[Paleopsych] Nextbook; Why are American psychologists wary of transforming your soul?

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Why are American psychologists wary of transforming your soul?
Andrew Heinze makes explicit an unspoken connection.
A gateway to Jewish literature, culture and ideas

    INTERVIEW BY Kristin Eliasberg

    From Freud to Ann Landers, Jewish psychologists and advice columnists
    have been instrumental in shaping the collective American psyche, but
    often took pains to downplay their background. And as a rule,
    historians have avoided examining how the shared heritage of these
    popular thinkers has affected the modern understanding of the self. In
    Jews and the American Soul, Andrew Heinze argues that, whether or not
    they were conscious of it, they share a moral sensibility grounded in
    the Hebrew Bible.
    Why write a book specifically about Jewish psychologists in America?
    To show that Jews in the 20th century were central actors in the
    development of American ideas of the psyche, the soul, human nature,
    and so forth. People have been aware that there are a lot of famous
    Jews--that's not surprising--but even among historians, there's no
    sense that anything distinctively Jewish was conveyed into mainstream
    American thought in such an important area as popular psychology.

    Joseph Jastrow, Alfred Adler, Sigmund Freud, Joyce Brothers, Erich
    You talk about many Jewish figures in psychological thought since the
    1890s. What ties them all together?
    The Jews involved in popularizing psychological ideas tended to say
    things that they had in common but were not shared with non-Jewish
    counterparts. For example, in the early 1900s they reacted much more
    to mainstream ideas about intelligence and the degree to which
    different ethnic groups might have different capacities and
    personality traits. So many were immigrants and were fighting the
    nativists who were using these psychological arguments to shut down
    immigration. The Jewish thinkers seemed to almost have a consensus
    against these hereditarian ideas. And what they said about the most
    basic questions of human nature changed the American conversation.
    Is there one thing they all have in common?
    I would say a Jewish moral perspective--a specific Jewish moral
    sensibility marching into the mainstream culture.
    How would you characterize that perspective?
    In a lot of ways it would overlap with a Christian moral perspective:
    both read the Book of Proverbs, for example, which has moral
    instruction. But it also exists in tension with a Christian moral
    perspective. In the early years of psychology, there were tendencies
    to almost euphoric views about how one can totally transform oneself.
    The Jews didn't jump on that bandwagon; they pulled back and followed
    a more guarded optimism. They didn't subscribe to those notions partly
    because of the Jewish rationalist tradition, but also because they had
    no model like the Christian conversion experience. Especially for
    Protestants, there's a model of complete transformation--the Holy
    Ghost can enter you and purge you of sin. There really wasn't anything
    like that in mainstream Judaism.
    The Jewish approach comes more from the tradition of musar, to keep
    working at moral improvement. It's hopeful, but emphasizes
    self-discipline and emotional self-control. The people I talk about
    emphasized evil, took a slightly darker view about human nature. I
    ascribe that to the basic Jewish historic sensibility--the
    Inquisition, pogroms, the whole history of persecution.
    How do self-proclaimed secularists--[1]Freud, [2]Adler, even [3]Dr.
    Joyce Brothers--fit this mold?
    All of these people grew up in a world which was Jewish in important
    ways. Many of them were immigrants or came from immigrant families;
    some grew up in religious households. It's only after you introduce
    those biographical details that it makes sense: These people were
    raised as Jews. They may have become secular, but it's not like you
    forget your parents or that you went to a Jewish school or studied the
    Bible. What was really interesting with Freud and Adler was that they
    were both fascinated and inspired by the Bible stories that they
    learned in Vienna.
    [4]Joseph Jastrow was one of the first to really write for a mass
    audience--was one of the first radio psychologists, had his own
    newspaper column. Jastrow is a great example of someone projecting his
    own perspective into the public. His father was a Talmudic scholar and
    wrote a [5]dictionary of Talmudic terms that is still in use. He was
    also the brother-in-law to [6]Henrietta Szold. In the secular guise of
    popular psychology Jastrow carried on what rabbis used to do
    traditionally--correspondence with Jews who had questions about how to
    apply Jewish laws, how should you live, the right way to live.
    You've said you had to be very careful not to overreach. Why?
    Well, I could have decided to just write really speculatively, if I
    had just gone out and said, "This is a Jewish idea, that is Jewish,"
    maybe I could have written a best seller. But it was important to make
    a dent in the way that people teach and write about 20th century
    American history. Academics especially can be very wary about any
    ascription of Jewishness to any of these ideas. Even with [7]Erich
    Fromm, who was a yeshiva bocher, Orthodox until he was 20, you
    couldn't make more of a case about how completely Jewishly saturated
    his whole perspective was. Yet somehow no one had ever really
    emphasized that before. Believe me, I have gotten into trouble in
    academic circles for trying to isolate this as a Jewish experience.
    Some people were really bugged about the fact that I was singling out
    [8]David Hollinger pointed out that a persistent inhibition, based on
    the legitimate desire to avoid ethnic stereotyping, has kept scholars
    from investigating the ways in which Jewishness might have figured
    into what intellectuals chose to write and talk about. Put into normal
    language, there's one real good reason to be wary about saying this is
    a Jewish idea and that's a Jewish idea: that was the kind of thing the
    Nazis did. They posited that there is a German or Aryan consciousness
    or mind or soul or psyche and a Jewish one and that they are
    essentially different. Among Jews there is a hesitancy to talk too
    much about Jewish influence. And this is even more true for historians
    who are not themselves Jewish. Those are tricky waters.
    Does this inhibition impede scholarship, or is it a good thing?
    It can be good. For example, when I submitted some portions of the
    book as an essay to The Journal of American History it was intriguing
    to them, because no one had done this before in this way. But they
    also raised serious issues. I was forced to actually prove what I
    thought. But in another instance, the [9]NEH refused my second grant
    application. From the readers' comments, I got the sense some of them
    weren't evaluating the credentials of the project but were going on
    this off-the-cuff feeling that there's nothing Jewish here, why are
    you singling out these Jews?
    You organized a panel at the Scholars' Conference in American Jewish
    History on the "crisis of relevance." What is that crisis?
    Jews will generally come up in courses and texts when it's time to
    talk about the big immigration between the 1870s and the 1920s, the
    same time you talk about the Italians and the Slavs. What I was saying
    is that in several areas of American history, and I single out the
    economy and the growth of American culture and society, Jews have been
    important in shaping the American experience, way out of proportion to
    their numbers. But we know almost nothing about that.
    Why do you think that is?
    The burden of responsibility falls on scholars that are dealing with
    the history of American Jews to make the case--not just talking within
    Jewish intramural circles, but making the case to people who do U.S.
    history in general. The people who do this work need to impress others
    within the field, so that the ways in which Jews were involved in the
    reshaping of American popular culture and intellectual life become
    part of the larger American story, not just something that gets
    recycled every year in the same Jewish venues.
    What's your next project?
    I switched gears completely and decided to move into fiction. I wrote
    a coming-of-age story set in a New Jersey boarding school in the
    1970s. The protagonist is a Jewish boy from a lower-middle-class
    family who attends this elite school on a scholarship and becomes
    involved with boys, and a few girls, from backgrounds very different
    from his own.

    Kristin Eliasberg has written about the law for New York Times, the
    Chicago Tribune, and the Boston Globe.


    2. http://www.alfredadler-ny.org/alfred_adler.htm
    3. http://www.stayhealthy.com/drjoyce/
    4. http://psych.wisc.edu/jastrow.html
    5. http://www.yucommentator.com/main.cfm/include/detail/storyid/474743
    6. http://www.jafi.org.il/education/100/people/bios/soldz.html
    7. http://www.nypl.org/research/chss/spe/rbk/faids/Fromm/frommpart2.html#Bio
    8. http://history.berkeley.edu/faculty/Hollinger/
    9. http://www.neh.fed.us/

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