Date: 29 May 2009

On Shared Psychological Mechanisms of Religiousness and Delusional Beliefs

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Abstract

Ever since psychiatry emerged as a branch of clinical medicine, religiosity and religiousness have been interwoven with shifting concepts of psychopathology. Recent research has re-focused on the association of suicidal behavior and religiosity, adherence to treatment, coping with mental illness or bereavement, how religiosity may be related to the attachment system, and the role of religiousness in psychotherapy. One of the most contentious issues, however, pertains to the question how religiousness is related to the formation of delusional beliefs, mainly, because religiousness and delusion formation share several definitional characteristics. This chapter seeks to highlight similarities and dissimilarities between religiousness and delusional beliefs with respect to their neurocognitive underpinnings, which include the ability to recognize agency and to experience the self as an agent , the ability to evaluate current evidence in support of or refuting a hypothesis, the propensity for causality , and the ability to attribute mental states to one’s self and others. It is concluded that the intensity with which religious faith is expressed can be interpreted as continuous trait variation ranging from normal belief evaluation with the preserved capacity to consider alternative explanations (thus, weak expression of religiousness), to the extreme of systematized delusion with the incorrigible conviction of divine influence of virtually all aspects of life (which might be termed “delusional religiousness”).