Religious experience and mental health: Anthropological and psychological approaches

Religious Experience and Mental Health

In his article, Dein (2017) collaborates ideas of various studies on the connection between mental health and religious experiences. He elucidates several significant differences in how people explicate and remark experiences associated with religion. In some aspects, these experiences would get dismissed as mental disorders. Dein emphasizes the impact of these experiences on an individual’s mental health while referencing cultural and biblical concepts. Religious experiences may be visionary or auditory (those involved claim to involve some spirituality in what is seen and heard) and sensory experiences of ordinary objects that convey information about extramundane reality. But Dein says the absence of sufficient empirical studies on this topic is a barrier to understanding this concept.

According to Dein, there is inadequate research on the relationship between religious experiences and mental health. Yet, he describes the significance of the progress made so far in this theme, referencing the work of William James, the experiences of biblical and Qur’an characters. He then illustrates the cultural differences relating to clarifications of religious incidents and how they might have a crucial connection with mental health, causing positive and negative effects. He proposes more research on this topic, mentioning the necessity of collaborating with theologians, neuroscientists, psychologists, and anthropologists.

The author tries to expound on the connection between religious experiences and psychiatry. He does so by using past non-empirical studies, such as the works of William James. When the term religious experience got deployed in a theological context in the nineteenth century, the field of psychology has increasingly distanced itself from the spiritual side of humanity. Dein uses experiences of the Biblical and Qu’ran characteristics to explain the relatedness between religion and psychiatry and its consequences on overall societal health. While some western cultures recognize “hearing voices” as a psychotic symptom, others associate it with spirituality, such as Asian and African cultures. He concludes that religious experiences have positive and negative outcomes. The positive consequences include but are not limited to providing alternative systems of meaning to the experience, enhancing control, and increasing social support. The unfavorable outcomes, such as increased social isolation and delayed opportunities for mental health interventions, were noted. All the same, the available information on the field of religious experience and mental health remains under-researched.

The author’s argument is compelling, especially if you consider the diversity of interpretations surrounding religious experiences. There seems to be a high incidence of confusion on what could be psychotic or not. The argument is reasonable and unbiased. Dein explains his opinion by basing on examples from Christianity and Islam and different cultures to support his hypothesis. For instance, in cultures that perceive these experiences as spiritual and positive, people are less likely to seek interventions, which may cause adverse outcomes.

I chose this article because of its clarity in explaining the connection between psychiatry and religious experiences; it describes the origin of this topic, how the concept has evolved over the years, and where further research should focus. Understanding the theme as put forth by this article could promote future research and demonstrate how these experiences might impact health in different cultures. The most compelling aspect of the article is its analysis of the concepts surrounding religion and psychiatry by using historical and cultural examples. It concisely and clearly describes the perspective of most other articles on the same topic.

Anthropologically, the cross-cultural information on the overlap of psychosis and religious experiences resonates well with me. The interpretations of the western cultures tend to focus on the psychotic implications, especially when hearing voices. The author states that in Ghana, for instance, hearing voices did not signify a mental disorder. Instead, locals perceived it as “under spiritual attack” by witches or spirits. The same experiences would be perceived as “psychosis” in the United States. These variations are crucial in modern society, as they could paint a better picture of the relatedness between religion and psychiatry.


Dein, S. (2017). Religious experience and mental health: Anthropological and psychological approaches. Mental Health, Religion & Culture20(6), 558-566.