Book Review: The Principle of Individuation by Murray Stein

Book Review: The Principle of Individuation by Murray Stein


By Murray Stein, PhD

A Brief Synopsis by Byron Gaist, PhD

The author of this book, Dr. Murray Stein is a graduate of Yale University (B.A. and M.Div.), the University of Chicago (Ph.D.), and the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich (Diploma). He is a founding member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and of the Chicago Society of Jungian Analysts. He has been the president of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (2001-4), and the President of The International School of Analytical Psychology-Zurich (2008-2012).  He is a training analyst at the International School for Analytical Psychology in Zurich, Switzerland. His publications include The Principle of Individuation (2006), Jung’s Map of the Soul (1998) and Jungian Psychoanalysis (editor, 2010). He lectures internationally on topics related to Analytical Psychology and its applications in the contemporary world, and some of his talks can be viewed on YouTube.  In an interesting – and on first impressions unlikely – contemporary encounter between popular culture and academia, the Korean boy band BTS read Stein’s book Jung’s Map of the Soul and released an album of songs in 2020, also titled Map of The Soul: 7, which reached number one on the hits charts in 20 countries.

This final bit of information about the author, is in fact relevant to the contents of this brief but significant book we will study together in the Jungian Book Club on Facebook.  Although the conjunction of a popular boy band and the erudite work of a Zurich-based Jungian analyst may seem an unlikely match, it is in fact a prime instance of the synchronistic collective aspects of the process of cultural individuation, which Stein brilliantly summarizes and discusses in the latter half of the book.  

Even those who know enough Analytical Psychology not to confuse individuation with individualism (they are in many ways opposites), nevertheless frequently assume that individuation is a lonely quest, one undertaken by the individual struggling to differentiate from the mass of society; in this book, Stein puts paid to this myth, clearly outlining both the individual and the collective aspects of the principium individuationis – the manner in which a thing is identified as distinct from other things – as discussed by philosophers beginning with Aristotle, and carrying on right through the medieval Duns Scotus, reaching into the modern era via Francisco Suarez, Bonaventure Baron, Gottfried Leibniz, John Locke, and ultimately Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Gunther Anders, Gilbert Simondon, Bernard Stiegler, David Bohm, Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze, and Manuel De Landa.  Clearly, the principium individuationis is an idea with a long philosophical pedigree; of course, the specific interpretation of this principle which Stein discusses, is the one offered by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (1875 -1961).

Following the brief Introduction, Stein begins the book with a discussion of ‘The Twofold Movement of Individuation’ (ch.1), which consists essentially of the movements of analysis (alchemically, the separatio) and synthesis (coniunctio).  The individuating person must first become conscious of their unconscious identifications, and then following a period of fertile uncertainty, integrate their personality around a more conscious, stable and authentic core.  Stein illustrates this twofold movement beautifully with examples from literature, the arts and his own clinical practice.

In the second chapter, ‘The Role of the Numinous in Individuation’, Stein discusses an essential characteristic of the Jungian approach to psychological healing, namely “the approach to the numinous”, as Jung called it (C.G. Jung Letters, selected and edited by G. Adler and A. Jaffé, 1973, p.377).  For Jung, the personality is cured of pathology inasmuch as they attain to numinous experience: a religious, mystical experience which includes a profound vision of wholeness or a sense of connection to the infinite, before which character flaws pale.  Stein discusses this crucial component of the individuation process in some detail, setting it in its historical context as much as a book of this limited magnitude will permit. He includes an endnote on Rudolf Otto, the protestant theologian from whom Jung borrowed the term ‘numinous.’

In ch.3, ‘A Tale of Initiation and Full Individuation’, Stein discusses the individuation process using the Brothers Grimm fairytale, “The White Snake”, in which a king’s servant illicitly tastes the flesh of a white snake which the king has for dinner every evening. Upon tasting, the servant finds himself embarking on a series of adventures which bring him to a desired goal.  Here, Stein uses this hero’s journey to illustrate the principle of individuation as it is expressed in a cultural product, a traditional fairy tale.  As this concerns a male hero, he also goes on to analyse the journey of a female heroine in ch.4, ‘Deconstructing Bewitchment’, where he bases his analysis on the Brothers Grimm fairytale, “The Old Woman in the Forest”.

In ch.5, ‘The Struggle With Complexes, Personal and Cultural’, Stein begins to open out the book’s narrative to address issues pertaining to clinical work and to cultural analysis; he does so, through discussing the myth of the Greek god Hephaistos, a god of fire and creativity, but also an archetype of wounding and imperfection.  In this magnificent chapter, Stein discusses the significance of personal complexes, but relates them also to the development of the Western cultural mindset.  In the next chapter, ‘Finding a Space for Individuation’, Stein weaves the phenomena he discusses here, into the analytical and psychotherapeutic process using the myth and characteristics of the Greek god Hermes.

Chs. 7 and 8, (‘Helping Tradition to Individuate’ and ‘Individuation and the Politics of Nations’ respectively) are the concluding tour de force of this excellent book.  Stein maps the implications of the principle of individuation with great clarity onto the growth of religions using the history of Christianity as an example (ch.7) and the politics of international relations, using the north-south cultural divide in the Americas.  He makes daring but coherent and timely suggestions concerning the development of human consciousness, which boldly illustrate the immense significance of Analytical Psychology both in the clinicians’ consulting room and far beyond it, for our civilization as a whole.

Join our Facebook Jungian Book Club to travel on this path of individuation through the lucid and informative writing of Dr Stein – you may find that your own process of individuation is illuminated and enriched by doing so!

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