Paper Short Abstract:
The Jewish Chasidic "hitbodedut" practice - secluded meditative prayer - is explored from the perspective of psychoanalytic object relations theory, conceiving of the practice as a literal "meeting" of the internal God object. Important implications for anthropology are discussed.
Paper long abstract:
The remarkable explanatory power of psychoanalysis is based on its understanding of the human personality as undergoing development and transformation, the most essential domain of which is the relationship between self and other. Object relations theory, an important subfield within psychoanalysis, proposes that the counterpart of each such relationship - parent, teddy bear, friend, enemy, country, the breast, etc. - is represented by an intrapsychic object. The object relational contribution to bridge-building between psychoanalysis and religion has been to posit a God object that the ego enters into relationship with, undergoing development and transformation over time.
Following the psychoanalytic approach to anthropology, I apply such ideas to illuminate various aspects of the Breslov Jewish Chasidic group in Safed, northern Israel. Based on material collected from over a year of ethnographic work, I seek to give an object relational perspective on the practice of "hitbodedut" - secluded meditative prayer, involving the practitioner engaging in a vocalised conversation with God as with an ordinary human being.
The specific form that the conversation takes is dependent on the specifics of the practitioner's relationship with their God object. The entire practice, therefore, may be understood as the practitioner literally invoking and meeting that God object. The importance of this material lies in its illustration of the explanatory power of the psychoanalytic approach to anthropology.
Moral highground? Magic, witchcraft and spiritual encounters