The Pope and the Unconscious. The speeches of Pius XII on Psychotherapy in 1952-1953, Agostino Gemelli’s Commentary, and Psychoanalysis in Italy
Professor Marco Innamorati (University of Rome, Tor Vergata)
The attitude of the catholic environment towards Psychoanalysis followed a strange historical trajectory. The first period, from the first Italian psychoanalytic writing until about 1950, was marked by a complete opposition. After World War II, there were attempts outside Italy to integrate Psychoanalysis within catholic culture, while the Italian Catholics stayed clear from Freud for quite a long time. A very important role was played by the two speeches about Psychotherapy given by Pius XII in 1953, at the opening of two congresses: the World Congress on Psychotherapy, in Rome, and a medical congress in France. The speeches showed an open attitude towards psychotherapeutic practices in general, but contained admonishing words against reductionist and materialist theories. They were interpreted differently in Italy and abroad. In the United States it seemed obvious that Pius XII wanted to open the doors to Psychoanalysis; in Italy the same words were interpreted as an absolute and total prohibition of psychoanalytic therapy. Such a “non expedit” was factually effective until the pontificate of Paul VI. The second interpretation was expressly suggested by Agostino Gemelli, who at the time was the most influent personality of Catholic psychology in Italy. Gemelli published a book containing an in-depth hermeneutics of the Pope’s words, deducing an opposition towards Freud’s psychoanalysis and Jung’s analytical psychology. Actually, the Vatican did not refute neither the American interpretation, nor Gemelli’s. Our talk will deepen the historical context and the reasons for this hermeneutical divide.
The July 2017 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore cinematic representations of brainwashing, scientific expertise and the politics of emotion, and more. Full details below.
“Brainwashing the cybernetic spectator: The Ipcress File, 1960s cinematic spectacle and the sciences of mind,” by Marcia Holmes. Abstract:
This article argues that the mid-1960s saw a dramatic shift in how ‘brainwashing’ was popularly imagined, reflecting Anglo-American developments in the sciences of mind as well as shifts in mass media culture. The 1965 British film The Ipcress File (dir. Sidney J. Furie, starr. Michael Caine) provides a rich case for exploring these interconnections between mind control, mind science and media, as it exemplifies the era’s innovations for depicting ‘brainwashing’ on screen: the film’s protagonist is subjected to flashing lights and electronic music, pulsating to the ‘rhythm of brainwaves’. This article describes the making of The Ipcress File’s brainwashing sequence and shows how its quest for cinematic spectacle drew on developments in cybernetic science, multimedia design and modernist architecture (developments that were also influencing the 1960s psychedelic counter-culture). I argue that often interposed between the disparate endeavours of 1960s mind control, psychological science and media was a vision of the human mind as a ‘cybernetic spectator’: a subject who scrutinizes how media and other demands on her sensory perception can affect consciousness, and seeks to consciously participate in this mental conditioning and guide its effects.
The December 2016 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Articles in this issue explore psychiatric classification in the DSM, Italian colonial psychiatry, the phrenological studies of skulls, and more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Italian colonial psychiatry: Outlines of a discipline, and practical achievements in Libya and the Horn of Africa,” by Marianna Scarfone. The abstract reads,
This article describes the establishment of psychiatry in Italy’s former colonies during the period 1906–43, in terms of the clinical and institutional mechanisms, the underlying theories and the main individuals involved. ‘Colonial psychiatry’ (variously called ‘ethnographic’, ‘comparative’ or ‘racial’ psychiatry) – the object of which was both to care for mentally afflicted colonists and local people and also to understand and make sense of their pathologies – received most attention in colonial Libya, starting in the first months of the Italian occupation (1911–12) and then taking institutional form in the 1930s; in the colonies of what was known as ‘Italian East Africa’, on the other hand, less was said about psychiatric care, and practical achievements were correspondingly limited.
The November 2016 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Articles in this issue explore split brain research, Vygotsky’s influence in Argentina, recent changes in Swedish psychology, and more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“The other side of the brain: The politics of split-brain research in the 1970s–1980s,” by Michael E. Staub. The abstract reads,
In the course of the 1970s and 1980s, theories derived from neuropsychological research on the bisected brain came rapidly to achieve the status of common sense in the United States and Canada, inflecting all manner of popular and academic discussion. These theories often posited that the right hemisphere was the seat of creative expression, whereas the left hemisphere housed rationality and language. This article analyzes the political and cultural implications of theories about the split brain. Gender relations, educational reform, management theory, race relations, and countercultural concepts about self-expression all quickly came to be viewed through the lens of left-brain/right-brain neuropsychological research. Yet these theories were often contradictory. On the one hand, some psychophysiological experiments premised that the brain was inherently plastic in nature, and thus self-improvement techniques (like mindfulness meditation) could be practiced to unfurl the right hemisphere’s intuitive potentialities. On the other hand, other psychophysiological experiments concluded that Native Americans as well as African Americans and persons from “the East” appeared inherently to possess more highly developed right-brain talents, and therefore suffered in the context of a left-hemisphere-dominated Western society. In both instances, psychologists put neuroscientific research to political and social use. This article thus connects a story from the annals of the neurosciences to the history of psychological experimentation. It analyzes the critical impact that speculative ideas about the split brain were to have not only on the post-1960s history of psychology but also on what soon emerged after the 1990s as the social neuroscience revolution.
The February 2016 issue of History of Psychology is now online. The issue includes an opening editorial note from incoming editor Nadine Weidman on her plans for the journal. Articles in the issue explore studies of evil by Ernest Becker and Stanley Milgram, the influence of William Blatz on Mary Ainsworth’s attachment theory, and Foucault’s work on mental illness. The issue also includes an article on cyclical trends in the history of psychiatry by Hannah Decker, along with commentary from Allen Frances and Ronald Pies and a response from the author. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“History of Psychology,” by Nadine Weidman. The abstract reads,
The editor of History of Psychology discusses her plan to vary the journal’s content and expand its scope in specific ways. The first is to introduce a “Spotlight” feature, a relatively brief, provocative thought piece that might take one of several forms. Along with this new feature, she hopes further to broaden the journal’s coverage and its range of contributors. She encourages submissions on the history of the psy-sciences off the beaten path. Finally, she plans to continue the journal’s tradition of special issues, special sections, and essay reviews of two or more important recently published books in the field.
“Ernest Becker and Stanley Milgram: Twentieth-century students of evil,” by Jack Martin.
Both Stanley Milgram and Ernest Becker studied and theorized human evil and offered explanations for evil acts, such as those constituting the Holocaust. Yet the explanations offered by Becker and Milgram are strikingly different. In this essay, brief biographical records of their lives are provided. Differences in their research methods and theories are then examined and traced to relevant differences in their lives, education, and careers. Especially important in this regard were their personal experiences of evil and the scholarly practices and traditions of social scientific and humanities scholarship that characterized their graduate education and scholarly work. The final parts of the essay are devoted to a comparative and integrative analysis of their respective approaches to the question of evil, especially as manifest during the Holocaust, and a brief exegesis of their disciplinary commitments.