Archetypes in Religion and Beyond

A Practical Theory of Human Integration and Inspiration

To be published by Equinox, late 2021

The term ‘archetype’ as used by Jung is of huge value because it enables us to understand the relationships between different types of symbol that humans invest meaning and value in. These include the hero, the shadow (e.g. Satan), the feminine (anima) or masculine (animus) and God. Crucially, the idea of archetypes allows us to distinguish between the helpful experiential meaning of these archetypes and their projected form, when we deludedly locate our own potential in someone else. Archetypes have become a popular idea, but one that is both powerful and somewhat confused. Even Jung’s own account of them contains unclarities, contradictions and unnecessary speculations. This book puts forward a new theory of archetypes that is substantially adapted from Jung’s, for instance letting go of the unnecessary hypothesis of the ‘collective unconscious’. It simplifies the categorisation of archetypes into four basic functions, and shows how those functions can helpfully be used to help us maintain inspiration and value over time, addressing long-term human needs in a range of changing conditions. Whilst the positive value of archetypes is to help us fulfil these functions, they can also be readily diverted from doing so through projection. Projection leads us into rigid beliefs that supplant the meaning and inspiration we should be getting from the archetypes.

This thesis about the functional role of archetypes becomes the basis for a critical account of religion as capable both of practical and dogmatic forms, that can be readily illustrated through their use of the archetypes. This is illustrated in relation to a range of examples from different religious traditions, and is also applied to ‘secular’ concepts that are often seen as lying beyond religion, such as nature, truth or rationality. It also provides the basis for a moral philosophy in which integrated rather than projected uses of the archetypes can be used as a basis of judgement in a wide range of issues affecting our lives. This approach is further supported through exploration of its links with the operation of reinforcing or adaptive feedback loops in systems theory, with Iain McGilchrist’s arguments on the over-dominance of the left brain hemisphere, and with the role of bias in cognitive psychology. Suggestions are also made for empirical research that could potentially give further support for this theoretical approach.

This book thus provides a synthetic argument that is intended to bring together potentially valuable ways of thinking about archetypes from different disciplines and show their relationship – crucially, also, for a practical end. This argument is in some ways a development of my previous work in other books on Middle Way Philosophy, but in other ways provides an alternative route into some of the same points that can stand independently. It is a critique and development of Jung, but goes a long way into territory that may also be unfamiliar to most Jungians. It offers a functional theory of religion, but one whose implications go well beyond what is conventionally seen as ‘religion’, and involves breaking down many unhelpful distinctions between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ territory. If the extent of the synthesis seems complex, the central idea of inspiration can provide a relatively simple summation of the meaning of the book: that inspiration over time is the crucial human function of religion, and that the recognition of this point may have far-reaching consequences.

Table of Contents

1. What is an Archetype?

a. The Experience of Archetypes
b. The Universality of Archetypes
c. Archetypes as Embodied Schemas
d. Archetypes as Metaphors
e. The Baggage of the ‘Collective Unconscious’
f. The Baggage of Platonism
g. Archetypes and Religion
h. Archetypes, tradition and modernity
i. Evidence and Testability

2. The Projection of Archetypes

a. The Projection Process
b. Reactive Projection
c. Projection as Metaphysical Belief
d. Projection as the denial of embodiment
e. Projection as left hemisphere over-dominance
f. Projection as bias
g. Projection as reinforcing feedback
h. Projection as power
i. Projection as evil

3. The Integration of Archetypes

a. The Middle Way and the Integration Process
b. Integration and mindfulness
c. Integration and the Arts
d. Critical universalism
e. Working with Traditions

4. Categorisation of Archetypes

a. The Basis of Archetypal Categorisation
b. Variations of the Four Archetypes
c. The Hero and the Ego
d. The Anima/ Animus, Sex and Specialisation
e. The Shadow, Death and Suffering
f. God and Religious Experience
g. The Middle Way Archetype

5. Archetypes in Religious Traditions

a. Ethnic and Universal Religion
b. The Buddha
c. Mahayana Symbology
d. Hinduism: the Great Appropriation
e. The Archetype of Nature in China
f. Yahweh, Idolatry and Literacy
g. Graeco-Roman Tradition
h. Christ
i. Christian Mythology
j. Christian Mysticism
k. Islam: The Tawhid
l. Islam: Jihad and the Satanic Verses
m. The Kabbalah

6. Archetypal Function in ‘Secular’ Concepts

a. Nature
b. Virtue
c. Truth
d. Beauty
e. Rationality
f. Humanity
g. Democracy
h. Health

7. Conclusion