New Book by Daniel Burston – A Forgotten Freudian: The Passion of Karl Stern

Dear All,

A year or so ago, I published an article  in The International Journal of Jungian Studies entitled “Our imperiled age . . .”, which discussed a hitherto unpublished letter of Jung’s to Karl Stern, a German-born Catholic psychiatrist who lived in Montreal.

37372This letter also appears (with the editors’ permission) in my forthcoming book A Forgotten Freudian: The Passion of Karl Stern, which will appear in December from Karnac Publishers. Meanwhile, copies can be pre-ordered at Karnac website.

Who was Karl Stern? Stern was born in Cham, Bavaria in 1906, the eldest son of assimilated Jewish parents. Between 1927 and 1937, Stern trained in medicine, neurology and psychiatry in Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin and London, moving to Montreal, Canada in 1939. Between 1930 and 1931, Stern worked alongside Kurt Goldstein as a resident in psychiatry at the Frankfurt Neurological Institute. In 1932, Stern followed Goldstein to the department of neurology of the Moabiter Krankenhaus (Moabit Hospital) in Berlin, performing brain autopsies on deceased mental patients. In the summer of 1932, Stern went to Munich for post-doctoral work at the German Research Institute for Psychiatry, where the chief of Neurology, Professor Walther Spielmeyer (1879-1935) took him on as his assistant, and he undertook his first analysis, with Dr. Rudolph Laudenheimer. After Spielmeyer’s death in December of 1934, Stern booked passage to London where he found a position at the neurological institute in Queen’s Square. Though plagued by worry about the friends and family he left behind, Stern flourished professionally, and married Liselotte von Baeyer, the sister of his good friend Eric von Baeyer. Stern and his wife arrived in Montreal on June 24th 1939, and Stern went to work at Hopitale de Notre Dame, and somewhat later, at Verdun Protestant Hospital. In 1943, after a decade of dithering on the doorstep of the Church, Stern finally converted to Catholicism, coaxed over the finish line by two philo-Semitic Catholics, Dorothy Day and Jacques Maritain, who became close friends. Once his conversion was settled his professional life was dominated to two main passions – to fight anti-Semitism in the Church, and to “baptize Freud” in his idiom, or make him kosher for Catholics, in mine.

In 1943, Wilder Penfield recommended Stern to Ewan Cameron, Chief of Psychiatry at McGill University, who placed Stern in charge of McGill’s geriatric psychiatry unit – the first in Canada, I believe. By 1951, Stern had authored 52 articles on neuroanatomy, neuropathology and several psychiatric disorders in prestigious medical journals (Shaw, 1951.) That same year, 1951, Stern published his first book, a memoir entitled The Pillar of Fire. The Pillar of Fire became an international bestseller, and was greeted by many Catholics as a worthy successor to other 20th century conversion narratives, namely Dorothy Day’s book From Union Square to Rome (1937), and Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain (Merton, 1948.) The Pillar of Fire was translated into German, French, Spanish, Dutch and Italian, and as a result, by the mid-sixties, Stern was a well-known figure, a public intellectual, in Canada and the United States. He was a member of P.E.N., and the Canadian representative to the UNESCO Institute for Education. In 1965, he testified as an expert on racism and prejudice in the House of Commons, appearing frequently on CBC radio and television, and was awarded an honorary Doctorate by the University of Laval in 1968. His second book, The Third Revolution, published in 1954, which I discussed in “Our imperiled age . . . ” contains some interesting reflections on the nature of faith, and is the only psychoanalytic book which, to my knowledge, carries an Archbishop’s imprimatur on the back fly leaf. His third (non-fiction) book, The Flight from Woman, delves deeper into the psychology of religious experience, and offers a critique of Cartesian rationalism and positivism, and the Western/masculine tendency to prize abstract thought at the expense of empathy and intuition, drawing extensively on Bergson and existential-phenomenological sources. Many of his ideas about the nature of faith vividly anticipate those of Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary, and David Tacey’s in Religion as Metaphor: Beyond Literal Belief. I discuss the parallels between Stern and McGilchrist at some length, and only wish I’d had David Tacey’s book on hand earlier.

If, having read it, you have comments or questions about the book, please get in touch with me at

Thanks for your time and attention.


Daniel Burston

The book is available for purchase from KARNAC >>>