George R. Elder

Autobiography

I was born in 1942 and lived in various small towns in Pennsylvania until college. That was Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore where I studied biology, discovering that science did not really fit me. At the same time, I discovered that my family’s fundamentalist Christian religion did not fit me either. The realization was very troubling because I also knew, somehow, that I was still by nature “religious.” But in what way? I tried to find the answer at Chicago Theological Seminary, becoming involved in the Civil Rights Movement (with the young Jesse Jackson, a classmate) and the beginning of an Anti-Vietnam War Movement (encouraged by the seminary’s president, Dr. Howard Schomer, a prominent human rights activist). That led me to service in the Peace Corps, as a public health worker in northeast Thailand.

 

How fateful! Because it was there that I woke up to the fact that there are different religions, that they all satisfy the “religious needs” of the persons who practice them. Returning to New York City in 1968, I earned a B.D degree in Church History at Union Theological Seminary, then walked across the street to Columbia University to earn a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies. My goal was to be a “comparativist,” perhaps discovering thereby the core element in “all” religions. Teaching part-time at Union and at Columbia, then full time at Fordham University, eventually with tenure at Hunter College (of the City University of New York) for many years, was professionally satisfying. I also ended up with many answers to the question, “So what is religion, anyway?”

 

In the meantime, a personal crisis led me into a long Jungian analysis with Edward F. Edinger. That was the most fateful event of all—for it was then I discovered my answer to the “religious question.” It is the same one that Jung came upon first. Eventually, through the C. G. Jung Study Center of Southern California, I became an analyst myself . . . moved to Florida with my family, and have been writing on the psychology of religion.