Finding Ruh in the Forebrain: Mazhar Osman and the Emerging Turkish Psychiatric Discourse

18/10/2022 17:00

The Nafi Baba Center for Research in Sufism, History and Cultural Heritage cordially invites you to a hybrid talk by Kutluğhan Soyubol titled "Finding Ruh in the Forebrain: Mazhar Osman and the Emerging Turkish Psychiatric Discourse" on October 18, 2022 (Tuesday), 5:00 P.M.

The talk will take place in Nafi Baba Building 103 and will also be streamed live via Zoom and Youtube. Students and faculty wishing to physically attend the lecture are kindly asked to send an email to and receive a confirmation. If you wish to attend via zoom, please click here.

About talk:
This talk examines the emergence of a 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.