chapter  7
24 Pages

Collective Representations and Mental Representations in Religious Symbol Systems

ByMelford E. Spiro

This chapter addresses the relationship between statements of the following two types: “The omnipotence of God is a basic doctrine of Christianity,” and, “As a Christian, John holds the doctrine of the omnipotence of God to be true.” One possible explanation for religious believers holding to the external reality of the mythicoreligious world, while denying such reality to the dream world, is that the latter is constructed from private thoughts, the former from cultural traditions. The cultural conceptions of the superhuman beings who inhabit that world are conveyed, of course, by the external cultural symbols by which they are represented—words, icons, and ritual—and from these collective representations the believer forms his mental representations of them. The chapter argues that religion attends not only to the conscious and public concerns of the actor’s adult-like experience, but also to the unconscious and private concerns of his child-like experience.