'Naikan' therapy: an outcome of interaction between Japanese Buddhism and modern western psychotherapies
‘Naikan’ therapy: an outcome of interaction between Japanese Buddhism and modern western psychotherapies

Welcome to my academic research pages.

I am interested in the influence of religion and spirituality, especially Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, in the pioneering of new ideas and techniques within psychiatry and psychotherapy in India and Japan.

I’m also interested in the impact of psychiatric and psychotherapeutic ideas – about personhood, development, relationships, and modes of care and healing – on the spirituality and religious practices of people and communities in these countries.

How has this two-way interaction between religion and the psy disciplines helped shape the way we grow up learning to explain ourselves to ourselves? I think a broad range of people would benefit from answers here: clinicians and therapists dealing with difficult cases; patients and service user groups; religious leaders and professionals; lay groups; the ‘spiritual not religious’; and all the rest of us who have a personal concern yet don’t really know what to call ourselves…

This work builds on previous research of mine, on the conversion to Christianity of low-caste Indians – now known as Dalits – to Christianity around the turn of the twentieth century.

You can find a list of my academic publications here.

The River Ganges at Varanasi, where you’ll find prayer, pilgrimage, cremations, north Indian silk, tourists packed tightly into rickety boats, and some of the most skilled hustlers on the subcontinent.

I am currently working on three separate projects:

1. Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 – the Present

A new social and cultural history of modern Japan, aimed at a mixed general and academic audience. My focus is on the creative role of resistance, conflict, and distress in shaping Japan’s trajectory from the late nineteenth century through to the present day. The book is under contract with Penguin Allen Lane, due for publication in August 2018.

2. In Search of ‘Existential Health’: Religion, Travel, and Therapy in Modern India and Japan

Centred around an ensemble cast drawn from India, Japan, and Europe, this project looks at how new visions of ‘existential health’ emerged in the mid-twentieth century, as ideas, practices, and people crossed borders and entered into creative exchange. ‘Buddhist psychoanalysis’ appeared in Japan, ‘Christian psychiatry’ in India, and across both contexts new forms of inter-religious and religion-psy dialogue began. The result was an emerging sense of ‘existential health’: taking in the religious and spiritual, the psychological, and a well-travelled awareness of the limitations of both in capturing the experience of being human.

3. ‘Existential Health’ in Edinburgh

This collaborative research project, currently in its early stages, looks at ways of bridging the gap between two current areas of priority focus in Scottish schools: prevention of mental ill health and an expansive vision of Religious and Moral Education (RME). We hope to achieve this via a broadly sourced, intellectually sound, and practically useful notion of ‘existential health’. Our questions and tasks include:

– What is the evidence connecting religious belonging, practice, or narrative with better mental health outcomes? Where does that evidence intersect with what pupils, staff, education and mental health professionals tell us young people most need, in terms of support in preventing mental ill health?

– How might curricula, practices, and support arrangements in schools be improved to take account of these findings, and across which years of study?

– What sorts of intellectual and practical resources might a culturally diverse city like Edinburgh need here, and what can the city and its universities provide? What sorts of contributions might researchers from across academic disciplines – including counselling and psychotherapy; psychology and psychiatry; history and anthropology of global mental health; religious studies – be able to offer, in collaboration with therapists, storytellers, advocacy and support workers, and others across the city?

Our collaborative team is coming together across 2018, so please get in touch if this project might be of interest to you.

Meanwhile I’ve been involved in a number of collaborative partnerships, in the UK and in Japan:
– RSA [Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce]: ‘Spirituality, Tools of the Mind, and the Social Brain’ Working Group (London, UK: 2013/14)
– ‘Theology and Therapy‘ (Edinburgh University, UK: 2011/12)
– ‘Debating the First Principles of Transcultural Psychiatry‘ (Glasgow University, UK: 2011/12)
– ‘Health Transition in Modern Japan’ (Keio University, Japan: on-going)