Don’t Pathologize Religious Experiences

Jules Evans, a journalist and writer with a deep interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, writes a piece for Wired Magazine on the tendency of religious or out-of-the-ordinary experiences to be “shifted to the margins of our secular, scientific, post-animist culture and defined as pathological symptoms of a physical or emotional disease.” Evans cites a new study in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology that compares “psychotic-like phenomena in clinical and non-clinical populations” and finds that context is vital in determining how that experience is treated and integrated into someone’s life. “It is not the OOE [‘out-of-the-ordinary’ experience] itself that determines the development of a clinical condition, but rather the wider personal and interpersonal contexts that influence how this experience is subsequently integrated. Theoretical implications for the refinement of psychosis models are outlined, and clinical implications for the validation and normalization of psychotic-like phenomena are proposed.” This leads Evans to call for a more pragmatic approach from health care professionals when confronted with a patient’s experience of an ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ experience.