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The Doubting Disease: Religious Scrupulosity and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Historical Context

Abstract

Psychologists and cultural historians typically have argued that early modern theologians such as Martin Luther, John Bunyan, and Ignatius Loyola exhibited behavior that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) classifies as a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder termed “religious scrupulosity.” This essay argues that, although early modern theologians do manifest scrupulosity, such religiosity was a culturally acceptable, even recommended component of spiritual progress, a necessary means of receiving an unmerited bestowal of God’s grace. The larger aim of the essay is to point out some of the limitations of current DSM criteria when attempting retrospectively to diagnose historical figures with mental pathology.

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Notes

  1. Cited in E.H. Erikson, Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (W.W. Norton, 1962), 206.

  2. Ibid., 61.

  3. Ibid., 148.

  4. J. Rapaport, The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Washing: The Experience and Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (New York: Penguin, 1989), 263.

  5. I. Osborn, Tormenting Thoughts and Secret Rituals: The Hidden Epidemic of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (New York: Random House, 1999), 58.

  6. See N.O. Brown, Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History (New York: Random House, 1959), chapter xiv, passim.

  7. Ibid., 53.

  8. Ibid., 55.

  9. Ibid., 53.

  10. J.W. Ciarrocci, The Doubting Disease: Help For Scrupulosity and Religious Compulsions (Paulist Press, 1995), 39.

  11. Rapoport, The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Washing, 262.

  12. Cited in Ciarrocchi, The Doubting Disease, 51.

  13. Ibid., 119.

  14. J. Traig, Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2004), 35–64.

  15. Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings, trans. J. Dillinbeger (Garden City: Doubleday, 1961), 89.

  16. J. Bunyan, Grace Abounding and The Pilgrim’s Progress, ed., J. Brown (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1907), 33.

  17. St. Augustine, Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (London: Penguin, 1961), 164.

  18. Bunyan, Grace Abounding, 15.

  19. Bunyan, Grace Abounding, 15.

  20. Ibid., 16.

  21. Ibid., 79.

  22. Ibid., 81.

  23. See D. Sedaris, Naked (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1997), in which Sedaris remarks: “My bedroom was right there off the hallway, but first I had business to tend to. After kissing the fourth, eighth and twelfth carpeted stair, I wiped the cat hair off my lips and proceeded to the kitchen, where I was commanded to stroke the burners of the stove, press my nose against the refrigerator door, and arrange the percolator, toaster, and blender into a straight row” (10).

  24. Cited in K.R. Jamison, Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 25.

  25. Ibid., 19.

  26. The foundational study of cognitive therapy is A.T. Beck, Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders (New York: New American Library, 1976); see also D.D. Burns, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (New York: Morrow, 1980), for an early study of cognitive therapy in relation to a spectrum of psychological disorders.

  27. E.B. Foa and R. Wilson, Stop Obsessing: How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions (New York: Bantam Books, 1991), 79.

  28. Ibid., 88.

  29. W. Van Ornun, A Thousand Frightening Fantasies: Understanding and Healing Scrup-ulosity and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1997), 132.

  30. Foa and Reid, Stop Obsessing, 133.

  31. J.M. Schwartz and S. Begley, The Mind and The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), 14.

  32. See I. Hacking, Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).

  33. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Washington, D.C., American Psychiatric Association, 1994), 459.

  34. R.D. Laing, The Divided Self (New York: Pantheon, 1969), 276.

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Cefalu, P. The Doubting Disease: Religious Scrupulosity and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Historical Context. J Med Humanit 31, 111–125 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10912-010-9107-3

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Keywords

  • Religious scrupulosity
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Reformation theology
  • John Bunyan
  • Martin Luther