of Christianity prepared the world for humanism."
So writes Julia Kristeva in this provocative work, which skillfully upends our entrenched ideas about religion, belief, and the thought and work of a renowned psychoanalyst and critic. With dialogue and essay, Kristeva analyzes our "incredible need to believe"--the inexorable push toward faith that, for Kristeva, lies at the heart of the psyche and the history of society. Examining the lives, theories, and convictions of Saint Teresa of Avila, Sigmund Freud, Donald Winnicott, Hannah Arendt, and other individuals, she investigates the intersection between the desire for God and the shadowy zone in which belief resides.
Kristeva suggests that human beings are formed by their need to believe, beginning with our first attempts at speech and following through to our adolescent search for identity and meaning. Kristeva then applies her insight to contemporary religious clashes and the plight of immigrant populations, especially those of Islamic origin. Even if we no longer have faith in God, Kristeva argues, we must believe in human destiny and creative possibility. Reclaiming Christianity's openness to self-questioning and the search for knowledge, Kristeva urges a "new kind of politics," one that restores the integrity of the human community.
Kristeva (Powers of Horror) delivers a focused and insightful discussion of religious belief. With material culled from various interviews, articles and lectures, the book is less a unified argument than a sprawling analysis of religion in major psychological and philosophical literature (e.g., Freud, Arendt, Winnicot), fiction (e.g., Proust) and in private life (Kristeva makes wonderful use of Saint Teresa of Avila's writings) underscored by her claim that sharable knowledge of the inner religious experience is possible and could develop into an important field of discourse. Kristeva provides neither an attack on nor a support of religious belief; her interest is in drawing other disciplines into the discussion. She uses psychoanalytic techniques to comprehend religious experience, the clash of religions, notions of genius, theories of suffering and sexuality and the debt modern humanism owes to Christianity's emphasis on self-questioning. Compelling and remarkable for its staunch unwillingness to take sides, this book sets forth Kristeva's most sustained treatment of religion in a format that will interest both scholars and anyone looking for an accessible introduction to her methods and preoccupations.