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Ambivalences in Fundamentalism and Enlightenment

Christina von Braun is a cultural theorist, gender theorist, writer and filmmaker. Since 1994, she has been a Professor of Cultural Theory at Humboldt University Berlin (HU), specialising in gender and history. She has released numerous publications on the subjects of the history of mentalities, circularisation processes and discourse critique, which are infused by a consistent inter- and transdisciplinary as indeed innate psychoanalytical perspectivation. She has already been the recipient of numerous awards, and the next one is due soon: In the autumn of 2013 she will receive the Sigmund Freud Cultural Award. This is awarded by the German Psychoanalysis Association (DPV) to non-analysts who apply psychoanalytical theories to cultural phenomena.

Christina von Braun's impressive CV underscores her predestined role as a guest speaker at the public lecture series ›Modernities – Conflicting Modernities‹ during the 2013 summer semester at the International Psychoanalytic University (IPU) Berlin. She gave a talk there on 18 April entitled "Conflicting Modernities: Fundamentalism and Enlightenment". Doing so, she closely connected the explanation of the terms "fundamentalism" – albeit worldly and highly political – on the one hand and "enlightenment" on the other hand with the three great monotheist religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The genesis of these terms is very tightly linked to modernity and the history of the West, Christina von Braun explained, for which reason they are especially suited for her talk, over the course of which she described six characteristics which are encountered in all three great religions and which she counts among the phenomena of modernism.

Taking gender roles as an example, she described the manner in which the enlightenment contributed to the development of fundamentalism, whose origin she places in the Christian cultural area – to a certain extent as a "brother of the enlightenment". The term "fundamentalism" was coined by the North American Baptist Curtis Lee Laws at the beginning of the 20th century. Starting at this point, a process was set in motion as a result of which extreme opinions arose, such as those propagated by the representatives of the so-called "Princeton Doctrine" through to the Ku Klux Klan and further extreme occurrences. In the USA especially, fundamentalism was coupled with the belief in the free market economy, which at the same time assumed a position with the Western enlightenment, according to the scientist. Already by 1981 the "moral majority" was represented in 50 states. It included about 110,000 preachers, 400 radio stations broadcasting daily, and conducted gigantic media campaigns. Soon the "moral majority" had more than 300 universities and 25,000 schools under its sway. Its adherents included and still include not only Protestants, but also Catholics and Jews, together with "former homosexuals of both genders who converted to heterosexuality", as von Braun quoted. In the "adventure religious services of the TV church", patriotism, anti-Semitism, anti-modernism and gender issues played an important role.

According to the interpretation by the scientist von Braun, the intention is for the roles of man and women to reflect the relationship between mankind and God. They should "dislocate the transcendental in nature" was how she worded it. The gender order is less concerned with the derivation of the ideological conditions of the male and the female body, but rather with the function of masculinity and femininity in a "divine order however it might be imagined" which should be accorded reflection. In this regard, the reality is adapted to the written word. The latter conceals itself behind the symbolic gender order of the "immortality project" which is the basis of every religion. This explains the high emotionality in the conflicts about the gender order and it also explains why every individual body regards "its" gender order as the natural one.

When the three great monotheist religions are examined more closely, von Braun recognises in the relation between God and mankind, as indeed on the level of the gender relations, more similarities between the Jewish religion and Islam than between both of these and Christianity. The strict separation of mankind and God is reflected in the "segregation of the sexes" – except for instances such as the struggle by eastern European Jewish women at the beginning of the 19th century for voting rights for women and the right to education. Christianity by contrast is marked by the closeness of mankind to God, or as she expressed it, by the "incarnation of God". The Holy Communion is a metaphor for the great promise of salvation, which implies that "even the human can share in God's immortality". Just like Judaism and Islam, Christianity glorifies the modern roles of both genders by according them differing roles. In Christianity, Braun added, the inextricable formation of the gender order corresponds to the "reflection of the Christian ideal of the unification of divine eternity and human mortality".

Wording it more simply, the scientist then concluded that in Christianity marriage is sacred while in Judaism and in Islam this is the female body, which in turn is regarded as anything but sacred in Christianity. She took a comparison to reveal the extreme extent to which these differing gender orders are related to the systems of writing. One common aspect all three religions share is that their Holy Scriptures are recorded in alphabetic, or in other words phonetic, systems of writing. But what effect does the alphabet have, von Braun asked. "It wrests the language from the body" was the reply.

Further lectures scheduled in the series include

30.5.2013 – Prof. Dr. Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber, Kassel        
ERSTE SCHRITTE – ein Frühpräventionsprojekt für Familien mit Migrationshintergrund. Beispiel einer "aufsuchenden Psychoanalyse".

13.6.2013 – Sudhir Kakar, Goa (India)    
Ist Psychoanalyse auch eine spirituelle Disziplin? Psychoanalyse in Indien.

27.6.2013 – Prof. Dr. Wielant Machleidt, Hanover    
Der Zusammenprall der Kulturen im Selbst. Migrationsprozesse zwischen Konflikt und Chance.

The lectures each begin at 20.00 CET and are being held in the Large Lecture Hall at the IPU, Stromstraße 2, 10555 Berlin, on the third floor. There is an admission fee of €5. Students from Berlin's universities and third level institutes, as well as members of the IPU's Sponsors and Fundraisers Association are admitted free-of-charge.