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RELG 308: Religion and Social Criticism

Student Final Projects

Students in Prof. Faraz Sheikh's Spring 2021, COLL 300 class, Religion and Social Criticism, produced some fine, sophisticated final projects. One of them is showcased here:

Student Abstracts
1) Matthew Grayson offered a penetrating analysis and critique of Carl Jung’s The Undiscovered Self in light of ideas and thinkers we discussed in the class.


In Carl Jung’s The Undiscovered Self is a powerful guide to living as an individual in a society that is becoming increasingly designed to subordinate its people to the State, carve an understanding of the psychological man into one’s being, and subject one’s subjectivity to impulses unknown from beyond and within. Jung explores each of these problems in turn, juggling between writing for the psychologist, writing for the citizen, and — most paramount — writing for the individual; the book being a message tailored for each kind of reader. He further examines the nature of religion for the modern individual as promising a kind of psychological power to which man can adhere in order to more robustly measure himself against both the nature of his being and the passive delirium induced by the State. The Undiscovered Self is a work not of psychoanalysis, but a critique of modernity; it is a stern and provocative warning explicated in fierce detail with a kernel of hope at its core and an examination of the machines that inhabit our worlds and our minds.

Before I begin to unpack Jung’s thought, it feels proper to note the intersection his work has particularly with the views of Charles Taylor and Reinhold Niebuhr, two modern thinkers with deep concerns over living in a society that compels ill for its inhabitants should they passively become of its design. For Taylor, naive individualism compels one towards relativism and subjectivism, depriving them of a means of making truly significant choices, leading to a value-based atomization of society originating from the individual. For Niebuhr, man is a creature weak in rational potential and unable to strengthen the moral character of his person through reason alone, with religion being an operable means by which love can extend a greater moral scope. This potential is only realized in the individual, however, and the social structures that accentuate these faculties seem to fail deeply to maintain their virtues whose potentials are otherwise held only within the individual.

Jung, like these thinkers, foregrounds the individual in a society fundamentally at odds with our person, a society containing dangers of passive intrusion into our beings for potentially harmful ends. Furthermore, he considers the originator of a solution to this problem, much like Taylor and Niebuhr, to be contained within — or at least emergent from — the individual rather than the society. For these reasons, which will become more justified as the paper progresses, I consider his work to be in the same general arc of thought as are Taylor’s and Niebuhr’s critiques. With this in mind, this paper will turn towards an examination of Jung’s thought and guidance for the modern thinker with an emphasis on how the individual relates to the State, psychological science, religion, and themself.