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Abella, A. (2018). Can psychoanalysis contribute to the understanding of fundamentalism? An introduction to a vast question. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 99(3):642-664.

(2018). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 99(3):642-664

Interdisciplinary Studies

Can psychoanalysis contribute to the understanding of fundamentalism? An introduction to a vast question

Adela Abella

During the past 20 years, religious and political fundamentalism has produced a number of barbaric terrorist attacks which have strongly shaken public opinion in the Western world. Can psychoanalysis contribute to the understanding of the unconscious functioning of these fundamentalist groups? The different presentations of fundamentalism and the various hypotheses concerning its origins and aims are discussed. Should fundamentalism be understood mainly as a means for strengthening the sense of identity, as a search for power, or as a refuge in certainty? When trying to understand these phenomena, are there any pitfalls a psychoanalyst should beware of? The slippery ground of applied analysis is discussed, as well as some dangers specific to this issue, such as reductionism, theoretical hyper-saturation, wild speculative over-interpretation, and emotional/ethnocentric biases. Whereas there is general inter-field agreement concerning the absence of obvious psychopathology or of a typical sort of personality in the members of fundamentalist groups, the major contribution of psychoanalysis might be to the understanding of the particular ways in which an individual appropriates a given ideology and the weight of group dynamics. On less slippery ground, detailed clinical material is used in order to illustrate both the defensive value of a fundamentalist position taken by an adolescent and the intervention of fundamentalism in everyday psychoanalytical societies. Particularly relevant issues are suggested to be narcissism and the structuring role of relationships with the others.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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