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Conference Report: Islamic Psychoanalysis / Psychoanalytic Islam

From 26 to 27 June 2017 the College of Psychoanalysts - UK (CP-UK) organised the conference "Islamic Psychoanalysis/ Psychoanalytic Islam" at the University of Manchester. Our associate member (and former Junior Research Fellow in residence) Eva-Maria Tepest, who presented a paper on "(Criticising) Religion as Culture: The Translation of Psychoanalysis Into Contemporary Arab Thought", authored a conference report for the KFG "Multiple Secularities - Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities":

The international conference was organised by the CP-UK with the support of Manchester Psychoanalytic Matrix and CIDRAL (University of Manchester). Participants included scientific researchers as well as practicing psychoanalysts from the UK, Iran, India, Italy and Turkey. There were papers in parallel sessions from England, France, Germany, India, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Turkey and the USA.

Notably, the question of translatability ran through the presentations and discussions. Hence, questions such as: How can Islam and psychoanalysis face the distinct challenge posed by the other? How can we de-colonise psychoanalysis without over-emphasising cultural particularities?  were at the core of this inter-disciplinary conference. 

In her keynote, Amal Treacher Kabesh - while criticising the ‘dovetailing of psychoanalysis with liberal ideologies’ - emphasised the common features of psychoanalysis and Islamic knowledge production. Thus, she argued that both put a focus on enduring aspects of the self and the other, with the psychoanalytic space - much like Islamic prayer - punctuating the day and counter-acting the neoliberal ideology of time efficiency.

Likewise, Gohar Homayounpour, psychoanalyst, training and supervising psychoanalyst of the Freudian Group of Tehran, lecturer at Shahid Beheshti University, and author of the autobiographic novel Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran in her keynote "Islam ... the new modern erotic" addressed both, psychoanalysis and Islam, as incommensurable with neoliberal and capitalist modes of circulation. This was due to their inherent untranslatability, specifically, Islam’s insistence on the untranslatability of the Arabic language and psychoanalysis’ re-writing of the subconscious while acknowledging its status as residue of the human experience that can only be approximated, but never be consumed by language. Her keynote sparked a rich and controversial discussion, with discussants criticising the ‘Arabofetishism’ of Islamic institutions and complicating Homayounpour’s account by pointing towards the fact that most of today’s Muslims are not proficient in Arabic and nevertheless practice a valid translation of Islam. Here, and elsewhere, the (un)translatability of psychoanalysis and Islam pointed towards general questions, as to the distinctions and transgressions between concepts, practices and institutions such as psychoanalysis/religion and religion/the secular. 

This was particularly pronounced in Andrea Mura’s third keynote, "Euro-Islam: Slanted Margins and Deflected Mirrors". Reflecting upon Lacan’s thoughts on religion, he traced Lacan’s argument according to which the expanse of science brought the expanse of religion in its wake. Religion, as a refactory of meaning in times of 'civilisation and its discontents', was but a symptom of the triumph of science. This alliance of science and religion marked modern politics, implying a dangerous and powerful entanglement (e.g., in the context of the so-called war on terror). 

Other presentations focused on specific intersections of psychoanalysis and Islam, or the Islamicate. Nathan Gorelick traced a parallel in Shariati’s and Freud’s understanding of subjectivity, in spite of Shariati's straight-out rejection of Freudianism: He claimed that both Freud in his Group Psychology and Shariati conceptualised a group that transcends the individual anxieties of its constituents. Psychoanalyst Julia Borossa reported her sojourn in Cairo, during which she co-operated with a group of traditional Cairene dream interpreters in analysing the dreams of Cairo’s inhabitants. 

In general, the conference provided valuable case studies and theoretical investigations that could be of interest to the scholars of the KFG "Multiple Secularities - Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities". Specifically, the varied perspectives on the compatibility of Islam and psychoanalysis – ranging from an emphasis on their shared features to the claim of the radical secularity of psychoanalysis-as-science vis-à-vis any kind of religion, or an account of Lacan’s notion of the new ‘triumph of religion’ in the wake of the dominance of modern science – demonstrated that "Islamic psychoanalysis / Psychoanalytic Islam" is a prime field of study for the defining processes of distinction, irritation and conflation between ‘psychoanalysis’, ‘religion’, ‘science’ and the ‘secular’ in the Islamicate world and beyond.

Selected conference papers will soon be published in an edited volume by Karnac Books, London.

Reported by Eva-Maria Tepest