Hearing Voices, Epilepsy, and Religious Experience
McCauley and Graham’s New Solutions to Old Problems
Keywords:brain disorder, mental illness, religious experience, mystical experience, epilepsy, St. Paul, CSR, McCauley, Graham
Approaching religious or mystical experience in association with mental or brain disorder has been a widespread practice in psychology and neuropsychology, but not so much in the cognitive science of religion (CSR). By their recent book, McCauley and Graham balance the disproportion within CSR. In the commentary, I address McCauley and Graham’s solutions to fundamental problems typical for the psychiatric approach to a religious experience. This approach understands religious experience as a mental or a brain disorder, diagnoses the disorder based on insufficient data in historical cases, and neglects cultural and historical aspects of religious experience and mental disorders. McCauley and Graham handle the diagnosis problem by focusing on the particular aspect of the religious experience (e.g., “hearing voices”) and analyzing its pathological and non-pathological aspects, instead of simply assuming disorder. In regards to the neglect of historical and cultural aspects of religious experience and mental illness, McCauley and Graham stress the importance of the cultural domestication of unusual aspects of religious experience. In dealing with the psychiatric approach problems, McCauley and Graham introduce a new complementary and complex theoretical model for embracing mental abnormalities into the framework of CSR.
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