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Akhtar, S. (1997). All The Mothers Are One: Hindu India And The Cultural Reshaping Of Psychoanalysis. By Stanley N. Kurtz. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, 306 pp., $45.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 45:1014-1019.

(1997). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 45:1014-1019

All The Mothers Are One: Hindu India And The Cultural Reshaping Of Psychoanalysis. By Stanley N. Kurtz. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, 306 pp., $45.00.

Review by:
Salman Akhtar

Stanley Kurtz has written an ambitious book. He begins with an ethnographic quest for understanding the recent emergence of a new goddess, Santoshi Ma, in India. This esoteric focus becomes a preamble to a farreaching agenda. Discovering that the specificity of his interest puzzles his Hindu interviewees—since they regard all goddesses as basically one and the same—Kurtz turns to unmasking the fundamental source of this amalgamated maternal imago. In his view, that source is to be found in the nature of Hindu child rearing, which exposes the growing child to more than one maternal object: “Hindu mothering is multiple mothering” (p. 104). The incomplete distinction between various goddesses in the Hindu pantheon and between various maternal figures in a Hindu child's mind contributes to the layered meaning of the book's title.

Not content with this leap from anthropological observations regarding Hindu mythology to psychoanalytic speculations about modal child rearing in India, Kurtz moves on to propose a psychosocial developmental scheme characteristic for Hindus. He contrasts it with the preoedipal and oedipal phases of personality development in the West. Kurtz tries to illustrate the vicissitudes of this developmental line with material borrowed from psychoanalysts with clinical experience in India. He then discusses the stalemate between psychoanalysis and anthropology, as well as the culturally anchored aspects of psychoanalytic theory in general. For Kurtz, “psychoanalysis is essentially a Western theory, based on Western norms and rooted in a particular moment of European and American history” (p. 246). He sees the transport of the developmental norms implicit in psychoanalytic theory to starkly different situations as intellectual colonialism. It is in seeking to correct this tendency and create a typically Indian psychoanalysis (p. 179) that the book comes by its subtitle: Hindu India and the Cultural Reshaping of Psychoanalysis.

Clearly, I cannot address all the aspects of this wide-ranging book in a brief review. I will leave its mythological discourse aside (for comments on that, see Lidz 1993), since Kurtz himself treats it as largely an entry point into less ethereal matters. Instead I will focus on the book's delineation of child rearing and character formation in India.

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