The Middle East: A Cultural Psychology by G. Gregg

The Middle East: A Cultural Psychology (Culture, Cognition, and Behavior) The Middle East: A Cultural Psychology by Gary S. Gregg

Very interesting, insightful, yet easy-to-read, this is a great overview of Middle Eastern society in the first 3 chapters, then of the development of the people who live in them for the final 7 chapters.  I especially enjoyed that the author used many Arabic sources, and used ethnographies and sociological studies rather than purely “psychological” literature to understand the complexity of this culture.

Best points:

1) Gregg takes a big-picture view and notices that cultural structures and value systems are created in an ecological context. Hence shifting alliances evident in Middle Eastern and North African societies respond to the dynamic availabilities of food, forage, and environment in the region.

2) Gregg spent a whole chapter delving into the different value systems of the honor/modesty code and Islam. They are not one and the same (even if many tie them together), sometimes Islam supports, sometimes conflicts with, the honor-modesty code. Also, the whole male-protector (machismo) and female-secluded and protected aspects of the region (the honor part of the honor-modesty code) are prevalent throughout the Mediterranean area–which is why southern Italy treats women very similarly to Jordan. It is NOT simply a part of Islam–Italians, Greeks, and Spaniards tie it to Christianity. I think it’s really important not to assume that such things are tied to the religious beliefs or dogma when they may be socio-cultural (or even ecological) in origin.

3) Terrorism/Violence/Authoritarianism is NOT part of “traditional” society. Rather, they are a result of underdevelopment where powerful interests control the benefits of modernization and the majority are excluded from them. This is something I’ve been trying to articulate to people in the U.S. for ages–it’s not inherent in people, it’s tied to the oppression they face every day. According to Gregg, the authoritarianism especially is a result of both tradition and modernity failing.

In brief: if you’re interested in Middle Eastern and North African societies cultures and value systems, read chapters 1-3. If you REALLY want to understand how these people develop over a lifetime, or are a psychology buff, go beyond to chapters 4-10.