Olga Louchakova-Schwartz writes about her experience interviewing international experts and psychological theory’s emancipatory potential in cross-cultural settings.

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Map of the world

In 2019, I stepped in to facilitate our divisions’ participation in the CODAPAR interdivisional grant, obtained by Merry Bullock from Div. 52, to create a series of video-interviews with colleagues abroad. The idea was to highlight how this or that type of psychology “incarnates” in particular cultural contexts. This project now is in its final stages. Director’s cuts of the interviews can be seen online and underscored  an interesting aspect in our seemingly very theoretical, i.e., potentially abstracted from pragmatics, discipline—in cultural context, mediated by living people with their live-through pragmatic relevances and tasks, theory acquires a powerful practical dimension going far beyond its clinical uses. This statement is, of course, a triviality—however,  hearing how psychologists in Chile, England, and South Africa use philosophical psychological concepts to impact the orientation of power structures in their countries, how they put theory at work  to better the human condition makes one pause and think, you know, think about the emancipatory purpose and the used or missed possibilities of one’s professional life.

And so,  I bring the lessons of interviews into our community. The link between the theory of psychology, the theory of human consciousness, behavior, identity, and knowledge, appears dry at times. We do make an impact via the input into the APA policies, our participation in APA’s convention, and the division itself (kudos to Fred Wertz,  Scott Churchill, and Mary Beth Morissey this year). But what would be our ways to positively impact the psychology communities abroad? And do we even need to rise this agenda? Here is another observation: When preparing for the interviews, I asked Thomas Theo, who has a broader engagement within our field than do myself, a phenomenologist,  to help me to find the potential interview responders. All those who responded—a Chilean, a Brit, a South African—were from the “coasts.” By contrast, recently I had to review a very well written theoretical paper from the heart of central Europe. The paper was on the clinical dimensions of religious experience in contexts of psychosis and health, and the related issues of the stability of the ego: the author, an established philosopher, was phenomenologically counterpunching Freud. And while writing the author back a list of references from our bank of humanistic, existential, Jungian, spiritual/religious psychological theories,  I realized that these somehow never reached the clinical jungles of central Europe, or if they did, they were never “mainstreamed”. The whole approach was Flemming (a name of a popular German crime TV series which features a forensic psychoanalyst detective of the same name). Not that one thinks of three people as a representative sample, but involuntary geopolitical analogies are hard to escape.

To counteract the Flemming-effect, it would be good to have a substantial theoretical dialogue, a low cost post-COVID-19 option provided by the Internet. I tried this format in the Society for the Phenomenology of Religious Experience just recently in a two day webinar on Pandemics and Reason which attracted people from seven countries (Todd DuBoise gave a talk, and apropos, the in-person 2019 SOPHERE conference in Valparaiso University was hosted by Jim Nelson) . Next year, we can do something like this together. The topic will be the phenomenological criticism of secular reason, that is, of theory. Not that religious reason is necessarily better (and is there such a thing as religious reason?), but we can inquire what works and what doesn’t. A trick about phenomenological philosophy, which is where I stand, is that it serves as a bridge between people of different countries and disciplines. In response to a groundedness of theory in the consciousness of experience, a dialogue ensues. By virtue of “My beginning is my end,” (recently used as a subtitle to the book  Indigenous Psychology of Spirituality, edited by Alvin Dueck) the beginning of psychology a theoretical/philosophical discipline is in central Europe. If the idea of cross-cultural theoretical dialogue with psychologists from different orientations appeals to you, stay tuned.

About the author

Olga Louchakova-Schwartz is currently the professor emerita of psychology and comparative religion at Sofia University (formerly Institute of Theoretical Psychology), where she was also the founding director of Transpersonal Education and Research Specialization, the World Wide Learning Exchange Program, and co-founding director of the Neurophenomenology Center. She currently serves as a clinical faculty member at University of California, Davis School of Medicine. She is also a visiting scholar at Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, and has an MD and a PhD in neuroscience. She founded the Society for Phenomenology of Religious Experience in 2016. Louchakova-Schwartz’s work and interests lie in phenomenological philosophy, especially phenomenology of religious and spiritual experiences and dialogical approaches, and their effect on the self, body, and cognition.