Dr. Marsha Hewitt

Professional Biography

Dr. Marsha Aileen Hewitt is a full professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, and the Faculty of Divinity at Trinity College. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice, psychoanalytic psychology of religion, dreams and visions, critical theory and method and theory in the study of religion. Professor Hewitt has numerous scholarly publications in the fields of psychoanalysis, critical social theory, liberation theology and feminism. Her books include From Theology to Social Theory: Juan Luis Segundo and the Theology of Liberation and Critical Theory of Religion: A Feminist Analysis. Her most recent publications include Freud on Religion (2014), “Christian Anti-Judaism and Early Object Relations Theory” (2018), “The Psychoanalytic Occult in Freud and Contemporary Theory” (2017), and “Spirits in the Mind, Gods in the Brain: Contemporary Psychologies of Religious Experience” (2016). Her latest book, published in 2020, is Legacies of the Occult: Psychoanalysis, Religion and Unconscious Communication. Her current project is “A Psychoanalytic Psychology of Religion: Possession, Trances and Transference.”

Dr. Hewitt is also a psychoanalyst in private practice, and a supervisor and Faculty member at the Toronto Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis.

See more at https://www.trinity.utoronto.ca/directory/hewitt-marsha/

Reflection Questions

How can the concept of ‘projective identification’ help us understand people who hold harmful prejudices, as well as our own selves?

How might engaging our ’empathic imaginations’ more often change our lives and the way we see the world?

Do you often include personal experience into your academic work? Why or why not? How might doing so change the way in which you engage with the material?

What are some ways that teachers can best show care to their students?

Reflecting on your experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, how has it been for you? What has been the hardest part? What has gotten you through it?

Think about a time when someone shared about their trauma or personal history with you. How did you respond? How can we best respond to trauma, such that we do not intensify its harm?

Further Resources

Hewitt, M. (2008). Attachment Theory, Religious Beliefs, and the Limits of Reason. Pastoral Psychology. 57, 65–75.
This paper argues that current social theories about religion and its role in politics and the public sphere could benefit from incorporating insights from attachment theory.

Watch this video of Dr. Hewitt’s talk at the Pacifica Graduate Institute’s 2019 Altered States Conference below: 

Introducing Dr. Hewitt

Listen to Dr. Hewitt talk about her focus at the intersection of psychoanalysis and religion.

Learning How Our Worlds Are Created

Dr. Hewitt discusses the way in which our individual minds are actually social minds: the social institutions we are born into shape our attitudes and ways of thinking. She suggests looking at prejudices such as racism or homophobia psychoanalytically, by asking what psychological work those ideologies are providing for those who hold them. Thinking about an individual’s social context, personal story, and the function of their psychology is how Dr. Hewitt helps to engage students’ empathic imagination. Empathic imagination allows us to understand others without using pathologizing or colonialist narratives.

Engaging with Students Ethically

Dr. Hewitt talks about the tricky boundaries of including the personal in one’s academic work and in the classroom. On the one hand, engaging with scholarship through your personal experience can help you engage more deeply with the authors, but there is also emotional risk in this. Dr. Hewitt emphasizes ‘generosity in scholarship’ – the willingness to see other points of view and be expansive in our thinking. Some might think that this is a quality only for the humanities, whereas science is objective. But it is always we, the thinkers, who are doing the thinking.

What is Trauma?

Dr. Hewitt explains that one of the most damaging aspects of trauma can be how the people around us respond to it. She talks about trauma as ‘laying down tracks’ in the body and consciousness. Religion, in its texts and traditions, can sometimes reinforce the harmful idea that trauma is something to be accepted. Dr. Hewitt also discusses the way in which the pandemic has traumatized us on a global scale. Now more than ever, it is important for educators to show deep care for their students.