Hans Kilian Award

A biographical sketch of Hans Kilian

The interaction between an individual's life story and general history that lies at the core of Hans Kilian’s theory of metacultural humanisation, is also reflected in the researcher’s own biography, whose private dimension was inextricably intertwined with the professional side of his life.

The life and scientific career of the professor of social psychology and applied psychoanalysis (*25.04.1921 - †30.03.2008) were strongly influenced by the traumatic events of the national and global history of the 20th century. Already at a very young age, Hans Kilian witnessed the horrors of Hitler’s dictatorship and oppression, and that experience became a crucial moment in the formation of his intellectual and political identity. Still in his teens, he asked himself how people were degraded to the status of mere “objects” in outer events and inner experiences, how they could become objects of ideologically staged processes that alienated them from both reality and their selfhood.
Unwilling to serve Hitler militarily, Hans Kilian decided to study medicine despite his greater inclination towards history and sociology. In Munich he was, among other, closely connected to the oppositional group “White Rose”. Christoph Probst, one of its members who was later murdered by fascists, used to be his close friend.
In the beginning of the 1950's, after having completed his studies, which he had partly done in Paris having, back then, been the only German student there, Kilian pursued further professional training at the department of psychosomatics of the University clinic in Munich, becoming it's Head in 1960. Yet in 1965, when Kilian invited a renowned emigree psychoanalyst and infancy researcher René Spitz to teach in Munich a series of “technical” seminars, it led to a conflict between him and his boss, the latter belonging to a dominant Munich group of analysts who had “Aryanised” the “Jewish chamber-pot psychoanalysis” (Carl Gustav Jung) during the Third Reich, so Kilian’s contract with the University was not renewed.

In 1970, Kilian habilitated at the Technical University of Darmstadt and for a short time taught at the University of Göttingen, before becoming a tenured professor of social psychology and applied psychoanalysis at the just founded Comprehensive University of Kassel: a reform university, whose development he had indefatigably been promoting since its founding. He held that post from 1971 to 1984 and while there, engaged in the introduction of psychoanalysis into all the relevant courses of study, especially those of teachers’ education, social psychology and social counselling. In 1979, he was elected Managing Director of the Scientific Centre for the Study of Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy and Psychosocial Hygiene, which he had founded with the support of a group of researchers and professors convoked upon his initiative at Kassel. The objective of the Centre was research on “psychosocial humanisation”, that is, a psychic development of humankind in social and cultural contexts. Many colleagues, however, boycotted his trans- and interdisciplinary endeavour that in those days still appeared too “progressive” and was therefore dismissed by some as megalomanic. Bitterly disappointed, a sixty-three year-old Hans Kilian retired early.

Most of his late scientific works, including the book manuscript “Value consciousness and History. An Attempt at the Localisation of the Present from the Historical andEvolutionary Perspective”, funded by the Martin Schleyer Foundation and completed in 1985, remained unpublished. Until his dying day, he had kept working at his inter- and transdisciplinary theory of “metacultural humanisation”, connecting concepts and models from natural sciences with the insights from social and cultural sciences, especially psychology and psychoanalysis, sociology, social and cultural anthropology, as well as from historical sciences.

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