The Freud Museum

Events Archive

18 May 2014


Paradoxical Realms of Healing and Creativity?

The Medieval concept of Purgatory is more than an arcane element of Catholic doctrine. As a place of both suffering and salvation, it offers a powerful metaphor for the paradoxical spaces of psychotherapy and creativity. For Catholics it is a real place and spiritual process, yet similar ideas exist in many other religions, and for non-believers it seems to possess a psychic reality that points to a significant aspect of human nature. This conference explores the implications of this profound idea for theology, psychotherapy and contemporary social life – about ‘sin’, atonement, death, hope, liminal states, incarceration, mental torture, ‘purging’, purification, and representations of purgatory in literature and art.

(To dowload programme timetable please click here)
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Kalu Singh (Biog)
Are we there yet? An Introduction to Purgatory
The paper compares the misconceptions of purgatory in contemporary culture & Shakespeare with Dante’s account. It then offers the idea of prison as failed purgatory, and sketches what elements of purgatory resonate with psychotherapy.

Miri Rubin (Biog)
A Middle Place? Purgatory and its promise in medieval Europe
This paper will consider the effects that the elaboration and widespread teachings about purgatory had on the religious culture and social practices of medieval Europe.

Andrew Ekpenyong (Biog)
From Physics to Metaphysic: A basis for purgatory?
It is my firm conviction that physics and indeed all the natural sciences should enjoy methodological independence from metaphysical and religious ideologies. However, as, Albert Einstein once remarked: “Anyone studying physics long enough is inevitably led into metaphysics.” Loosely defined, physics is the study of matter and energy, their motion and interactions through space and time, in order to understand how the material universe works. Also simply put, metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that seeks to render intelligible all of reality, that is, the ultimate nature of being. The human being is at least a being. The human experience of being is confronted with many physical and metaphysical challenges: matter versus mind, good versus evil, life versus death, etc. In this presentation I will try to argue that our limited understanding of physical realities calls for openness to metaphysical enquiries, including those about the after-life. Purgatory is one of many possible after-life scenarios. Catholic doctrine presents purgatory as “the state of those who die in God’s friendship, assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purification to enter into the happiness of heaven.” As a Catholic priest, I will argue that this belief is not irrational but a reasonable possibility.

Richard Carvalho (Biog)
A way out of hell?
The theological virtues - faith, hope and love/charity - are probably the unconscious achievements of secure attachment. Whatever the theological or ontological issues, insecure attachments create living hells on earth, and the cardinal sins of pride, envy, anger, greed, lust, avarice and sloth (the list varies, but this is Dante's) might be fruitfully understood to be attachment styles whereby internal working models attach the subject to their object and the subject dare not surrender them for fear of losing the object. Dante's idea that there is no way out of hell corresponds, perhaps, to the tenacity with which such early attachment solutions are thus clung to for self-care and security. 'Redemption' and 'repentance' only become possible when this is understood and a more adaptive alternative to looking after oneself is perceived; and working through might be seen as a struggle up mount purgatory. I will illustrate this idea with some material from a patient who had suffered a torture of self hate together with a variety of psychosomatic catastrophes for several decades before, to her surprise, finding her way out of it in analysis.

Hattie Myers (Biog)
An Uncanny Encounter on the Terrace of Pride: Freud and Dante
While trying to understand and address the mystery of human misery, Dante and Freud envisioned the trajectory of desire and the abstractions of time in spatial terms. As psychoanalysis is freed from the weight of phallocentrism and the Divine Comedy is ‘de-theologized’, the uncannily concordant visions of their makers emerges anew.

Rodney Bomford (Biog)
Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell?
In this paper the writer assumes that few hold a literal belief in Heaven and Hell and offers a sketch of why and how these religious symbols might still be constructively meaningful.

Rachel Blass (Biog)
Psychoanalytic Reflections on the Way from Life to Death
This paper will consider the meaning of the notion of Purgatory in light of psychoanalytic thinking, especially the ideas of Freud and his followers on life and death, reparation and narcissism.


Kalu Singh is a retired student-counsellor. He is the author of Guilt and of Sublimation in the Icon Series Ideas in Psychoanalysis. In 2007, he filmed an interview with the great Dante scholar, Barbara Reynolds.

Miri Rubin is Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History and Head of the School of History at Queen Mary University of London. She is the author of several books which explores the religious cultures of Europe as well as Jewish-Christian relations, the most recent being Mother of God: a History of the Virgin Mary (2009).

Andrew Ekpenyong is a Catholic priest and post doctoral scientist working in Germany. He was educated at the University of Uyo, Nigeria, the Pontifical Urban University, Rome, Creighton University, USA and Cambridge University, UK, obtaining Bachelor degrees in Philosophy and Theology and post-graduate degrees in Physics. He was ordained as a priest in 2003 in Calabar, Nigeria.

Richard Carvalho is a training analyst at the Society of Analytical Psychology and a psychoanalytic psychotherapist (Tavistock Society). He is medically trained and a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and was consultant psychotherapist at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, in London. He now works exclusively in private practice with adults.

Hattie Myers is an IPA supervising and training analyst. She is on faculty at The Institute of Psychoanalytic Training and Research (IPTAR) and the Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy (ICP) and is past director of the IPTAR Clinical Center. She has presented her theoretical and clinical work internationally, co-authored Terrorism in the Psychoanalytic Space and edited the Journal of Clinical Psychoanalysis: Enactment. An avid student of Dante, she is a founding member of a psychoanalysts’ Dante reading group in NYC.

Rodney Bomford is a retired Anglican priest and former co-ordinator of the London BiLogic group (a group addressing the work of Chilean psychoanalyst Matte Blanco). He is author of The Symmetry of God (Free Association Books, 1999) and a number of papers on the frontier between theology and psychoanalytic theory.

Rachel Blass is a psychoanalyst; a member of the British Psychoanalytical Society and a training analyst at the Israel Psychoanalytic Society. She is a Professor of Psychoanalysis and of Psychology of Religion at Heythrop College, a Visiting Professor at the Psychoanalysis Unit of University College London, and is editor of the "Controversies" section of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. She has published over 60 articles which deal mainly with the conceptual, epistemological, and ethical foundations of psychoanalysis and their relevance to contemporary thinking and practice.

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