Between Stereotypes and Hermeneutic Quest

C. G. Jung’s Approach to “Primitive Psychology”


  • Giovanni V. R. Sorge



Race, primitive psychology, indigenous populations, Africans, Indian Americans, psychic inferiority and superiority, going black, white man


G. Jung’s alleged racism with regard to indigenous populations and, by extension, people of color and, specifically, Africans and native Americans, is much debated. The present contribution is based largely on Jung’s writings, some of which are unpublished. Jung’s considerationsoften deriving from his travels in North Africa and New Mexicoseem sometimes to imply the psychic inferiority of certain populations in comparison with the alleged civilized “white man.” To establish context, the essay cites passages from Jung’s published works (including his fear of “going black”), the discussion of the “racial question” among his contemporaries, and secondary literature. It then turns to statements from Jung’s unpublished manuscript “African Journey” (ca. 1925–26) for fresh insights into his views on his “primitive psychology.” On the one hand, Jung’s psychological approach failed to fully account for the social, economic, and historical aspects inherent to cultural differences. Moreover, he followed the widespread notion equating the primitive, the child, and the mentally ill. On the other hand, Jung’s understanding of “primitiveness” appears to be intrinsically linked to a critical approach to the alleged superiority of the “civilized man.” I argue that some passages from his unpublished manuscript “African Journey” demonstrate Jung’s conviction that the Western white man must recover a sense of the sacred and the experience of the numinosum, which the so-called primitive still retains. I discuss this complex and somewhat paradoxical view alongside an epistemologically problematic connotation inherent both to Jung’s empirical approach and his conception of the collective unconscious.