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De Shong Meador, B. Samuels, A. Singer, T. (2010). Panel: The Transcendent Function in Society. J. Anal. Psychol., 55(2):228-228.

(2010). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 55(2):228-228

Panel: The Transcendent Function in Society

Panel: The Transcendent Function in Society

Betty De Shong Meador, Andrew Samuels, DHL and Thomas Singer, M.D.

The Jungian analysts who participated in the writing of this paper explicitly or implicitly address issues of social and political stasis, retrogression and change via their particular usages of the concept of the transcendent function.

Singer proposes that the transcendent function is a term that is usually applied to individuals in whom symbolic material appears that suggests the reconciling of opposites, leading to psycho-spiritual growth. He also looks at the notion of the transcendent function as it can appear in a similar way in the collective psyche. In addition, he gives attention to the opposite phenomenon—what might be called the descendent function—as it appears in the collective psyche and its leadership, wherein symbolic material can create the division of groups of people into opposites, mobilizing destructive rather than transformative experience.

Meador states that Jung designated the mediating process of assimilating unconscious images and ideas into consciousness as the transcendent function. Just as this synthesizing process can produce insight in the individual, it can also be applied to changes in collective society. Embedded collective assumptions tend to shift when opposites collide, as they did, for example, in the turmoils of the 1960s. Her contribution focuses on the recent revolution in racial and sexual attitudes as the product of a collective struggle between certain ingrained social mores from the past and conflicting new points of view.

Samuels' conclusion is that the concept of the transcendent function has little value with respect to political problems. His contribution focuses on: (i) The limitations of using ideas (such as the transcendent function) derived from analysis with individuals in furtherance of an understanding of social and political phenomena. (ii) The specific problem of a lack of credible psycho-political models for social progress and regress—he argues that the transcendent function is not useful in this regard. (iii) The question of political aggression, violence and conflict in society is explored from the standpoint of the transcendent function so as to investigate its possible role in the management of political conflict. Samuels severely criticizes what he terms ‘triangulation’ and ‘hyper-reflection’ on the part of analysts who engage with political debates and issues. (iv) Leadership is examined from the standpoint of the transcendent function which, again, does not seem pertinent. Rather, new discoveries in family psychology about the role of the father have greater possibilities as a basis for new thinking about leadership.

[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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