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  • Cultural Psychology from Within
  • Sthaneshwar Timalsina (bio)
Spirituality and Indian Psychology: Lessons from the Bhagavad-Gita. By Dharm P. S. Bhawuk. International and Cultural Psychology series. London and New York: Springer, 2011. Pp. xxvi + 235. $159.97, isbn 978-1-441-98109-7.

Waiting for food, I was enjoying the events seen from the corner of a restaurant in Bengaluru. My attention focused on a child giving a high-five to his father when his team bagged a wicket. Though the family was speaking in their native language, the body language of the four-year-old child was entirely Western. His way of expressing surprise, happiness, or frustration, his hand gestures to explain the events, and his eye movements, all had been Westernized. Speaking in colonial terms, the child was civilized and even had a language to express his emotions and feelings.

Against the backdrop of the perennialist hypothesis that emotions are universal, the constructive approach maintains that emotions are culture-sensitive, and with this approach it becomes possible to make a case that culture plays a significant role in shaping human experience. It becomes possible to argue against this backdrop that psychology, both personal and social, needs to engage indigenous approaches, as these ground the way cultures express their experiences. Minimal work has been done in engaging Indian and other non-Western perspectives that could create a multi-pronged approach to address issues in the humanities or the social sciences. Just as Dharm Bhawuk notes in the first paragraph of Spirituality and Indian Psychology: Lessons from the Bhagavad-Gita (SIP), the consequence is that the psychology of 1 percent of humanity has been applied to the rest of the world. One of the central claims of SIP is that the Western emic has been presented as etic, and under the guise of science the experiences and theories of the West have been imprinted upon the cultural body of the non-West. The author believes that something genuinely universal can be discovered, but the approach needs to be corrected to create a global platform that embodies indigenous theories, gender theories, or any other perspective, for that matter. This is not a voice for giving the emic a privilege, nor is this the culmination of the postmodern dilemma of the demise of the truth. On the contrary, this is a call for the correction of the path that has a cultural prejudice in both its roots and its fruits.

Examples abound. Freudian psychoanalysis is considered a universal theory, for instance. The confessional approach adopted in modern psychotherapy secularizes [End Page 1281] and universalizes the underlying Christian assumption of confession and redemption. The problems are not just in psychology, though. Religion, politics, literary theories, aesthetics, or any other mode of human experience examined in the gaze of scientific investigation has emerged in the platform that is theoretically either problematic or incomplete. As a consequence, today’s social theories have barely solved any human problems. On the contrary, they have caused problems and institutionalized war and genocide. In the Foucauldian paradigm, this poverty of perspectives can be interpreted in terms of the productive capacity of power, and along these lines the imposition of the Western emic, by means of the productive capacity of power, has produced and dominated the discourse on knowledge, sexuality, and subjectivity. This has paralyzed the non-Western processes of thinking, consequently altering human experiences altogether. A poignant example is the case study of the writings of Sudhir Kakar. His writings uniquely portray the ways the Western emics are imprinted in the psyche of the modern intelligentsia, a residual side-effect of the colonial project. According to the reading of Kakar by Alan Roland:

Indians thus emerge in Kakar’s analysis as having an underdeveloped ego, that is, in not having the independent, self-reliant, self-directing ego of Western individualism; lacking in rational, logical secondary process thinking, another hallmark value of individualism; as having vague emotional boundaries between self and other with much less of the self-other demarcation that is also characteristic of individualism; and as having a weak conscience or superego because of looking to others for following highly contextual ethical norms rather than having the categorical...


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pp. 1281-1285
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