Publication Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)

Committee Member

Scaggs, Deborah

Committee Member

Broncano, Manuel

Committee Member

Byham, Jack


This work will examine the psychological function of religious belief, particularly their capacity to provide guidance and relief from the aspects of existence that prove troublesome. Religions, a culturally instituted set of traditions and practices, have played a significant role in shaping the development of civilization. The collective organization of individuals and the shared acceptance of values has made possible the formation of large and complex social arrangements, making existence for the human species a more bearable enterprise. Interested in the lives of the ancient Greeks, the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, sought to apprehend the mystery of their deities as products of aesthetic invention. With their worldly outlook preserved in the projection of these cosmic fantasies, Nietzsche sought to resurrect the philosophy of pessimistic strength that sustained the lives of the Greeks, believing that a vital life force lay concealed in their mythology. The myths and rituals pertaining to the god Dionysus were capable of inducing powerful sublime experiences, as the mythic hero symbolized the struggle to transcend the painful ordeals of existence. While Nietzsche’s analysis lay the groundwork for the psychological origins of these myths, the psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, developed a more systematized way of investigating the phenomena of religious belief, applying the principles of scientific analysis to the methodology of his theories. Though Freud believed that religious belief was symptomatic of a kind of mental neurosis, he contended that these myths or illusions played a pragmatic function in spurring the progression of civilization, as religious ideas imposed strict moral restraints on their adherents, thus making coexistence possible. While faith in religious ideas have waned with the scrutiny of scientific analysis, the works of Nietzsche and Freud have suggested that life for humans can only be made meaningful and comprehensible when life is experienced as an aesthetic phenomenon. In other words, life is made meaningful when apprehended through the lens of human interests and desires, which have been projected into the abstract constellation of religious phenomena that structure almost all cultures and societies.