About this Project

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.

The project’s ‘cast’ includes:

– A small group of European contemplatives: Bede Griffiths, Henri Le Saux, Jules Monchanin, Francis Mahieu, Raimon Panikkar, and Sara Grant.

– The first generation of psychotherapists in Japan, including Kosawa Heisaku, Ohtsuki Kenji, and Morita Masatake.

– Pioneering psychiatrists in India: Florence Nichols, Rose Chacko, and Erna Hoch.

Bede Griffiths: 1906 – 1993

Bede Griffiths is probably best known for his influence on the New Age movement and on contemporary thinkers and contemplatives like Ken Wilber and Thomas Keating. Griffiths was an English Benedictine monk who tried to establish contemplative Christian practice in India in the 1950s and hoped to use Indian spirituality to revivify stale western religious life.

Griffiths stayed in south India until his death in 1993, becoming involved in inter-religious dialogue and the experimental use of psychological ideas and language to talk about religious practice and experience.

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Kosawa Heisaku: 1897 - 1968

Kosawa Heisaku: 1897 – 1968

Kosawa Heisaku was a devout Buddhist, generally thought of as the ‘father of Japanese psychoanalysis’, while Ohtsuki Kenji was a more political figure, whose friends and favourite left-wing causes landed him in deep water with Japan’s secret police in the 1930s and 1940s.

Kosawa’s final psychoanalytic client was the novelist Setouchi Harumi, who later became Setouchi ‘Jakucho': Buddhist nun, combative peace campaigner, and the conscience of contemporary Japan.

I wrote about her time with Kosawa for Aeon Magazine, and someone has been kind enough to publish an English->French version.


In India, I am looking at the rise of a kind of ‘Christian psychiatry’ at two path-breaking mental health institutions after

Dr Rose Chacko

Dr Rose Chacko

Independence in 1947: Nur Manzil in Lucknow and the Mental Health Centre at Christian Medical College, Vellore.

Drs Florence Nichols and Rose Chacko (Vellore), and Dr Erna Hoch (Lucknow) were all pioneering psychiatrists in the

1950s and 1960s, when ideas in psychiatry were changing rapidly and some in India, Japan, and the West were beginning to ask where ‘mental health’ ends and ‘spirituality’ begins…