Oskar Pfister Award

The Oskar Pfister Award is given annually to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the dialogue concerning religion, spirituality and psychiatry.

The award with its accompanying lecture is co-sponsored by the Caucus on Spirituality, Religion and Psychiatry of the American Psychiatric Association and the Association of Professional Chaplains. The Oskar Pfister Award receives funding support from the Harding Foundation.


The purpose of the Oskar Pfister Award is to extend knowledge of the interrelationships between religion and psychiatry. It seeks to promote understanding of the relevance of religious and spiritual influences for persons who seek psychiatric treatment and to explore how both fields can contribute to human health and well-being.

History of the Award

The Oskar Pfister Award and Lecture was inaugurated in 1982: the first recipient was Jerome D. Frank, eminent clinician and researcher, and professor of psychiatry at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The Award was conceived and implemented as a joint endeavor by the APA’s Committee on Religion and Psychiatry and the Association of Mental Health Clergy (now the Association of Professional Chaplains). Awardees have included persons of distinction in both psychiatry and religious care. Over the years the award has grown in stature and esteem and is now one of the most well-attended events of the APA’s Annual Meeting.

Oskar Pfister: The Man

Born in 1873, the same year Freud entered medical school, Oskar Pfister was a prominent Protestant minister of the Predigerkirche in the inner city of Zurich. He first discovered Freud’s writings in 1908 and, persuaded by his friend Carl Jung, sent Freud an essay he had written about schoolboy suicide. Thus began a vibrant literary and personal friendship that continued “without a cloud,” as Ernest Jones records, until Freud’s death in 1939. Pfister soon became among the first lay analysts and was initiated into Freud’s inner circle. In 1913, while attending to his pastoral work, Pfister wrote Psychoanalytic Method, the first systematic text on analytic techniques. By 1923 he had written or translated 23 volumes on a variety of topics including sexuality and neurosis, religion and hysteria, fear and faith, and child analysis. He also wrote “psycho-histories” of Count Zinzendorf, Saint Paul and John Calvin.

Pfister was a frequent and welcome visitor to the Freud household. A large man, “brimming with joy,” as one biographer put it, he charmed Freud’s children with his clerical garb and friendly demeanor.

Oskar Pfister is perhaps best known today for his correspondence with Freud, that spanned nearly three decades and was published in 1963. The Freud-Pfister letters are windows through which we see a highly stimulating exchange on many subjects, but mainly concerning religion and the politics of the early psychoanalytic movement. In areas of agreement, they were warm and affectionate. Regarding the meaning and value of religion, they were clear and forthright in their disagreement. Pfister answered Freud’s Future of an Illusion with his own resounding statement of faith, The Illusion of a Future. In spite of their differences they nevertheless remained loyal friends and allies.

It is the spirit and integrity of this 30-year dialogue between Sigmund Freud and Oskar Pfister that we seek to sustain and expand each year through the Oskar Pfister Award and Lecture.

Criteria for Selection

Recipients of the Oskar Pfister Award are those who have:
• Made sustained professional contributions to the interfaces of psychiatry, religion and spirituality through research and clinical practice,
• Disseminated findings through lectures and publications that have clinical relevance to practicing psychiatrists and clergy, and
• Been recognized by their peers for creative and original contributions to the dialogue between the fields of religion and psychiatry.


1983 –   Jerome Frank
“An Unprecedented Challenge to Psychiatry and Religion”

1984 –   Wayne Oates
“Some Functions of Belief in Illness and Health”

1985-    Viktor Frankl
“Man in Search of Ultimate Meaning”

1986-    Hans Kung
“The Repression of Religiosity”

1987 –   Robert Lifton
“The Psychology of Genocide”

1988 –   Oliver Sacks
“The Unique Case”

1989 –  William Meissner
“The Pathology of Belief Systems”

1990 –   Peter Gay
“A Godless Jew Revisited”

1991 –   Robert Coles
“The Spiritual Life of Children”

1992 –   Paulus Mar Gregorios
“Religious Masters as ‘Psychiaters’: The Therapy of Disciplined Love and Discerning Judgment”

1993 –   Paul Fleischman
“The Healing Spirit”

1994 –   James Fowler
“Healing Spirit: Psychiatry and the Dynamics of Faith”

1995 –   Prakash Desai
“Taking the Psyche Out of Psychiatry: The Case for Hindu Medicine”

1996 –   Ann Bedford Ulanov
“Ritual, Repetition and Psychic Reality”

1997 –   Ana-Maria Rizzuto
“Belief as a Psychic Function”

1998 –   Allen E. Bergin
“Religion and Mental Health”

1999 –   Don Browning
“Internists of the Mind or Doctors of the Soul”

2000 –   Paul  Ricoeur
“The Difference Between the Pathological and the Normal as a Source of Respect: Therapeutic and Ethical Implications”

2001-   Irvin D. Yalom
“Existential Psychotherapy and Religious Consolation: Convergence and Divergence”

2002 –   David Larson (posthumous)
“The Nearly Forgotten Century: What a Difference a Decade Makes”

2003 –   Abraham Twerski
“Is There a Place for Spirituality in Therapy?”

2004 –   Elizabeth Bowman
“Dialogue from the Rims of the Grand Canyon: On Bridging the Post-Freudian Chasm Between Religion and Psychiatry”

2005 –   Armand Nicholi, Jr.
“The Conflicting World Views of Sigmund Freud and Oskar Pfister:  Keys to Understanding Patients”

2006 –   Edwin Cassem
“Psychiatry and Spirituality at the End of Life”

2007 –   William R. Miller
“Spiritus Contra Spiritum: The Strange Case of Spirituality      and Addiction?”

2008 –    Dan G. Blazer
“Prozac and the Spiritual Self”

2009 – Kenneth I. Pargament
“Wrestling with the Angels: Religious Struggles in the Context of Mental Illness”

2010 – George E. Vaillant
“Toward a New Psychiatry: Valuing The Positive Emotions”

2011 – Clark S. Aist
“The Oscar Pfister Dialogues: A Search for Meanings”

2012 – Harold G. Koenig
“How Is Religion Relevant to Psychiatry?:
Research and Applications”

2013 – Marc Galanter
“What We Can Learn From Alcoholics Anonymous About Addiction Treatment, Spiritually-Oriented Recovery, & Social Neuroscience”

2014 – Robert Cloninger
“The Three Aspects of Being Human”

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