The Search for the Soul. A Cultural History

By Ole Martin Høystad

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Throughout history, the soul has been regarded as the core of the human being and as an expression of the individual’s personality. Most people also feel they have one, although it is hard to explain what the soul exactly is. This is the aim of this book. By following the stages of the fateful drama of the soul from antiquity to present day, the book examines what significance it still may have in the 21st century.

The historical significance of the soul has, however, been contested since the age of Enlightenment, when the scientific explanation of the world prevailed. Consequently, some people claim that the soul is reduced to a religious concept and subject to belief, while others assert that it has been replaced by the psyche of modern psychology, something irrational and subject to therapy. But this reduced significance seems contradicted by the central position the soul holds as a motif in modern literature, from Dostoyevsky and Hamsun to Virginia Woolf and John M. Coetzee. This book tells the reader how the depiction of the soul in fictional literature and the conception of it in philosophy have formed the images and stories of the soul in Western culture that we still carry with us as a palimpsest that has been imprinted on our minds.

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