Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Letter E - ERIKSON, ERIK H.

Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

As the Nazi regime began to threaten Vienna, Erik, Joan, and their two children moved to the United States in 1933. Erikson was accepted by the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and became the first child analyst in Boston. He also became a research assistant at the Harvard Psychological Clinic and conducted research on children and identity. In 1936, Erikson accepted a research position at Yale University where he began to work out his developmental stage theory, studying different forms of play carried out by children of different ages; he also traveled to South Dakota to study the Sioux Indians, in whom he saw the dramatic impact of cultural forces on child development.

The Berkeley Childhoodand-Society Years

In 1939, Erikson accepted a research position at the Institute of Child Welfare at the University of California-Berkeley. He later began teaching graduate seminars at Berkeley and opened a private practice in the San Francisco area. During this time his ideas regarding sociocultural factors in ego development were starting to crystallize. He developed the concept of ego identity, a consistent sense of one's own self in relation to one's culture. He also formulated the idea of identity crisis, a disruption or turning point in a person's ego development, which is most common during adolescence but can occur at any time. In 1949, he became a full professor in psychology at Berkeley. The book that would be his magnum opus soon followed. The publication of Childhood and Society in 1950 established Erikson's scholarly reputation. The work consisted of a collection of earlier essays that Erikson retooled to appeal to a broader audience beyond specialists in psychoanalysis. Chapter seven, on the Eight Stages of Man, was a groundbreaking model of the life span that spanned from infancy through elder adulthood. This model, which will be described in more detail later, garnered him so much attention that he became a popular academic celebrity in America.

The Austen Riggs Clinician Years

At first, fame did not bring Erikson academic security. The rise of McCarthyism and anxiety about communism in the nation's universities troubled his sense of academic freedom. He refused to sign an oath at Berkeley and eventually resigned from his hardearned tenured position. In 1951, he accepted a position as an analyst at the Austen Riggs Center, a mental health facility in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The position provided valued time for writing, and he stayed there for a decade. During these years Erikson also became more vocal about the positive role of religious experience and began to take into account the role of religious traditions as a transmitter of values and psychological well-being across the life span. Erikson was particularly inspired by one of his clinical patients, that of a seminary graduate who had been preparing for missionary work before having a psychotic episode. Erikson found a good bit of similarity between this clinical case and the identity crisis suffered by the father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, when he was a young man. He began preparing a new book that would integrate some of his clinical cases with a psychohistorical account of Martin Luther, centering on the central concept of identity diffusion or breakdown. Instead of portraying religion as an inherently pathological vice, Erikson saw in Luther's life a homo religious (Latin for "religious man"), who's personal developmental crisis was able to address larger sociological crises, such as religious and political freedom. Furthermore, Erikson's analysis offered a compatible link between Luther's theological revolution and Freud's psychoanalytic revolution and between religion and psychology in general. With the publication of Young Man Luther (1958), Erikson's acclaim expanded beyond the field of psychology.

The Harvard Professor Years

Erikson accepted an appointment as Professor of Human Development at Harvard University in 1960. He became very popular with students and a valued conversation partner with his peers, including Paul Tillich, a fellow German-born immigrant and Harvard theologian. In his first book from those years, Insight and Responsibility (1964), Erikson built upon his eight stages by adding specifically achieved "virtues" to each of the stages: hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, care, and wisdom. Each virtue represented an ego strength that would animate a person's morality and ethics. His model of human development was thus prized for attending to psychological strengths instead of only pathology and disease.

For several years, he worked on a psychohistory of Gandhi, which was concerned with the ethics of social identity and the negative ethical concept of pseudospeciation (the tendency of human groups to isolate themselves from others, to regard themselves as the chosen people, and other groups as less worthy of respect). Emphasizing the life cycle's persistent movement toward an adult ethic of generative care, he likened Gandhi's concept of Satyagraha or "perseverance in truth" and nonviolent confrontation with Freud's psychoanalytic method of confronting the inner enemy. Additionally, Erikson's work with identity crises and the life cycle perfectly addressed the conflicts of the 1960s, when American youth rebelled against traditional institutions, embraced pluralism, and demanded their own meaningful identities. Erikson later received a Pulitzer Prize for Gandhi's Truth (1969).