Danesh, H. B. 1994 The Psychology of Spirituality.
Dr Hossain Danesh has been contributing to the world's discussions on peace, and on the violence-free society, on marriage and the family, through books and broadcasts. His approach combines his training and practice in psychiatry with his commitment to the Bahá'í Faith: he was elected to the Secretary-Generalship of the community in Canada, having been professor in the University of Ottawa.
The present book draws on both traditions to present, in the author's words, 'an integrated and comprehensive framework for understanding ourselves and our behaviour'. At this level of description, this does not distinguish the book from shelves of popular books in your local bookshop.
What might differentiate it could be the case-based nature of Dr Danesh's format, his direct-to-the-reader style in drawing from his personal experiences as physician and psychiatrist; but above all from his own spiritual quest.
Each of the cases is used to illustrate and advance the argument: the first is that of 'Carol' and how she coped with her cancer in the face of mechanistic medics led to a more aware and purposeful approach to life as she prepared for her own death. From a discussion of her experience, the author draws out a consideration of how body and mind interact, existence after death, and how ancient philosophy and more modern psychoanalysis have dealt with these eternal concerns. In modern times, he says with some justification, the psyche-as-soul has been rather embarrassedly dropped from psychology/psychiatry.
Some indeed have relished the breaking of the link: those who see organisms, including humans, as just gene machines; others see man as no more than an element in an economic system. Danesh's style is rather rushed, as he tries to fit the whole of intellectual history into the allotted few pages, before we move to the next stage of his case. This is a consideration of self and soul. This section struck me as a missed opportunity: within psychology, there has recently been much thought and research on the nature and experience of the self, in ways which, I am sure that Danesh would have approved had he come across it. And it is easily and readily accessible in any academic library, so he should have done. More is the pity that he did not, for this literature could benefit from being further developed and challenged by a more spiritual dimension.
Similarly, throughout the book, there are other missed opportunities, to link an existing and well-researched topic – e.g. pain, consciousness, etc - with the author's main thrust. If one wishes to produce and defend one's argument, then one should at least know where the other participants are. They may not all be enemies! As a consequence, the overall flavour of the book is rather indefinite and hand-wavy: it need not have been so, had Danesh done his homework.
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