Finding Ruh in the Forebrain: Mazhar Osman and the Emerging Turkish Psychiatric Discourse (Kutluğhan Soyubol, 18 Ekim 2022)

Finding Ruh in the Forebrain: Mazhar Osman and the Emerging Turkish Psychiatric Discourse
This talk examines the emergence of modern psychiatric discourse on mental health under the culturally Islamic yet radically secular context of the early Turkish republic (1920s-1950s). To do so, it focuses on the psychiatric publications of Mazhar Osman [Uzman] (1884-1951), the widely acknowledged “father” of modern Turkish psychiatry, and aims to genealogically trace Osman's scientific project of reconceptualizing issues such as psyche or soul, sanity and insanity during the early Turkish republic. The paper consequently traces Mazhar Osman’s efforts to redefine "ruh," an Arabo-Turkish concept referring to both the metaphysical soul and the medicalized psyche, which Osman claimed to be hitherto defined simply within the realm of metaphysics, and thus left in the hands of religious healing. Ruh, according to Mazhar Osman, had to be liberated from this “backward” and socially “harmful” framework in which it was entrapped. Doing so included articulately and authoritatively defining the soul in a physiological manner within the framework of biological-descriptive psychiatry. Scrutinizing this normative and interventionist line of thought, this paper attempts to engage with the elusive and multilayered psy-scientific language (consisting of equivocal concepts such as ruh) that emerged in republican Turkey as a result of modern psychiatry’s “empirical” interventions into the field of madness previously defined by Islamic (and particularly Sufi) traditions. The paper further sheds light on how the new descriptive-biological psychiatric knowledge propagated by Mazhar Osman in constitutive contradistinction to Islamic discourses on the soul, sanity and insanity reverberated with the Kemalist project of modern state building, and participated in the construction of “healthy” secular Turkish subjects under the early republican Turkish state.
Kutluğhan Soyubol is assistant professor of sociology and modern Turkish history at Boğaziçi University. He has also taught or held fellowships at the City University of New York, Tel Aviv University, Istanbul Bilgi University, and the University of Cambridge. His research articles have appeared (or about to appear) in several academic outlets, including but not limited to, Modern Intellectual History; Medical History; Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East; and Osmanlı Araştırmaları/The Journal of Ottoman Studies. He is currently working on a book project on psy-sciences and modern statehood in early republican Turkey; as well as doing early research for a new project on the tarikat of Ken’an Rifai and its patent commensurability with the radical secularism of the early Turkish republic.