Friday, March 11, 2005

A Blessing in Disguise: a Jungian Reflection on the Sunni-Shia Split

My Tuareg-esque cyber wanderings have led me to a fascinating exposition of Jung's views as applied to the Shi'a-Sunni dichotomy in Islam courtesy of the group blog Ihsan.

The article itself is lengthy (but well worth a read if you have a moment) so here's a partially culled version:

One of the central concepts in Jungian psychology is the idea of the conscious and the unconscious. By the conscious, Jung meant the realm of our psyche that we know and are aware of...The area that we don’t see and know is our unconscious...The unconscious speaks to us in various ways, through our dreams, or by what we call ‘Freudian slips’, through accidents and illnesses, and even through people we like and dislike.

Jung continued to say that just as each of us has these layers in our individual, personal psyche, the same thing can be said about a society, culture or civilization...Jung called these “collective” consciousness and “collective” unconscious, and distinguished them from the personal conscious and the unconscious. This collective unconscious finds a way to speak to us through fairytales and myths in a symbolic manner.

...Interestingly, von Franz applies the same concept to the Sunni and Shia issue in her book called Individuation in Fairytales (1977). She states:

"In the Islamic world there is a terrific split between the Sunnite and the Shiite movement. The latter has always endeavored to be on the compensatory side of the unconscious and thus counteract the petrification of the Sunnite movement, the orthodox school which kept to the literal interpretation of the Koran and its rules. Within the Shiite sects alchemical symbolism flourished. Eighty percent of the great Arabian alchemists belonged to the Shiites, and not to the Sunnite sect, which for us is very revealing because alchemical symbolism, and alchemy in general, was not only, as Jung points out, a subterranean compensatory movement in Christian Europe, but had exactly the same function within the Arabic civilization. There too it belonged to the subterranean, more mystical complementary movements which counteracted the petrification of collective consciousness in a very similar way as it afterwards did in the Middle Ages for us. Particularly in Persia, these Shiite and Ismalian sects flourished, as did alchemy. It was the country where there was the greatest development, and one sees this mirrored even in such simple material as fairytales.... (p. 58)."

...Although von Franz only discusses about the Sunni movement benefiting from the presence of more subterranean Shia movement, it is obvious that the situation goes both ways. Both Sunni and Shia schools benefit from each other’s presence as each keeps the other in check and compensate for the imbalance. In The Tao of Islam, Murata (1992) talks about a similar interaction and compensatory functions between the two basic theological perspectives in Islam, i.e.) the external, legalistic approach of Kalam and the internal, sapiential approach of Sufism.

...From von Franz’s perspective, this ‘terrific split’ between the Sunni and Shia takes on a new light— what we often consider as a problem or at least a nuisance just may have been a blessing in disguise!

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