‘God put a thought into my mind’: S Dein & CCH Cook; Mental Health, Religion & Culture

untitledGod put a thought into my mind: the charismatic Christian experience of receiving communications from God‘: Simon Dein & Christopher CH Cook, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, Volume 18, Issue 2, 2015

Abstract: “The agentive aspects of communicative religious experiences remain somewhat neglected in the social sciences literature. There is a need for phenomenological descriptions of these experiences and the ways in which they differ from culturally defined psychopathological states. In this semi-structured interview study, eight congregants attending an evangelical church in London were asked to describe their experiences of God communicating with them.

Communications from God were related to current events rather than to the prediction of future events. These communications were received as thoughts and do not generally reveal metaphysical insights, but rather they relate to the mundane world. They provided direction, consolation and empowerment in the lives of those receiving them. Individuals recounted that on occasion God sometimes speaks audibly, or accompanied by supernatural phenomena, but in the vast majority of cases, the way God speaks is through thoughts or impressions. In all instances, agency is maintained, individuals can choose to obey the thoughts/voices or not. The findings are discussed in relation to externalisation of agency and the phenomenon of thought insertion in schizophrenia.”

Introduction: “The sheep follow him because they know his voice. John 10:4b NRSV
As the controversial psychiatrist Szasz (1979, p. 101) quipped: “If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia. If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; If you talk to the dead, you are a schizophrenic”. While mental health professionals have a long tradition of pathologising religious experience (Johnson & Friedman, 2008), it appears that things are slowly changing. The recent DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) states:

The judgement that a given behaviour is abnormal and requires clinical attention depends on cultural norms that are internalised by the individual and applied by others around them, including family members and clinicians. Awareness of the significance of culture may correct mistaken interpretations of psychopathology …  (p. 14)

Like the early DSM –IV-TR , DSM-5 includes a V Code, 62.89, religious or spiritual problem. However, it also provides an expanded understanding of culture and the impact of culture in diagnosis.

Dein (2010) notes that we lack detailed phenomenological accounts of religious experiences involving communication with God and their differences from culturally defined psychopathological states. In this respect, the current paper examines how a group of Evangelical Christians in London perceive God to be communicating with them through the insertion of thoughts into congregants’ minds. It builds upon recent work on hearing God’s voice among Christians which suggests that hearing God is normative in some groups and that these voices differ phenomenologically from those found in schizophrenia (Dein & Littlewood, 2007; Luhrmann, 2012).”

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