Psychology

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    Fikrun wa Fann was a cultural magazine published by the Goethe Institute from 1963 to 2016 that supported and shaped the cultural exchange between Germany and Islamic countries. Together with the publishing of the last issue, “Flight and Displacement” (issue 105), in autumn of 2016 the maintenance and updating of this online portal was ceased.

    Editorial

    Dome of the prayer chamber of Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore. Photo: Stefan WeidnerWhen Sigmund Freud invented psychoanalysis at the end of the nineteenth century, psychology became a science and theory which, like medicine, laid claim to universality. But is this claim legitimate? Breaking an arm is the same no matter where you are, but one cannot say this as easily of trauma or persecution complex.

    It is, however, clear that psychological factors play a very important part in everybody’s life; that while they might find different forms of expression, every culture has behaviours it regards as ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’; and that in certain circumstances people are, or are not, exposed to specific psychological stresses. However, what constitutes psychological stress, what is abnormal behaviour and what isn’t, often depends on context and cultural background. This is where the universality of any form of psychology reaches its limits.

    Despite this problematic – or perhaps because of it – we felt it was important to devote an edition of the journal to examining the subject of psychology. The study is a revealing one that tells us a great deal about how different cultural backgrounds affect people’s reactions to psychological stresses.

    We start this edition with two articles that address this question from the point of view of psychologists who use a psychoanalytical approach. Do Sigmund Freud’s writings have any meaning for people in India or the Arab world today? Perhaps surprisingly, it seems that the answer is yes. Salman Akhtar, who is one of the world’s leading Muslim psychologists of Indian origin and teaches in the United States, enlightens us on the subject. He explains both where Freudian psychoanalysis has culturally-specific limits, and where it goes beyond these limits to be valid for all people regardless of their culture. In an interview with the Moroccan psychologist Jamal Bennani we then examine this issue more closely with reference to a particular example from the Arab world.

    It is an obvious truth to state that there is a connection between violence and psychological problems. However, this connection goes in both directions. On one hand, violence causes psychological problems, while on the other psychological problems can both express themselves in and be a fundamental cause of violence.

    In any such conflict situation it is the weakest elements of society – women and children – who are most under threat. Houria Abdelouahid and Jamal Sobeh look at the civil war in Syria and the utter ruthlessness with which it is being waged as a demonstration of what often happens to women and children in civil war situations, the human tragedies that take place, and the way in which perverse ideologies are used to justify violence against women and children.

    But psychological problems are also found in societies that are not at war, and here too the weakest elements are often the victims. Many of these societies find it difficult to talk about these problems, as we see from the discussion about child abuse in Iran.

    For its part, the wealthy West has still not clarified where it stands on the issue of migration; and it seems that a psychological element also comes into play where Islamophobia is concerned. Furthermore, immigrants, particularly those from the Islamic world, often have to deal with very specific psychological problems. The psychologists Meryam Schouler-Ocak, Sigrid Scheifele and Haci-Halil Uslucan demonstrate that a sensitive approach is required, rather than making vocal demands for the unconditional integration and assimilation of immigrants, as right-wing parties in Europe are prone to do.

    Psychological issues and discoveries also have an important role to play in art and literature – sometimes as method, sometimes as subject. The Syrian author Rosa-Yassin Hassan addresses them convincingly in her novel Guardians of the Air, described here by the scholar of literature Stephan Milich. Meanwhile, we find an intricate and ingenious interplay of psychology and perception in an unexpected place: the mosques of Lahore. They contain picture puzzles which teach us that we only see what we think we already know, and what we want to see. In our closing article we attempt to show how we can, nevertheless, look at things with new eyes and in a different way.

    We hope you will agree that this is one of the most fascinating editions of Art & Thought / Fikrun wa Fann to date!

    Stefan Weidner

    Editor-in-Chief
    Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Fikrun wa Fann
    November 2014

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