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William W. Meissner (1931-2010)

by Ana-Maria Rizzuto, M.D.
The Psychoanalytic Institute of New England, East

It is a great honor to be asked to celebrate the life and the scholarly contributions of William W. Meissner. He was a very prominent psychoanalytic theoretician and clinician and a member of the Society of Jesus, a priest and scholar in several fields. His commitment to these two vocations as a Jesuit and as a psychoanalyst converged in his love of knowledge, his dedication to investigate every aspect of the mind and all varieties of human experience. He left few of those experiences untouched.

Dr. Meissner contributed a significant literature to the interface between religion, religious experience, and psychoanalysis expanding and clarifying Freud's understanding of the field. His book Psychoanalysis an Religious Experience (1984) is a classic in the filed. As a psychoanalyst, he also explored the historical perspectives of the origin of Christianity, cultic elements, Messianism and Sabbatianism, the Messiah and the Millennium and many other related issues. He wrote about the psychology of grace and contributed many papers to theological and philosophical journals. His Ignatius of Loyola:The Psychology of a Saint" (1992), focusing on the psychological understanding of the dynamic factors involved in the religious experiences of a remarkable man and saint, is a masterpiece.

His contributions to psychoanalytic theory are as numerous as they are significant. He investigated and clarified many issues of theory and technique. No one knows exactly how many papers he published, but I managed to count over three hundred. The same is true about his books. I believe he wrote 25 books.

Dr. Meissner's clarity of thought in addressing anew so many theoretical and technical issues in psychoanalysis and the psychology of religion brought him to the rank of one of the greatest theoreticians of contemporary psychoanalysis, a "true luminary," as Drs. Massicote and Bursztajn said in their obituary for the Public Information Committee of the International Psychoanalytic Association.

He received the Oskar Pfister Award from the American Psychiatric Association in 1989 and the William C. Bier Award from the American Psychological Association in 2001 as a recognition of his outstanding contributions to the psychology of religion.

His many contributions to psychoanalysis will remain a source of significant learning for new generations of psychoanalysts, for the scholars of psychoanalytic theory, and for those interested in understanding of the psychodynamics of religious processes in the future.

Ana-Maria Rizzuto, M.D.
10 Rogers Street # 321
Cambridge, MA 02142 1248

I would like to thank Dr. Rizzuto for providing this obituary of Dr. Meissner, who was a prolific writer and important psychoanalytic theorist. His most recent book was Time, Self, and Psychoanalysis.

An important theme in his work focused on the psychology of religion. The following is a list of some of the books addressing religion.

To the Greater Glory: A Psychological Study of Ignatian Spirituality (Marquette Studies in Theology)
The Cultic Origins of Christianity: The Dynamics of Religious Development (Theology)
Thy Kingdom Come
Vincent's Religion: The Search for Meaning (Reshaping of Psychoanalysis)
Life and Faith: Psychological Perspectives on Religious Experience
Ignatius of Loyola: The Psychology of a Saint
Psychoanalysis and Religious Experience

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