The anti-semitism of Martin Luther : a psychohistorical exploration / by Mardell J. Gavriel.
The author examines the anti-Semitism of Martin Luther (1483-1546) by alternately employing psychodynamic explanations of anti-Jewish hostility and a rationale of prejudice based on Albert Bandura's social learning theory. Utilizing a psychohistorical approach that makes use of biographical material along with historical data about the Middle Ages, this study explores the strength of each theory to support plausible speculations about the personal sources and societal influences of the reformer's attitudes about the Jews. Additionally, the study investigates areas of overlap between the two theoretical approaches and suggests ways in which they might be integrated to provide a broad psychological understanding of a case of individual prejudice within a specific socio-historic context. As a group, psychodynamic theories of anti-Semitism identify personality factors, unconscious psychological conflict (particularly the defense mechanisms of projection and displacement), and analytic interpretations of social history as influential factors of anti-Semitism. In the case of Martin Luther, this study explores how superstitiousness, characterological anger, and anal personality traits may have predisposed the reformer to the development of prejudice. Further, the idea that Luther's life-long strife with his father, Hans, found expression in anti-Semitic hostility is explored, particularly in terms of oedipal struggle, displacement of anger, and psychological conflict centering on themes of disobedience, punishment, rejection, and reconciliation. Additionally, the status of medieval Jews as "internal foreigners," their connection to a moral code, the practice of circumcision, their rejection of Christ, and the medieval perception of affiliation with the devil are examined in terms of how these factors might have made them a particularly attractive projection screen for Luther's idiographic, unconscious conflicts. Stressing the reciprocal influence between individuals and societies, Bandura's (1986) social learning theory offers the imitation of successful models (vicarious learning), self-held notions about personal efficacy and the interpretive and cognitive activities of the self-system as tools to understand human behavior. Applying these concepts to Luther, the author speculates on how the reformer's emulation of religious and popular anti-Semitic models, his changing estimation of his ability to convert the Jews, and the personal constructions of his self-system altered his attitudes about them from tolerance to rage.
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