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Ego development or ego denial: Is there a Christian case for a healthy ego?

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis explores the nature of the ego, drawing upon Christian and secular conceptions, in order to determine whether it is something to be affirmed or denied. Contemporary perspectives which either overvalue the individual self, or retort by refuting it, are questioned in the light of psychology, spirituality and Christian doctrine. I have been vexed by the existence of two seemingly opposing views within Christian popular culture. Those who look to the mystical tradition, the Spirituality of the Desert, claim that self-denial is the path to spiritual enlightenment and discovery of the true self; the ego is a false self. By contrast, the world of psychology endorses the merits of a healthy ego. Accordingly, psychology has made a significant contribution to pastoral theology and the life of church communities, especially in relation to personality dynamics. I seek to overcome this dichotomy through a broadening of our understanding of the self and adoption of the notion of personhood arising from a theological anthropology, which includes a relational understanding of imago Dei, Christological kenosis and the social doctrine of the Trinity. Findings are related to the paradoxical demand of Christian discipleship, encapsulated by Jesus’ teaching that his followers must lose themselves in order to be save themselves. The thesis concludes with a more practical turn, applying the insights of the earlier psychology and spirituality chapters, to assess tools for daily life for enhancing emotional and spiritual intelligence, which are taken as interdependent. The goal is for the ego to become servant, not master. The overall approach is a theoretical interdisciplinary one, drawing on the perspectives of philosophy, sociology, psychology, spirituality and theology, in order to gain a comprehensive picture of the ego.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2018


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