Exclusive Interview with Prof. Girishwar Misra

Exclusive Interview with Prof. Girishwar Misra

Personal Information:

  • Date of Birth: 21st April 1951
  • Place of Birth: Gorakhpur (UP)

Educational Qualification:

  • BA in Psychology (Gorakhpur University, 1968)
  • MA in Psychology (Gorakhpur University, 1970)( First division, First position )
  • PhD. in Psychology (Gorakhpur University, 1979)

Professional Experience:

Rewards and excellences:  UGC Research Award; Fulbright Senior Fellow at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Swarthmore College, Philadelphia; Visiting Professor at the Ruhr University Germany; ESRC Fellow at Sussex University, UK;  and Fulbright-Nehru Scholar and Lecturer at New School of Social Research, New York and He has also been a Council Member and National Fellow of ICCSR, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru National Award for social science.

Research interests: Research interests are primarily focused on social, developmental, health and cultural psychology. He has completed several national and international projects.

Publications: Published in national and international journals including American Psychologist, International Journal of Psychology, Psychology and Developing Societies, International Journal of Behavioral Development, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. He is an ex-President and Fellow of National Academy of Psychology, India, Board Member, International Association of Indigenous and Cultural Psychology.

Major publications: In addition to about 200 papers in journals and edited volumes has authored/edited the following : Psychological Consequences of Prolonged Deprivation (NPC, with L.B.Tripathi), Deprivation: Its Social Roots and Psychological Consequences (CONCEPT, with D.Sinha and RC Tripathi),Applied Social Psychology in India(SAGE), Perspectives on Indigenous Psychology (CONCEPT,with A.K. Mohanty), Perspectives on Stress and Health , New Directions in Indian Psychology: Social Psychology (SAGE,with A.K. Dalal), Psychology and Societal Development(CONCEPT), Rethinking Intelligence : Human Competence in Cultural Context (CONCEPT, with A.K. Srivastava), Psychology in India : Advances in Research (PEARSON, 4 volumes), New Directions in Health Psychology (SAGE, with A.K. Dalal), Handbook of Psychology in India(OXFORD), Foundations of Indian Psychology (PEARSON, with M. Cornelissen and S.Verma), Psychology and Psychoanalysis (Centre for Civilizational Studies), Psychology for India: Durganand Sinha (SAGE, with A.K. Dalal). He has edited Psychological Studies (Springer) for fifteen years and now serves its Special Issue Editor.

Research Supervision: 35 students have earned Ph.D. under his supervision.


Interview Questions

What was the topic of your Doctorate?

It was “Psychological Consequences of Prolonged Deprivation.”

Who have been your role model(s) in your student life? Why?

During my academic career spanning more than four decades a number of seniors and Gurus (teachers) had influenced my academic journey. I owe a lot to them. Due to space constraints, it would be difficult to mention all of them. So I would selectively mention four of them who nurtured me in many ways. My first teacher in psychology was Professor H.S. Asthana who came to Gorakhpur University as a faculty for a short period. He took classes in BA first year and helped to learn psychological principles in an inimitable simple style. He created an interest in understanding psychological phenomena. He returned to Sagar University after two years but continued to bless me by his guidance throughout my career. Secondly, Professor L.B. Tripathi provided a role model during my subsequent academic career. He was a scholar par excellence, a great teacher and an exceptionally good human being. He had trust in me and inspired by his exemplary character, passion for learning and commitment. At home, my elder brother Professor Vidya Niwas Misra offered a wide scope to learn about the nuances of language, literature and culture. He was a leading linguist, Sanskrit scholar and a Hindi essayist. My interest in cultural processes grew under his guidance and support. With him, I developed a passion to learn and share. My interest in cultural and indigenous psychology was shaped by Professor Durganand Sinha at Allahabad University. As a mentor, he created an incessant urge in me to learn and grow in academics. During my Senior Fulbright Fellowship, I had the opportunity to work with Professor Kenneth J. Gergen at Swarthmore College, Philadelphia. He is a pioneer social psychologist and thinker. He broadened my vision of psychology and methodology and helped to critically examine many important issues. All these Gurus have served as a source of inspiration for me.

What was The Biggest Challenge you faced in your Student Life?

In general, I enjoyed studies and did not face any serious problem. However, managing time and maintaining relationships with friends and family members to their satisfaction were challenging. I had to take extra care and invest time and effort there.  Since then,‘balancing’ and ‘adapting’ became key words in life.

When did you first become interested in a career in psychology?

I chose psychology as one of the three subjects at Bachelor’s level. It was a relatively new discipline and appeared to make a promise for understanding the intricacies of personal and social lives of the people. In particular, the emotional lives of people drew my attention. They had significant presence in media, literature as well as in everyday life. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to become a psychologist?

One has to be reflective and maintain disciplined curiosity about mental and behavioral phenomena pertaining to self and others. Self-reflection is a must. Also, one should try to be open to ideas and should not hold fixed notions and prejudices against others. Ability to carefully observe and attending to the surrounding social and physical environment would be very helpful. A psychologist must respect other people and try to maintain their dignity. Others are not mere ‘subjects’. They are human beings like us. There is much to learn from other individuals. Finally, while understanding any phenomenon the immediate environment, broader ecology and culture also need to be taken into account. They are the key forces determining the course of human action as affordances. It’s important because psychologists are usually in the habit of reducing everything to an individual disposition or trait. They unnecessarily posit a construct supposedly describing some internal condition as the cause of behavior (or some other disposition!).

What are some of your personal strengths and weaknesses? What particular steps you have taken to address your weaknesses?

It’s a bit difficult and challenging to accurately understand one’s own self. I shall try to share a few things that come to my mind right now.  Curiosity and commitment are central in articulating my style. I like to read literature and enjoy learning about new ideas. I love to work, help friends, students and colleagues. I cherish having passionate engagement with academics and cultural activities.  I feel disturbed if others do not take their work seriously. I try to convince others and urge them to be accountable and contribute to their field of work. Gradually I have started accepting others as they are. I try to figure out their strengths and help them grow. I try to learn from mistakes but habits are difficult to change.

What different types of researches you are most interested in and why?

Analyzing the cultural roots of psychological processes in general, as well as emotion and personality in particular, appear fascinating. The indigenous ideas need to be explored in-depth. Psychology in the Western world is not divided between academic and non-academic/mundane categories as done in the Indian condition. We have developed the habit of using Western concepts/theories to analyze Indian realities. We often fail to understand the relationship between cultural-societal conditions and the production of knowledge. We treat all the Western theories as universal. Indian society also deserves to be understood in terms of its indigenous categories and approaches, which is very difficult as the vast majority of our research efforts has been preoccupied with theory and methodology borrowed from the West.

In the Indian context, people often share their time, energy and financial resources with other people provided that they see a certain degree of genuineness in them. The sense of social obligation still occupies an important place in life. At the same time the contemporary problems emerging from consumerism, morality in public life and the upsurge of negative emotions need research attention. Self-regulation and wellbeing are also important concerns. We also need to appreciate the implications of social diversity realistically. Similarly, the impact of globalization has to be understood.  We need to explore how the Indian society should reposition itself in the emerging global and local scenario. 

Describe some of the current research projects you are involved with?

For quite some time I have been engaged in editing the 6thICSSR Survey and Explorations in Psychology. It is being published by the Oxford University Press (2019) in 5 volumes. It provides a very comprehensive survey and analysis of theory and research in different areas.  I also edited a volume entitled Psycho-Social Interventions for Health and Wellbeing (Springer, 2018). Now I am editing a volume on ‘the history of psychology in modern India.’ It is a follow up of the centenary celebrations of the first psychology department held at Calcutta University in 2015-16.

I have been worried that our undergraduate students are not exposed to Indian research. To this end, I have tried to follow a middle path and adapted two volumes of general psychology and one on educational psychology. The texts so produced provide access to Indian studies and ideas also. These volumes are as follows:

  1. Ciccarelli, S.K., White, J. N. Adapted by Misra, G. (2018). Psychology (5th edition). New Delhi: Pearson.
  2. R.A. & Misra, G. (2016). Psychology (5th Edition). New Delhi: Pearson.
  3. Woolfolk, A., Misra, G. & Jha, A.K. (20120. Educational Psychology (11th Edition). New Delhi: Pearson.

In the last few years, I have been engaged with two major research projects. First one is a large scale research program sponsored by ICSSR on shared spaces. Our team comprising of Purnima Singh, Roomana Siddiqui, Arvind K. Mishra and Preeti Kapur and myself undertook a multi-method and multicentric study with different samples from Delhi, Gujarat, Bihar, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, I have completed another project on religion, identity and wellbeing with Preeti Kapur. Both the reports are being finalized for publication. I also edited a volume with Late Prof. Ajit Dalal entitled Psychology for India (SAGE, 2016). It’s a volume comprising of selected papers of Professor D. Sinha.

As a part of UGC initiative to improve the quality of higher education, I have also been engaged in preparing the Learning Outcome Based Curriculum Framework (LOCF) for UG courses in psychology. Now it’s ready for circulation.

 During the last five years (from March 2014 to April 2019) I was entrusted with the task of academic administration and leadership as Vice-Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya Wardha, a Central University in Maharashtra. This provided me with an opportunity to work in the area of literature and language. I chose to write in Hindi national dailies like Dainik Jagaran, Amar Ujala, Rashtriya Sahara and Dainik Bhaskar and several Hindi journals on social, cultural and psychological themes. A set of four volumes of essays has been published. I also made efforts to create links between language, literature and social sciences through organizing interdisciplinary seminars. I also studied the thoughts Mahatma Gandhi. I also realized that literature needs to be studied not merely as fiction but also as a source of psychological insights. I am also planning to launch a website to make available psychological resources in the Hindi language.

               I am currently writing a piece on the Indigenization of Psychology in the Indian Context.  In recent years the social science research (SSR) in India has been criticized on account of the lack of creativity, low applicability and replication of Western findings. Further, the publication and dissemination primarily through the English language, has made it inaccessible for a majority of the Indian people. A critical reflection regarding the disciplinary developments is required. I am examining the issues of globalization, increased intercultural communication, and socio-cultural diversity. I am proposing ways to develop culturally informed psychology.

You have many years of experience of working for Indian People. What are the difficulties in working with diverse or multicultural populations? What are your suggestions for future research?

The usual practice of psychological research has been confined to the use of a single sample. The researchers, however, indulge in unwarranted generalizations. During my research career, I have interacted and organized studies with people from different backgrounds e.g. regions, gender, age groups, ecological settings, and cultures. I have also participated in joint and collaborative studies at national and international levels. The socio-cultural variety in India provides an excellent opportunity for social psychological research. Expanding research to multiple sites and samples, however, demands conceptual and methodological innovations. We need to develop strategies for psychological mapping and to integrate multi-site studies and drawing conclusions. The groups varying in socio-demographic background and cultural practices pose problems related to communication also. To this end, we need to build a pool of researchers from different regions and involve them in projects on a long term basis.

There are very good psychological associations/Societies in the world. Does India also need Associations/Societies of that kind? What efforts are going on for the same? If you think that we already have an International level of Associations then please suggest the name?

Currently, three large psychology associations are active: National Academy of Psychology (NAOP), Indian Academy of Applied Psychology and Indian Association of Clinical Psychology. In addition, there are some regional and some discipline-specific associations. The NAOP represents India at the International Union of Psychological Sciences. It is gratifying that India is elected as a member of the Executive Council of this international body. The national conventions of the NAOP have been attended by the Presidents and other representatives of the American Psychological Association, International Association of Applied Psychology, International Congress of Psychology, and International Association of Cross-Cultural Psychology. However, the participation of psychologists in the meetings of professional bodies is less than satisfactory.  We need to strengthen our association by taking interest in their activities.

There are many students in India who study Psychology in Hindi. You have written some quality books of Psychology with Hindi as a medium. Do you think they do not have a good number of literature available or we can say that the option is not present? If yes, how can we overcome this shortcoming?

The English language currently dominates the academic scenario in Indian higher education. This certainly provides an advantage for the Indian students in the era of globalization. The students are able to consult research literature published in English and publish their own work in English language journals. However, we miss the point that English is not the universal language spoken across the globe. Even in Europe itself there are other important languages (e.g. German, French and Russian). Also, in India the number of English speaking people is about 10 per cent. Hindi is spoken by more than 40 per cent Indians. It is spoken in 11 states of India. It is used as medium of instruction at the university level in most of these states. Perhaps the students have a choice and many universities run separate sections for Hindi and English medium students. The number of Hindi medium students is significantly increasing. They do need good textbooks, supply of research publications and avenues for research publications. The current situation is not satisfactory. There is dearth of quality books. Most of them are poor translations of outdated Western books. Also, most of the Hindi books are not regularly updated. Concerted effort is required to fill the gap. I have been involved in preparing textbooks in 1970s and 1980s and contributed volumes on Experimental Psychology, Social Psychology and Research Methods. I also translated a couple of books. I am planning to focus on this issue once again. In fact at Wardha I gave a series of lectures on research methods in Hindi. I would like to elaborate and enrich them to prepare a book on qualitative methods.

You wrote in a book, “The Indian Tradition is very rich and consists of many schools of thought, which have grown and addressed the issue of reality and methods of knowing in diverse ways”. You have explained school of Indian Philosophy that we can apply in Psychological Science but what is the reason that today we are not using Indian Philosophy at a higher level.

I think this issue relates primarily to the cultural grounding of psychological science. It’s sad that modern psychology started with Wundt who gave a respectable place for culture in his work. He wrote several volumes on folk psychology. However, psychology’s American avatar gave it a shape of experimental science. In the 1960s programmatic efforts in cross-cultural psychology started. They were followed by developments in cultural psychology and indigenous psychology in different countries. The move for indigenization also started (See Misra, G. & Gergen,K.J. 1993, On the place of culture in psychological science. International Journal of Psychology, 28, 225-243). In general the main framework of psychology remained as it was and some concessions were made for culture. This was not sufficient to acknowledge and integrate the resources available in the Indian thought systems. Therefore efforts have started to consolidate the perspective of Indian Psychology (see Dalal, A.K. & Misra, G.The core and context of Indian psychology. Psychology and Developing Societies, 2010, 22, 121-135). K.R.Rao and A.C. Paranjpe (2016) have recently published a volume entitled   Psychology in the Indian Tradition (New Delhi: Springer) which offers a comprehensive account of the field.

There are many reasons for the neglect and avoidance of Indian thought. A detailed analysis is required to create a vision for culturally rooted psychology. In brief, the following seem to be critical for the negligence of Indian thought.

  1. Psychology and many of our social sciences were imported from the Euro-American tradition and transplanted in the Indian academic set-up.
  2. The belief in the scientific method based on the natural sciences as the most appropriate method for social sciences.
  3. Considering culture as an extraneous variable and undertaking a decontextualized study of social and psychological phenomenon.
  4. Increase in the distance with Indian thought and culture under the British regimen and resultant cultural forgetting.
  5. Considering the foreigners as significant others.
  6. Method centricity and lack of problem orientation among social scientists.

Any other advice for aspiring psychologists?

The future course of psychology in India needs to attend some of the grand challenges before the nation.  We need to adopt a problem orientation and make efforts to address these challenges. Some of the relevant ideas that I would like to share are as follows.

  • Human well-being is occupying a central concern in our national agenda. The main challenge is to understand, plan and enact on the programs that allow flourishing of everybody ( Sarvodaya).
  • In today’s scenario, people are faced with numerous problems in personal and social lives in different areas including health, environment and civic behavior. In order to address them Psychology has to help nourish a culture favoring a positive mindset and facilitating conditions that support it.
  • As a society, India presents a unique example of progress against all odds. As the largest democratic and second most populous country India has registered notable economic growth, and developments in technology and education. There are success stories of excellence in different areas. We need to learn from these indigenous resources and integrate with our psychological understanding.
  • We need to build strategies for building human resources and deploying them wisely. This has to be undertaken with a view to benefit self and society.
  • The national life has been plagued by conflict, corruption, and crisis of values. They are the issues debated in everyday lie. Psychology and other social sciences need address these issues.
  • Imagination and creativity are critical and highly valued human assets. They, however, receive insufficient emphasis in our educational practices and psychological research. We need to create ways and means to enhance them.


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