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close this bookThe Self and the Other: Sustainability and Self-Empowerment (WB, 1996, 76 p.)
close this folderCulture and development
close this folderPanel discussion
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentApproaching the issue of religion
View the documentPsychoanalysis in Eastern Europe
View the documentWomen in Egypt: Education and modernity
View the documentBrazil and Guatemala: The culture of violence and the culture of hope
View the documentDiscussion


During the panel discussion chaired by Afaf Mahfouz, a historian, a psychoanalyst, a professor of literature, and a sociologist expressed their perspectives.

Mohamed Arkoun focused on the general lack of knowledge regarding the world's religions and their role in shaping history. John Kafka discussed psychoanalysis in Eastern Europe within the context of environmentally sustainable development. Hoda El-Sadda related her experiences in her native Egypt of the influence of the Western model of education on Egyptian schools and that of the Western paradigm of modernity on the women of the country. Finally Shelton H. Davis discussed his experiences with the indigenous people of Brazil and Guatemala of the relationship between "the culture of violence" and "the culture of hope."

Approaching the issue of religion

Mohamed Arkoun, Universite la Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris III

I would like to bring the religious aspect of the issues we are discussing to your attention. When we speak about the enormous problems of development, sustainable or nonsustainable, we assume that the religious issue is known and is something that can assist the development process. We can always turn toward religion to bring back a culture that promotes peace. Many people have been linking peace with religion and have been trying to bring back God since his death was proclaimed at the end of the nineteenth century by a great philosopher and by many philosophers after that.

Violence makes truth work in society. After it is established through violence, truth becomes sacred and legitimate - Mohamed Arkoun

Realistic appraisal of the limitations imposed by the environment helps determine the appropriate psychoanalytic treatment of individuals - John Kafka

The history of various religions is taught in several Western universities, although religious doctrines are often juxtaposed more than they are analyzed from an anthropological perspective. However, this subject is still absent, neglected, or presented in terms of heresies in several universities recently created in the Muslim world. We are ignorant of the teachings of the world's religions and of the phenomenon of religion as that which has driven the entire history of humanity and all human sciences. We still approach religion through theological systems developed to enhance a sense of orthodoxy in each community. We do not approach it in a manner that establishes ways to make this universal phenomenon more intelligible to those of us who speak about it in ignorance.

Why don't we have time to consider this issue, which is bringing violence back into human life in a very unexpected way? Violence is a dimension of human life. There is a deep universal relationship among three concepts that has not been considered in our scholarship as it should have been. These concepts are violence, sacredness, and truth. My contention is that throughout history no proposition about truth has been uttered by a human being without being enforced through the use of violence. Violence makes truth work in society. After truth is established through violence, it becomes sacred and legitimate. Intellectuals, theologians, philosophers, and political scientists are among those who find strategies to legitimize the violence that is the starting point of what we call truth.

We should not continue to focus on Islamic fundamentalism as if Islam were the only religion that generated this pattern of religious expression. We should pay attention to other expressions of Islam. There is a liberal Islam, and there is even a radical scientific and intellectual criticism of Islamic reason.

Psychoanalysis in Eastern Europe

John Kafka, Washington
Psychoanalytic Institute

What can an analyst contribute to this discussion? Analytical thinking can be brought into it on many levels, but the most immediate contribution analysts can make is to share the experience they have derived from clinical practice. Analysts spend a lot of time with one person.

I am struck by the phrase environmentally sustainable development because this concept is something analysts face continuously in individual psychoanalytic practice: not what is eventually the ideal outcome, but what is manageable. What can the sustainable development of the individual be in the environment in which he or she lives? Realistic appraisal of the limitations imposed by the environment helps determine the appropriate psychoanalytic treatment of individuals, just as realistic appraisal of the environment helps determine appropriate approaches to social and economic problems.

The situation in Eastern Europe in some ways differs significantly from the situations psychoanalysts have dealt with elsewhere. In Eastern Europe there is tremendous enthusiasm for the further development of psychoanalysis, and a great deal of time is being spent on it. As the world of psychoanalysis opens up, there is a tremendous hunger to learn more about the field. When I attended a conference on psychoanalysis in Romania, I reamed that some of the participants from Eastern European countries had traveled four days and nights on the train to be there. The practice of psychoanalysis also expanded significantly in Germany after World War II. It was one way of trying to deal with what had happened.

I would like to link psychoanalysis in Eastern Europe with the concept of environmentally sustainable development. In Eastern Europe individuals who have not had access to full psychoanalytic training have managed to obtain partial training. They use their skills in a very creative way to adapt the approaches they use in psychoanalytic treatment to the emotional climate in which their patients have lived. In several Eastern European countries analysts cannot talk to patients about certain aspects of family relations because these patients are still too frightened and suspicious, and they do not yet have sufficient trust in the analysis. Analysts can, however, talk to individuals about their dreams. Things are changing rapidly. In much of Eastern Europe we see a recapitulation of the way psychoanalysis developed in other parts of the world. In the West, too, psychoanalytic dream interpretation arguably had earlier and broader acceptance than the idea that the relationship between patient and analyst mirrors important aspects of the patient's early relationship to parental figures.

Lying has become a significant part of the culture in Eastern Europe. I would like to summarize a case history from a count try that reveals among other things to what extent lying was accepted and was not problematic or in conflict with the individual's self-image. In psychoanalytic language this lying was egosyntonic.

A child was referred to treatment at the age of eight because her behavior was nearly psychotic. Among other things she bit other children. Her adoptive parents were opposed to sending the child to any kind of treatment, but she convinced them to do so by eating a rat. The child's biological parents had been killed in an automobile accident while she was nursing at her mother's breast. She was found starving many hours later, still at her mother's breast, and was sent to an orphanage in which there was one person who was friendly to the child; the conditions otherwise were horrible. The friendly person became pregnant and left the orphanage. The child was adopted at the age of five.

The couple wanted to adopt a child because their fifteen-year-old son had just died of leukemia. Their house was full of pictures of the son. This is where the lie comes in, and it is something that is hard to imagine. The parents told their adopted daughter that they were her biological parents and that she had been sent to the orphanage because they had to take care of their sick son. This is the environment into which the child came.

One of the major problems that arose during treatment of the child was convincing the parents that living with this lie was not in the best interests of the family nor of the troubled child. Under totalitarian regimes there are families in which honesty exists within the family and is clearly differentiated from the lying outside the family that may be necessary for survival. More commonly, however, the pervasiveness of lying contaminates most, if not all, relationships. In the case of this child the psychoanalytic therapist's understanding of the parents' socially influenced "egosyntonicity" of lying facilitated the achievement of a crucial change.

The child told the therapist that the reason she had eaten the rat was "to feed the dog inside her," and she wanted help getting rid of the dog. After that disclosure the therapist insisted that the parents tell the child the truth. Doing so resulted in a remarkable change in the child, who went through a period of severe depression and then gradually learned to trust not only her therapist but also, to some extent, her adoptive parents. I have not described many aspects of the child's treatment that were literally lifesaving.

Under totalitarian regimes there are families in which honesty exists within the family and is c/early differentiated from the lying outside the family that may tee necessary for survival - John Kafka

Even after liberation we saw ourselves in the mirror of the West. In fact when we talk about the self, we are actually talking about otherness. We are the other; and we continue to define ourselves as the other - Hoda El-Sadda

Women in Egypt: Education and modernity

Hoda El-Sadda, Cairo University

Especially in developing countries women have compelling problems, including economic difficulties. We have always been told that our problems are not very important compared to the crucial issue of liberation from colonialism and economic dependency. I would like to follow my professional bias and tell you about two Egyptian women. One story is about me, and the other is about one of the precursors of the women's movement in Egypt named Malak Hifni Nassef, whom very few people remember.

I would also like to comment on the word modernity, which is the subject of an ongoing debate, and I would like to link it to what has been said about development. The videos we saw attempt to analyze what went wrong in the South. In "Culture and Development" Ismail Serageldin was correct when he suggested that the situation in the South is the result of the implementation of an inappropriate development paradigm. I will tell you about an inappropriate modernity paradigm.

I belong to the liberation generation. I did not live through colonialism, and I went to an Egyptian language school. In school we were told that we had to practice speaking English at all times, and we paid a plaster if we spoke Arabic during our breaks.

I later majored in English literature at Cairo University, where I now teach. The English department was modeled after the departments of English language and literature at Oxford and Cambridge. The department's use of their syllabus, which was written in the 1930s for native speakers of English, was guided by the strange assumption that Egyptian students had already mastered the English language before attending the university. The problem was that most of the students in the English department at Cairo University did not speak English well, and they had a problem with the syllabus. They had to adapt to a system that assumed they could read Shakespeare in the first year.

In my current teaching position I have two problems with my students. First, I have students who prefer to write poems in English, although they cannot spell most of the words correctly. Second, I have students who do not want to learn anything about English culture while they are learning the English language. They only want to learn the language, the practical part, and they refuse to comprehend the meaning and cultural context of the works of Shakespeare or other English writers.

The effect of the colonial experience on the people in the South was accurately shown in the videos we saw. This experience resulted in a terrible phenomenon: Even after liberation we saw ourselves in the mirror of the West. In fact when we talk about the self, we are actually talking about otherness. We are the other, and we continue to define ourselves as the other. We in the South have accepted all the false assumptions that Mr. Serageldin talked about in "Culture and Development" concerning the dichotomy between the West and the East, between modernity and tradition, and between progress and the status quo. The people who adhered to tradition did so on the assumption that it was the cultural status quo and had to be preserved. The modern state adopted a Western paradigm of modernity, assuming that this was the only paradigm that would enable it to accomplish any kind of progress.

A third paradigm could have been formulated if there had been an attempt to assimilate, digest, and rethink the essence of progress rather than opting for reproducing the superficial structures of a ready-made Western model. This paradigm could have been deeply rooted in tradition. It would have focused on cultural strengths and would have revitalized cultural weaknesses.

Some of Malak Hifni Nassef's ideas fall into this third paradigm, which is a challenge to my generation and to what we are trying to do at this seminar. Nassef lived during the early years of the twentieth century. A student of Mohammed Abdou, one of the greatest religious reformers in Egypt, she was disturbed by the abrupt changes that were occurring in the lives of Egyptian women. All of a sudden women were asked to take off their veils and adopt modern dress because this was the only way they could enter the modern world. Nassef was opposed to this. She said, "Don't talk about the veil. Let's talk about education and then leave it to women to decide what they want to do and what they want to wear." In her writings she said that Western dress did not signify progress or modernity and that tight clothes were not good for women's health. She wrote about the distinction between different types of dress because at that time it was very topical to talk about what women wore.

We have never developed this third paradigm and therefore we are back where we started. We must find a different kind of modernity paradigm.

Brazil and Guatemala: The culture of violence and the culture of hope

Shelton H. Davis, World Bank

I have an Americanist perspective on the issues raised at this conference. I am not only a North American, but I have also spent many years doing anthropological research in Latin America, especially Brazil and Guatemala.

The distinction or conflict between modernity and tradition may not constitute the parameters of the issues we are discussing. I would argue that the relationship between the "culture of violence" and the "culture of hope" is the issue at stake. This was very clear in the video "The South Slope of Liberty." Historically, the culture of violence has been represented by colonialism and by the various forms of fascism and racism that have occurred throughout the twentieth century. If anything the twentieth century has represented the culture of violence.

But the culture of hope, as seen in the video, embodies the idea of human solidarity as it is expressed politically through democracy, which is very much on the rise. With the rise of democracy and nongovernmental organizations- or associationalism-and the flowering of civic society at the end of the twentieth century, we are entering the twenty-first century with a culture of hope rather than a culture of violence.

With the rise of democracy and nongovernmental organizations- or associationalism- and the flowering of civic society, we are entering the twenty-first century with a culture of hope rather than a culture of violence -Shelton H. Davis

We cannot have the self without the other. The reason the other has become so important has in large part to do with colonialism - Henri Parens

Two experiences I have had in Latin America have made this clear to me. First, I spent a great deal of time in Brazil in the 1970s researching the effects of economic development in the Amazon on the Indian tribes of that country. One of the people I had the honor of meeting in the state of Mato Grosso, and from whom I reamed a great deal, was a Catholic bishop named Dom Pedro Casadaliga. In his book I Believe in Justice and in Hope Casadaliga contrasted the experience of living on the frontier in Brazil, where indigenous people and poor rural peasants were being displaced by violence, with the hope for social justice and change that had emerged among the poor Christian base communities in the country.! He was one of the founders of the theology or philosophy of liberation in Latin America. As a result of their relationship with the Catholic Church the indigenous people and the peasants of Brazil adopted this theology of liberation, using their religious faith, spiritual beliefs, and social values as sources for solidarity and change.

Second, during the early 1980s 1 worked with a number of fellow anthropologists to draw attention to the violence that was being unleashed on the Mayan Indians of Guatemala in a counterinsurgency campaign. In the spring of 19951 returned to Guatemala on a mission for the World Bank and visited Alta Verapaz, where the Kekchi (Kekchispeaking Mayan Indians) live. Kekchi is one of the Mayan languages. In Alta Verapaz there had been extensive violence, and many indigenous Mayan communities had been uprooted. A broad-based social movement has arisen among the Kekchi to rebuild their society. Tens of thousands of the Kekchi people are involved in this movement, which has nothing to do with the national politics of Guatemala or the international politics of Central America. It is a movement of local cultural rebuilding.

The importance of preserving the Kekchi language and the rediscovery of Kekchi spirituality by resuming to the traditions of the ancient people drive this movement. Both of these factors are closely linked to the relationship between the Kekchi people and the earth where they live. It is in these kinds of experiences that the tension between the culture of violence and the culture of hope is expressed.


A discussion chaired by Afaf Mahfouz followed the presentations of the panel.

Henri Parens, Jefferson Medical College

We in developmental psychoanalysis know that the existence of the self and the other are intimately interwoven. We cannot have the self without the other. The reason the other has become so important has in large part to do with colonialism.

I would like to direct this comment to Hoda El-Sadda. It is very touching and meaningful that you in the South became the other, not yourselves, as a result of the colonial experience. Outside the context of colonialism we would explain this phenomenon as identifying with the other. If the other is strong or has an element of power over us, we identify with that other. This process is inherent in the parent-child relationship. The child needs to identify with the parent, or the other, and the development of the self is intimately tied to that identification. This type of identification takes place under a variety of conditions and can include identification with an aggressor, a situation in which the victim becomes like the aggressor.

John Kafka

I would like to clarify what I meant by the egosyntonicity of lying when I was referring to people in Eastern Europe who survived only by lying was so much a part of the culture that these people could live only by lying Some families managed to speak the truth in their homes, where a lot could be said, but it was very dangerous to do so.

Even today in Eastern Europe the boundaries of the situations in which people have to lie and those in which they can afford not to lie are in flux. We encounter this situation wherever people are emerging from a culture of suppression. They hunger to be able to talk freely without checking if there is a microphone hidden under the couch.

Mohamed Arkoun

All ideologies develop a special vision of the past to fit the identity of each social group, community, or nation. For this reason national religious historiographies are suspect and have to be looked at critically. Political and religious orthodoxies are constructed through time to support the "glory of the nation" against "enemies," or the "true religion" against "heresies." Orthodoxies such as these represent collective lies.

Nagat EI-Sanabary, Gender Ed Consulting Services

I appreciated and related to Hoda ElSadda's comments about the education system in Egypt. I also attended an Egyptian school but unlike her I went to an Arabic public school. I was also a student in the English department at Cairo University. I did not have a problem with the syllabus. I did extremely well in Shakespeare and in all the other subjects I studied, and they fascinated me. However, I felt alienated from my Oxford-educated Egyptian professors and their condescending attitude toward the students. They presumed that we understood the cultural context of the literature we were reading, thus adding to the alienation of the students who had been educated in Egyptian Arabic schools.

Education in developing countries has created two cultures. There are people in these societies who have no way of relating to one another because minority elite groups are trying to impose their realities on the masses, while the masses are worried about their daily lives, their basic survival needs.

Today the elite in a number of countries have a problem with their own cultural identities, as they identify more with Western culture than with their own cultures, but many are unaware that they have this problem.

Hoda El-Sadda

Mohamed Arkoun said that the way we retell history is a problem. The exclusion of women and other groups is an issue. There is an attempt to marginalize women's voices. At least one of the things that can be done is to begin a process of inclusion.

The feminist movement in Egypt was allied with the national movement for liberation. Feminists in Egypt gained their strength through their alliance with the liberation movement. The assumption that there was a distinction between the two movements is false.

Education in developing countries has created two cultures. Minority elite groups are trying to impose their realities on the masses, while the masses are worried about their basic survival needs - Nagat El-Sanabary

People often identify with those who have more power. However, if that power is not shared with them or does not benefit them, they may become frustrated, hostile, and violent - Gloria J. Davis

Gloria J. Davis, World Bank

Culture and perception are linked. Culture is a life-simplification process. People cannot deal with all the complex information they receive, so behavior is culturally patterned and the patterns that emerge are largely unconscious. As psychologists and anthropologists we understand that people often identify with those who have more power. However, if that power is not shared with them or does not benefit them, they may become frustrated, hostile, and violent. They may become angry and rebel. We saw this in the video "The South Slope of Liberty."

As an applied anthropologist I ask: Given our understanding of culture and psychology, what would we do differently to change the way we carry out the development process? We have not had enough time at this seminar to reach a consensus on which principles should guide us. But in light of your understanding of behavior, I invite all of you in psychoanalysis and other disciplines to advise us at the World Bank concerning the changes that should be made in the development process.

Afaf Mahfourz

This is what we are planning to do, even though the challenge is great because the holistic approach is always complex and difficult. Today we can only take one small introductory step. Then it is up to you at the World Bank to decide if you want to continue down this road with us. I think it would be useful to do so.

Bahgat Elnadi

The need to preserve cultural identity is being used by politicians in developing countries as a reason for refusing to carry out democratic change. A kind of cultural fundamentalism is growing in many countries today. In the name of cultural identity the supporters of this cultural fundamentalism refuse to promote any kind of change in their cultures and are therefore enhancing the power of religious fundamentalists. We must use the concept of cultural identity with great care.