Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#15 - JRL 9065 - JRL Home
Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2005
From: Daniel Rancour-Laferriere <darancourlaferriere@comcast.net>
Subject: Where is Psychology?

Dear David,

I trust this message just fell between the cracks during the Florida hiatus. I hope you will put it "out there," because I am sincerely interested in getting Russia specialists to pay more attention to the psychological component of Russian studies.

As a footnote to this issue, let me observe that my two recent books on psychological approaches to Russia and the Russians have received more attention in the Russian press than among American scholars: _Rossiia i russkie glazami amerikanskogo psikhoanalitika_ (Ladomir: 2003, 286 pp.). _Russkaia literatura i psikhoanaliz_ (Ladomir: 2004, 1,017 pp.)

Both books were listed on the front page of the _Nezavisimaia gazeta_ - _Ex Libris_ supplement under the "Five books of the Week" rubric.

With best wishes,

Daniel RL


10 February 2005

In JRL #9047 Professor Arthur Adams gives a reasonable and interesting account of what he terms "Aspects of Russian Character." In his essay he considers "political, economic, social, and cultural forces that shaped Russia's people and that continue to influence their behavior."

My question is this: where are the PSYCHOLOGICAL forces that must have ALSO played a role in this process? If we are talking about Russian "character" or "behavior," psychology is by definition relevant. And by psychology I mean any of the various approaches to the human mind or psyche, such as: behaviorism, psychoanalysis, cognitive psychology, ego psychology, self psychology, psychiatry, and so on. The field of psychology is admittedly vast, and indeed there are far more practitioners of psychology than there are Russian specialists. But it behooves the Russian specialist to attain some knowledge of this field if psychological issues are going to be dealt with.

I choose the essay by Professor Adams because it is typical. Other examples come to mind. Historian Laura Engelstein believes that there is no place for psychology in studying the Russian religious sect of self-castrators or _skoptsy_. Sociologist Dominique Arel recently issued a call for papers for the upcoming Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN) conference, inviting contributions in "sociology," "socio-linguistics," "anthropology," and others - but no psychology. And so on. The practice of ignoring psychology (or worse, smuggling it in under the guise of historical, sociological, and other kinds of statements) is endemic. From the the viewpoint of a psychologist, this is simply unprofessional.

Take Beslan, for example. Of course that hostage-taking was a horrendous tragedy which will be of great interest to historians, sociologists, economists, political scientists, specialists in ethnic studies, and the other usual suspects. But what about psychologists? Is it not psychologists (among others) who have rushed to the scene to aid victims? Shouldn't psychologists be brought in to help us understand the mentality of the hostage-takers and the reactions of the victims?

Yet, frankly speaking, I believe psychology will be neglected in future scholarly studies of Beslan.

I welcome constructive ideas from JRL readers on how psychology can be incorporated into Russian studies in a professional fashion.


Daniel Rancour-Laferriere
Emeritus Professor of Russian
University of California, Davis