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Meissner, W.W. (1994). The Analyst and the Mystic. Psychoanalytic Reflections on Religion and Mysticism: By Sudhir Kakar. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991. 83 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 63:162-164.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 63:162-164

The Analyst and the Mystic. Psychoanalytic Reflections on Religion and Mysticism: By Sudhir Kakar. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991. 83 pp.

Review by:
W. W. Meissner

Any psychoanalytically based study that contributes to our deepening understanding of human religious experience is most welcome. The current offering is no exception, although it must be admitted that the nut the author chooses to crunch is particularly tough. Mysticism remains one of those realms of human experience that reaches beyond the ordinary boundaries of human capacity, and both challenges and frustrates the efforts of psychological systems to encompass and render an intelligible account of it.

Kakar is no stranger to this obscure realm. And he comes to it well equipped. He is a native Indian who practices psychoanalysis in New Delhi. He is also a training analyst in the Indian Psychoanalytical Society and has served as a visiting professor in the Psychology Department and at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. His previous publications include the book, Shamans, Mystics and Doctors. His argument is steeped in the material pertaining to the life and experience of the object of his study—the great nineteenth century Bengali Hindu mystic, Sri Ramakrishna—and he seems to know his subject well. The approach is solidly psychoanalytic and reflects his serious and intensive focus on his subject matter. The result is a penetrating and thought-provoking study.

Ramakrishna is a particularly appealing subject for the inquiring psychoanalyst. Not only is he one of the preeminent mystics of his time, but he has a historic connection with psychoanalysis. At the time of his writing to Freud in 1927, Romain Rolland was immersed in writing his biography of Ramakrishna. His objections to the religious views Freud expressed in The Future of an Illusion led to their now classic debate over the concept of the "oceanic feeling" that Rolland proposed as the basic religious affect. The term may well have come from Ramakrishna's metaphoric descriptions of the ineffable in his ecstatic experiences.

This slender volume is divided into three chapters.

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