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Archetypes in Religion and Beyond

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The Jungian concept of archetypes is of immense value for critically distinguishing what is potentially of universal practical value in religious and other cultural traditions, and separating this from the dogmatic elements. However, Jung encumbered the concept of archetypes with debatable constructions like the ‘collective unconscious’ that are unnecessary for understanding their practical function. Archetypes in Religion and Beyond puts forward a far-reaching new theory of archetypes that is functional without being reductive. At its centre is the idea that archetypes are adaptations to help us maintain inspiration over time. Humans are such distractable beings that they need constant reminders to maintain integration with their most sustainable intentions: reminders using the profound power of symbol linked to embodied experience. This multidisciplinary book weaves together religious studies, ethical philosophy, the psychology of bias, the neuroscience of brain lateralization, the linguistics of embodied meaning, the feedback loops of systems theory, a lifetime’s experience of Buddhist practice, and appreciation of symbolism in the arts: all with the aim of producing a fresh understanding of the role of archetypes, in religion and beyond, that can also be directly applied in practice.

Published: Feb 1, 2022

Book Contributors

Section Chapter Authors
List of Figures Robert Ellis
Acknowledgements Robert Ellis
Introduction Robert Ellis
1. What is an Archetype?
a. The Experience of Archetypes Robert Ellis
b. The Universality of Archetypes Robert Ellis
c. Archetypes as Embodied Schemas Robert Ellis
d. Archetypes as Metaphors Robert Ellis
e. The Baggage of the 'Collective Unconscious' Robert Ellis
f. The Baggage of Platonism Robert Ellis
g. Archetypes and Religion Robert Ellis
h. Archetypes, Tradition, and Modernity Robert Ellis
i. Evidence and Testability Robert Ellis
2. The Projection of Archetypes
a. The Projection Process Robert Ellis
b. Reactive Projection Robert Ellis
c. Projection as Metaphysical Belief Robert Ellis
d. Projection as the Denial of Embodiment Robert Ellis
e. Projection as Left-Hemisphere Over-Dominance Robert Ellis
f. Projection as Bias Robert Ellis
g. Projection as Reinforcing Feedback Robert Ellis
h. Projection as Power Robert Ellis
i. Projection as Evil Robert Ellis
3. The Integration of Archetypes
a. The Middle Way and the Integration Process Robert Ellis
b. Integration and Mindfulness Robert Ellis
c. Integration and the Arts Robert Ellis
d. Critical Universalism Robert Ellis
e. Working with Traditions Robert Ellis
4. Categorization of Archetypes
a. The Basis of Archetypal Categorization Robert Ellis
b. Variations of the Four Archetypes Robert Ellis
c. The Hero and the Ego Robert Ellis
d. The Anima/Animus, Sex, and Specialization Robert Ellis
e. The Shadow, Death, and Suffering Robert Ellis
f. God and Religious Experience Robert Ellis
g. The Middle Way Archetype Robert Ellis
5. Archetypes in Religious Traditions
a. Ethnic and Universal Religion Robert Ellis
b. The Buddha Robert Ellis
c. Mahayana Symbology Robert Ellis
d. Hinduism: The Great Appropriation Robert Ellis
e. The Archetype of Nature in China Robert Ellis
f. Yahweh, Idolatry, and Literacy Robert Ellis
g. Graeco-Roman Tradition Robert Ellis
h. Christ Robert Ellis
i. Christian Mythology Robert Ellis
j. Christian Mysticism Robert Ellis
k. Islam: The Tawhid Robert Ellis
l. Islam: Jihad and the Satanic Verses Robert Ellis
m. The Kabbalah Robert Ellis
6. Archetypal Function in 'Secular' Concepts
a. Nature Robert Ellis
b. Goodness Robert Ellis
c. Truth Robert Ellis
d. Beauty Robert Ellis
e. Rationality Robert Ellis
f. Humanity Robert Ellis
g. Democracy Robert Ellis
h. Health Robert Ellis
Conclusion Robert Ellis
End Matter
Bibliography Robert Ellis
Glossary Robert Ellis
Index Robert Ellis


Robert M. Ellis has put together a magisterial work on the archetype, bringing together empirical, philosophical, comparative religious and Jungian approaches into one carefully worked out theory. A rich, deeply thought provoking and remarkable synthesis.
Erik D Goodwyn MD, Associate Professor and Director of Psychotherapy Training, University of Louisville; author of The Neurobiology of the Gods

Robert M. Ellis’s study, part of his wider Middle Way philosophy, offers a helpful contribution to emerging conversations about the imagination in the academic humanities. It critically synthesises classic Jungian concepts such as archetype, shadow, and anima with recent cognitive approaches to mindfulness, metaphor, bias, and embodiment. Drawing on both religious and secular examples, Ellis proposes a new, praxis-oriented interpretation of archetypes as ‘schematic functions’ which provide long-term inspiration in the pursuit of inner integration.
Dr Miranda Gill, Former University Lecturer in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, University of Cambridge

My own favourite chapter concerns secular rather than religious examples of archetypes, such as truth, beauty, goodness, health and democracy. This extension of the analysis shows off the power of Ellis’ account, and offers some highly instructive examples of the archetypes. For example, Ellis describes how truth is often interpreted as something expressed in the form of propositions, that demands our attention along with an attitude of belief. The truth, projected in this way, may become a version of the God archetype absolutized in a form which we demand that others agree with. And yet truth in this sense is a symbol. The practical approach that Ellis proposes as an alternative is altogether more sceptical, more alert to the embodied process of enquiry, into the truth as a final knowing which is not something we could ever be sure we have reached. This whole account made me think of my own field of research, early Buddhism, in which it is all too easy for the scholar to think they have reached the ‘truth’ about the meaning of some difficult teaching, as being ‘what the Buddha really meant’, when in fact it would be more accurate to say they have reached some new and creative interpretation of early Buddhist texts, guided by the archetype of truth, an interpretation which they believe is more helpful in understanding the Buddha’s teaching.

I hope that this brief review of
Archetypes in Religion and Beyond has suggested some of its originality. It is one of those rare books that makes you re-think your assumptions, in this case, by using Jung’s account of the archetypes in a completely re-imagined practical religious sense to envisage how to navigate life in a meaningful and inspired way.
Western Buddhist Review