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A religious delusion is a type of cognitive phenomenon known to psychiatry. Thoughts, either beliefs or ideas, that are found in psychosis have no basis in reality, and held with certainty and maintained by the person (i.e. they are resistant to criticism that are additionally specifically of a type that is of the aspect or factor of reality defined as religious).
A study found adherents to new religious movements to have similar delusionary cognition, as rated by the Delusions Inventory, to a psychotic group. Although the former reported feeling less distressed by their experiences than the latter.
In a 2010 study, religious delusions were found with themes of spiritual persecution by malevolent spirit-entities, control exerted over the person by spirit-entities, delusional experience of sin and guilt, or delusions of grandeur. Individuals experiencing religious delusions are preoccupied with religious subjects that are not within the expected beliefs for an individual's background, including culture, education, and known experiences of religion. These preoccupations are incongruous with the mood of the subject. Falling within the definition also are delusions arising in psychotic depression; however, these must present within a major depressive episode and be congruous with mood.
One study found religious delusions to be unrelated to any specific set of diagnostic criteria.
Historically, Sigmund Freud stated in a 1937 essay that he considered believing in a single god to be a delusion, which is an extension of his comments of 1907 that religion is the indication of obsessional neurosis. His thoughts defining "delusion" perhaps crystallized from the notion of the religion formulations of the common man (circa 1927) as "patently infantile, foreign to reality" and additionally in the same year, stating that religion "comprises a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality, such as we find in an isolated form nowhere else but amentia, in a state of blissful hallucinatory confusion".
Behaviours out of the ordinary were traditionally viewed as demonic possession, although disavowed entirely by modern psychiatry, are evaluated by clinicians only such that they fall within the safety of a treatment programme.
A paper suggested that, when compared with experiences today, psychiatric conditions associated with psychotic spectrum symptoms may be possible explanations for some revelatory driven experiences and activities such as those of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Saint Paul. However, the paper admits that the study was not aimed to deny supernatural elements, now was it conclusive on whether their experiences were delusional in part or not at all.
In one study of 193 people who had previously been admitted to hospital and subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia, 24% were found to have religious delusions. In a comparative study sampling 313 patients, those with religious delusion were found to be aged older, had been placed on a drug regime or started a treatment programme at an earlier stage. In the context of presentation they were found to have functioning globally, worse than another group of patients without religious delusions. The first group also scored higher on the Scale of Assessment for Positive Symptoms (SAPS), had a greater total on the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS), and were treated with a higher mean number of neuroleptics of differing types during their hospitalization.
Examples from a study in Lithuania with 295 subjects, showed that the most common religious delusion amongst women were of being a saint and amongst men of being God.
Religious delusion was found to strongly correlate with temporolimbic instability.
Hearing the voice of God to commit acts of violence is recorded in antiquity in the case of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham. The connection between religious experience of communication from heavenly or divine beings where the results of such a test of faith were not favourable for the person is La Pucelle. In contemporary times persons judged to have experienced auditory hallucination include those that experience hearing voices or a voice instructing or motivating them to commit violent acts. These auditory experiences are classified by psychiatry as command hallucination. Persons acting to commit murder are reported as hearing voices of religious beings such as God, angels or the Devil. Within the psychiatric community religious auditory hallucination is qualified by some as, those that hear the voice of God talking to them are experiencing schizophrenia, while those that instead talk to God but hear no response, i.e. pray do not.
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