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Cohen, M. (2015). The Awakened Ones: Phenomenology of Visionary Experience, by Gananath Obeysekere, Columbia University Press, West Sussex, 2012, 644pp.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 75(3):348-350.

(2015). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 75(3):348-350

The Awakened Ones: Phenomenology of Visionary Experience, by Gananath Obeysekere, Columbia University Press, West Sussex, 2012, 644pp.

Review by:
Mariam Cohen, M.D., Psy.D.

Gananath Obeysekere, who is currently professor emeritus of anthropology at Princeton University, began his academic career as an anthropologist in Sri Lanka, where he was born. Most of his previous work has been in-depth and detailed anthropological study of the indigenous people of Southeast Asia, often focusing on religious practices. In books such as The Medusa's Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience and The Work of Culture: Symbolic Transformation in Psychoanalysis and Anthropology, he has delineated how culture and individual psychodynamics intertwine in the religious experiences of individuals, most of whom would be very unfamiliar to most of us.

In this latest (and perhaps he implies, final) work, Obeysekere adds a third factor to the mix, the working of “spirit,” as manifested in the experiences of visionaries, those people who “actually see fantastic scenarios appearing before them” (p. 1) and who have also “brought their visions and intuitive understandings within the frame of rational thinking” (p. 4). Following William James’ model of the varieties of religious experience, Obeysekere looks at visionary experiences across time and geography. He begins with a detailed examination of visionary experiences in Buddhism, digresses into the experiences of the philosopher Nietzsche and of Daniel Paul Schreber (the subject of Freud's work on paranoia), and then expands his phenomenology into discussions of medieval Christian mystics, the visions of William Blake, Madame Blavatsky (of Theosophy), Freud on dreams and Jung's “trance illness,” among others, and winds up with a discussion of the experience of lucid dreaming.

[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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