03 May 2021

Walter Capps—Erikson, Psychohistory, Worldview

Walter Capps
"Erik Erikson's Contribution Toward Understanding Religion"
in Ideas and Identities: The Life and Work of Erik Erikson (1998)
ed. Wallerstein and Goldberger
pp. 67-78
were the primary Erikson insight writ large, one could make a compelling case that the religious traditions themselves can be approached as extensions and exemplifications of the lives—indeed, the biographies—of their founders. (69)
And in a footnote to a related passage:
In making this suggestion, I wish to call attention to the fact that psychohistorical analyses have been applied to Western figures rather exclusively, and not to representatives of Asian religious and/or cultural traditions.
This is quite an allegation from a scholar who throughout this article appears exceptionally well-read. But perhaps by "psychohistory" he refers to the narrow circle of assembled disciplines rather than to general scholarship.

As for the former excerpt, the sentiment is at once essential and superfluous. Of course any abstraction of a social institution is ultimately populated by real people living their lives; but of course there are often enough of them to choose from that achieving an adequate sample rate is quite a challenge.

Also related:
Perhaps the most profoundly religious factor of all is that, in so many ways, like the equations he studied, the psychoanalyst came to embody the insights he had identified. That is, his study of the human life cycle was reflected in his own stage-by-stage journey through life. (75)
And so besides sample rate, there is the general issue of judgment: who to study and how to study them. Each religion furnishes its own criteria, of course, but then comparison becomes the bugaboo.

Even so, this "profoundly religious factor" leading to "embod[iment] of the insights he had identified" is a beautiful idea. Lots of artists aspire to it, and many more claim to have achieved it than seems plausible. But then, what IS art?! Perhaps they HAVE found its essence and have come to embody it, thereby becoming completely insufferable and self-absorbed!
The adoption of a worldview is not something that is done mechanically, as if one simply selects an "ism," a philosophy, or a religion from within a set of possibilities... Rather, the adoption of a worldview involves highly selective, synthetic, constructive work in which a large set of differentiable, temperamental, and dispositional factors come into play, a large portion of which are probably never brought into full cognizance. Indeed, if one wanted to put this insight into formula, one would say that Immanuel Kant's now famous "apriori/synthetic judgments" are implicit in worldview construction, and much that is assigned to apriori status is of a psychological or, more exactly, psychogenic nature.

Here Erikson can be credited with two very significant accomplishments. First, he recognized all of this to be the case, that is, that worldview construction involves the interdependent coordination of these various elements. Second, in some specific instances, he identified how the construction—or, better, the composition—came into formation. Clearly, here as elsewhere in Erikson's observations, a strong aesthetic element is present. Worldview construction, like the formation of personality, is thoroughly compositional. It is composed and stylized, as are cultures, as are personalities. (71-72)
Yes! And I think it is clear, though not explicitly stated here, that the act of "composition" is the act of an AGENT. One can more easily and profitably distinguish the conscious/unconscious here than the intentional/unintentional. It is all intentional in some sense!

[from a notebook, 2017]

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