Julia Kristeva and the Psychoanalytic Study of Religion: Re-reading “Mourning and Melancholia”

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Springer Verlag


In his seminal essay “Mourning and Melancholia,” Sigmund Freud distinguished between a healthy response to the loss of a loved one, which he characterized as mourning, and a pathological form that he termed melancholia. In this essay, I suggest that the French feminist and psychoanalyst, Julia Kristeva, especially in her works Black Sun and New Maladies of the Soul, has rewritten Freud's famous essay, especially in regard to the role of religion. I argue that Kristeva's earlier work examines religion in terms of mourning, while her later work interprets religion in relation to melancholia. Where her analysis of mourning shows how traditional theologies structure and symbolize death and loss, her treatment of melancholia shows that cultures and individuals experience melancholia when religion cannot provide the framing narratives for loss. By breaking out of a Freudian binary that associates mourning with health and melancholia with pathology, Kristeva uncovers adaptive, as well as dysfunctional, forms of melancholia. She hints that a constructive and creative path through postmodern, post-religious melancholia can be found, not through religious belief or the experience of the sacred, but rather through the study and interpretation of biblical and religious texts. I begin this essay with a brief introduction to Kristeva's life, career, theory, and approach to religion, before turning to her creative rethinking of Freud's work on mourning.

Chapter of

Changing the Scientific Study of Religion: Beyond Freud - Theoretical, Empirical and Clinical Studies from Psychoanalytic Perspectives


J. A. Belzen