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Johnson, A. (1995). All the Mothers Are One: Stanley N. Kurtz, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, xvii + 306 pp., $49.50 (hardcover), $17.50 (paperback).. Psychoanal. Psychol., 12(3):457-461.

(1995). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 12(3):457-461

All the Mothers Are One: Stanley N. Kurtz, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, xvii + 306 pp., $49.50 (hardcover), $17.50 (paperback).

Review by:
Allen Johnson, Ph.D.

Kurtz opens All the Mothers Are One by telling of his frustrating early attempts in India to discover the essence (i.e., the uniqueness) of the goddess Santoshi Ma. Nonexistent a generation ago, by 1990 her worshippers were legion. But, as Kurtz tried through ethnographic fieldwork to define this “new” goddess, her worshippers often told him the story of a naive farmer who persistently begged a priest to give him an image of god to worship, until the annoyed priest handed him a plain rock just to get rid of him. The farmer worshipped the rock without success until, in despair, he was about to commit suicide. At that moment, the god emerged from the stone, saving him.

The message of the story was that god is everywhere. Kurtz's collaborators were telling him that Santoshi Ma was simply a manifestation of the divinity that is in all things. But Kurtz, like the farmer, concentrated on the rock of Santoshi Ma for much of his fieldwork, before the profound lesson—that all the goddesses are indeed One—finally sank in.

The story makes for a charming introduction to this at times insightful, but more often exasperating, book. The conclusion that Kurtz reached through his struggle to understand what the worshippers of Santoshi Ma were telling him was “that attitudes toward divine mothers, i.e., goddesses, are rooted in childhood attitudes toward human mothers” (p. 8) and that in the Hindu family, children are drawn away from an exclusive attachment to their biological mother toward a generalized connection to a group of motherly women in the extended family. Thus, a core experience of growing up is that “all the mothers are one,” and it is this lived experience that is reflected in Hindu goddess worship.

This conclusion led Kurtz to a critical reexamination of the predominant psychoanalytic view of the Indian family.

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