New History of Psychiatry: Religious Mania, Criminal Insanity, & More

The June 2017 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Articles in this issue explore the relationship between religion and madness, criminal insanity, paralysis of the insanity, female sexuality and syphilis, and more. Full details below.

“From a religious view of madness to religious mania: The Encyclopédie, Pinel, Esquirol,” by Philippe Huneman. Abstract:

This paper focuses on the shift from a concept of insanity understood in terms of religion to another (as entertained by early psychiatry, especially in France) according to which it is believed that forms of madness tinged by religion are difficult to cure. The traditional religious view of madness, as exemplified by Pascal (inter alia), is first illustrated by entries from the Encyclopédie. Then the shift towards a medical view of madness, inspired by Vitalistic physiology, is mapped by entries taken from the same publication. Firmed up by Pinel, this shift caused the abandonment of the religious view. Esquirol considered religious mania to be a vestige from the past, but he also believed that mental conditions carrying a religious component were difficult to cure.

“‘Shrouded in a dark fog’: Comparison of the diagnosis of pellagra in Venice and general paralysis of the insane in the United Kingdom, 1840–1900,” by Egidio Priani. Abstract:

The debate on the causes and the nature of pellagra in Italy during the nineteenth century resembles and evokes the similar debate on General Paralysis of the Insane (GPI) that was growing at the same time in the United Kingdom. Pellagra and GPI had a massive and virulent impact on the populations of Italy and the UK, respectively, and contributed to a great extent to the increase and overcrowding of the asylum populations in these countries. This article compares the two illnesses by examining the features of their nosographic positioning, aetiology and pathogenesis. It also documents how doctors arrived at the diagnoses of the two diseases and how this affected their treatment.

“The erudite humility of the historian: The ‘critical epistemology’ of Georges Lantéri-Laura,” by Elisabetta Basso Lorini. Abstract:

This paper analyses the historical and epistemological work of the French psychiatrist Georges Lantéri-Laura (1930–2004) within the context of the French ‘tradition’ of history and philosophy of sciences, with special reference to Georges Canguilhem and Michel Foucault. After an introduction devoted to a critical survey of the most recent works on the history and historiography of psychiatry in French, the paper outlines Lantéri-Laura’s approach by focusing especially on the role played by the methodological concept of ‘semiology’ as regards the relation between medicine and psychiatry. The last part of the paper draws attention to the relation between the history and philosophy of psychiatry in light of Lantéri-Laura’s ‘critical epistemology’.

“The ‘secret’ source of ‘female hysteria’: The role that syphilis played in the construction of female sexuality and psychoanalysis in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,” by Lois P Rudnick and Alison M Heru. Abstract:

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the unspoken fear of syphilis played a significant role in the development of beliefs about female sexuality. Many women were afraid of sexual relationships with men because they feared contracting syphilis, which was, at that time, untreatable. Women also feared passing this disease on to their children. Women’s sexual aversion, or repression, became a focus for Freud and his colleagues, whose theory of psychosexual development was based on their treatment of women. This article examines the case of Dora, the memoirs of Mabel Dodge Luhan and other sources to argue that the fear of syphilis was a significant factor in upper- and middle-class women’s avoidance of heterosexual relationships. The fear of syphilis, in turn, became a significant factor in the psychoanalytic construction of female sexuality. The social suppression of the fear of syphilis has had a profound impact on theories of women’s development. The implication for psychiatry is that our models of psychological development occur within a sociocultural milieu and cannot escape suppressed aspects of our culture.

“‘Insane criminals’ and the ‘criminally insane’: criminal asylums in Norway, 1895–1940,” by Hilde Dahl. Abstract:

This article looks into the establishment and development of two criminal asylums in Norway. Influenced by international psychiatry and a European reorientation of penal law, the country chose to institutionalize insane criminals and criminally insane in separate asylums. Norway’s first criminal asylum was opened in 1895, and a second in 1923, both in Trondheim. Both asylums quickly filled up with patients who often stayed for many years, and some for their entire lives. The official aim of these asylums was to confine and treat dangerous and disruptive lunatics. Goffman postulates that total institutions typically fall short of their official aims. This study examines records of the patients who were admitted to the two Trondheim asylums, in order to see if the official aims were achieved.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

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