UCL/British Psychological Society History of the Psychological Disciplines Series: Beverley Butler – ‘From Heritage Syndromes to Refugee Syndromes’ (2 March 2015)

UCL/British Psychological Society History of the Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series

Monday 2 March 2015

Dr. Beverley Butler (UCL)

‘From Heritage Syndromes to Refugee Syndromes’

Can certain heritage forms – whether imagined as historical or sacred
and/or as otherwise salient sites — exert efficacies capable of
transformative encounter? Can such loci affect cure and healing and/or
turn otherwise ‘normal’ people ‘mad’? Phrased differently again – can
heritage be rendered redemptive and/or pathological – therapeutic or

My paper fore-fronts the phenomenon of the ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’ – the
term used to describe the ‘episodes’ experienced by some visitors to
Jerusalem who overwhelmed by their encounter with this iconic place
undergo radical transformation. Affecting visitors in varying degrees of
intensity, some (often with little previous religious conviction) come
to see themselves as a specially ordained prophetic, messianic messenger
who, after following ritual preparation often identify with a key
religious figure (typically as featured in the Abrahamic religions) and
feel compelled to deliver a redemptive message by which the world will
undergo transformation and cure through the articulation of a vision of
a ‘just’ future. The Jerusalem Syndrome has been regarded by some as
both a sudden and an extreme form of religious expression and as
synonymous with intense experiences of ‘wellbeing’ however it has
featured in the pages of the /British Psychiatric Journal/ as a serious
psychiatric concern and designated as a ‘pathological illness’
synonymous with harmful experiences of ‘psychotic decompensation’ and
‘depersonalisation’. I use the ‘Jerusalem syndrome’ and its subsequent
critiques as a means to raise questions about the broader articulation
of ‘heritage syndromes’ in which wellbeing/ illbeing, cure/ harm,
suffering and happiness exist in close proximity. I use ethnographic
research including work undertaken with Palestinian refugees in Jordan
to explore how such groups are encountering this complex and often
potentially harmful act of engaging with heritage as a resource by which
to re-construct self and world, to recover repertoires of resilience,
cosmologies of care and coping strategies synonymous with attempts to
define, control and sustain future wellbeing and secure justice.


Organiser: Professor Sonu Shamdasani (UCL)

Time: 6pm to 7.30 pm

Location: Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet
Place, University College London

From the Torrington Place entrance to UCL, enter the campus on Malet
Place. After fifty metres, you will find Foser court on the right hand
side. Turn right under the underpass, and enter via the second door on
the right. The common room is straight ahead.

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