Jason A. Josephson-Storm’s recently published book, The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences, may interest AHP readers. The book is described as follows:
A great many theorists have argued that the defining feature of modernity is that people no longer believe in spirits, myths, or magic. Jason ?. Josephson-Storm argues that as broad cultural history goes, this narrative is wrong, as attempts to suppress magic have failed more often than they have succeeded. Even the human sciences have been more enchanted than is commonly supposed. But that raises the question: How did a magical, spiritualist, mesmerized Europe ever convince itself that it was disenchanted?
Josephson-Storm traces the history of the myth of disenchantment in the births of philosophy, anthropology, sociology, folklore, psychoanalysis, and religious studies. Ironically, the myth of mythless modernity formed at the very time that Britain, France, and Germany were in the midst of occult and spiritualist revivals. Indeed, Josephson-Storm argues, these disciplines’ founding figures were not only aware of, but profoundly enmeshed in, the occult milieu; and it was specifically in response to this burgeoning culture of spirits and magic that they produced notions of a disenchanted world.
By providing a novel history of the human sciences and their connection to esotericism, The Myth of Disenchantment dispatches with most widely held accounts of modernity and its break from the premodern past.
The September 2015 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Among the articles in this issue are ones on Carl Jung (above) and his investigation of his cousin’s mediumship, the epistemological problems of incorporating possession into the DSM, a case study of a museum of mental health care history, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstract follow below.
“The epistemological significance of possession entering the DSM,” by Craig Stephenson. The abstract reads,
The discourse of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM reflects the inherently dialogic or contradictory nature of its stated mandate to demonstrate both ‘nosological completeness’ and cultural ‘inclusiveness’. Psychiatry employs the dialogic discourse of the DSM in a one-sided, positivistic manner by identifying what it considers universal mental disease entities stripped of their cultural context. In 1992 the editors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders proposed to introduce possession into their revisions. A survey of the discussions about introducing ‘possession’ as a dissociative disorder to be listed in the DSM-IV indicates a missed epistemological break. Subsequently the editors of the DSM-5 politically ‘recuperated’ possession into its official discourse, without acknowledging the anarchic challenges that possession presents to psychiatry as a cultural practice.
“‘A vehicle of symbols and nothing more’. George Romanes, theory of mind, information, and Samuel Butler,” by Donald R Forsdyke. The abstract reads, Continue reading New History of Psychiatry: Possession in the DSM, Jung’s Seances, & More
The autumn 2014 issue of Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue discuss the race and professional organizations in South Africa, intelligence testing in British India, and discussion over psychical, occult, and religious research at early twentieth century international congresses. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“The Rhetoric of Racism: Revisiting the Creation of the Psychological Institute of the Republic of South Africa (1956–1962),” by Wahbie Long. The abstract reads,
This paper revisits the 1962 splitting of the South African Psychological Association (SAPA), when disaffected Afrikaner psychologists broke away to form the whites-only Psychological Institute of the Republic of South Africa (PIRSA). It presents an analysis of the rhetorical justification for forming a new professional association on principles at odds with prevailing international norms, demonstrating how the episode involved more than the question of admitting black psychologists to the association. In particular, the paper argues that the SAPA-PIRSA separation resulted from an Afrikaner nationalist reading of the goals of psychological science. PIRSA, that is, insisted on promoting a discipline committed to the ethnic-national vision of the apartheid state. For its part, SAPA’s racial integration was of a nominal order only, ostensibly to protect itself from international sanction. The paper concludes that, in a racist society, it is difficult to produce anything other than a racist psychology.
“Searching for South Asian Intelligence: Psychometry in British India, 1919–1940,” by Shivrang Setlur. The abstract reads, Continue reading New JHBS: Intelligence Testing in India, Racism in South Africa, & More
Historian of the human sciences Andreas Sommer (right), a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, has recently begun a blog Forbidden Histories. Sommer’s historical work explores the empirical study of the occult and the emergence of scientific psychology at the end of the nineteenth century. On Forbidden Histories he discusses his ongoing scholarship in this field in relation to our understanding of the nature of rationality. As he describes on the blog’s Welcome page:
…‘Forbidden Histories’ implicates the existence of a taboo, and of motivations and sensibilities that have kept it alive. This blog is thus primarily concerned with the functions of popular science and disciplinary history as knowledge management and tries to identify a variety of epistemologies and concerns (many of which, interestingly, have been mutually antagonistic), that have prevented mainstream historical information from entering common knowledge.
Obviously, as a historian of science I am neither interested nor competent to decide whether or not some ‘miraculous’ phenomena do in fact occur, and how to interpret them if they do. Rather, the purpose of this blog is to test questions and ideas concerning the historicity of certain standards of rationality – particularly those we are not accustomed let alone encouraged to critically reflect upon, even though they have powerfully shaped western individual and collective identities.
To be sure, my blog does not aim to provide easy answers but merely rehearses some of my personal reflections on what it means to be ‘rational’. Well aware that it thoroughly goes against the grain of many established ideologies and epistemological standard positions, all I can do is assure you that it strives to employ those principles that most would agree make good science as well as good history: contextualised evidence and differentiated analysis.
The next presentation as part of British Psychological Society’s History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, History of the Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series will take place in London next week. On Tuesday March 12th, Hereward Tilton (left) will be presenting on “The Path of the Serpent: Gnosis, Alchemy and the Esoteric Antecedents of Analytical Psychology.” Full details follow below.
Location: UCL Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, Room 544,* 5th Floor, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ
The Path of the Serpent: Gnosis, Alchemy and the Esoteric Antecedents of Analytical Psychology
C. G. Jung influentially asserted that the alchemical corpus constituted the missing link in an ‘uninterrupted intellectual chain’ leading from ancient Gnosticism to his own analytical psychology. Nevertheless, recent studies in the history of Western esotericism have problematised both Jung’s interpretation of alchemy and his historiography. Although certain doctrines and practices within the ancient Gnostic milieu can legitimately be considered distant precursors to analytical psychology, in this seminar we will discover that the chief conduit of their transmission to modernity was the Kabbalah in its Jewish, Christian and post-Christian occult incarnations. Particular attention will be directed to techniques for the attainment of heavenly ascent, conceived as a reversal of the cosmogony in the microcosm of the human body and depicted within Gnostic and Kabbalistic traditions – as in Indo-Tibetan Tantra – as ‘the path of the serpent’. Although it would be misleading to use the term ‘alchemy’ to describe what is essentially a species of theurgy, we will also explore the emergence of nineteenth-century Freemasonic and Theosophical notions of ‘spiritual alchemy’ from the Christian Cabalistic tradition of conceiving this heavenly ascent in alchemical terms. As I will argue, it is this alchemically conceived theurgy rather than alchemy per se that truly constitutes the ‘secret thread’ of esotericism leading to Jung’s work.