Hearing Voices and Other Matters of the Mind

What Mental Abnormalities Can Teach Us About Religions

Robert N. McCauley,

Hearing Voices and Other Matters of the Mind: What Mental Abnormalities Can Teach Us About Religions
 
 
A man with schizophrenia believes that God is instructing him through the public address system in a bus station. A nun falls into a decades-long depression because she believes that God refuses to answer her prayers. A neighborhood parishioner is bedeviled with anxiety because he believes that a certain religious ritual must be repeated, repeated, and repeated lest God punish him. To what extent are such manifestations of religious thinking analogous to mental disorder? Does mental dysfunction bring an individual closer to religious experience or thought? Hearing Voices and Other Unusual Experiences explores these questions using the tools of the cognitive science of religion and the philosophy of psychopathology.Robert McCauley and George Graham emphasize underlying cognitive continuities between familiar features of religiosity, of mental disorders, and of everyday thinking and action. They contend that much religious thought and behavior can be explained as the cultural activation of our natural cognitive systems, which address matters that are essential to human survival: hazard precautions, agency detection, language processing, and theory of mind. Those systems produce responses to cultural stimuli that may mimic features of cognition and conduct associated with mental disorders, but which are sometimes coded as "religious" depending on the context.The authors examine hallucinations of the voice of God and of other supernatural agents, spiritual depression often described as a "dark night of the soul," religious scrupulosity and compulsiveness, and challenges to theistic cognition that Autistic Spectrum Disorder poses. Their approach promises to shed light on both mental abnormalities and religiosity.


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