On Shared Psychological Mechanisms of Religiousness and Delusional Beliefs

Part of the The Frontiers Collection book series (FRONTCOLL)


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”).


  1. Abu-Akel A (1999) Impaired theory of mind in schizophrenia. Pragmatics and Cognition 7:247–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Birgegard A, Granqvist P (2004) The correspondence between attachment to parents and God: Three experiments using subliminal separation cues. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 30:1122–1135PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bentall R P, Corcoran R, Howard R, Blackwood N, Kinderman P (2001) Persecutory delusions: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review 21:1143–1192PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bering J M (2006) The folk psychology of souls. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29:453–498PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bömmer I, Brüne M (2006) Social cognition in “pure” delusional disorder. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry 11:493–503PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Borras L, Mohr S, Brandt P Y, Gilliéron C, Eytan A, Huguelet P. (2007) Religious beliefs in schizophrenia: Their relevance for adherence to treatment. Schizophrenia Bulletin 33:1238–1246PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown S L, Nesse R M, House J S, Utz R L (2004) Religion and emotional compensation: Results form a prospective study of widowhood. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 30:1165–1174PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brüne M, Abdel-Hamid M, Lehmkämper C, Sonntag C (2007) Mental state attribution, neurocognitive functioning, and psychopathology: What predicts poor social competence in schizophrenia best? Schizophrenia Research 92:151–159PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carone D A Jr, Barone D F (2001) A social cognitive perspective on religious beliefs: Their functions and impact on coping and psychotherapy. Clinical Psychology Review 21:989–1003PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cicirelli V G (2004) God as the ultimate attachment figure for older adults. Attachment and Human Development 6:371–388PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Coltheart M, Langdon R, McKay R (2007) Schizophrenia and monothematic delusions. Schizophrenia Bulletin 33:642–647PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Curlin F A, Odell S V, Lawrence R E, Chin M H, Lantos J D, Meador K G, Koenig H G (2007) The relationship between psychiatry and religion among U.S. physicians. Psychiatric Services 58:1193–1198PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dawkins R (2006) The God delusion. Bantam Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Franck N, Farrer C, Georgieff N, Marie-Cardine M, Daléry J, d’Amato T, Jeannerod M (2001) Detective recognition of one’s own actions in patients with schizophrenia. American Journal of Psychiatry 158:545–459PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Freud S (1953) Das Unbehagen in der Kultur, 1929/1930 edn. In: Abriß der Psychoanalyse.Fischer, FrankfurtGoogle Scholar
  16. Frith C, Rees G, Friston K (2000) Psychosis and the experience of self. Brain systems underlying self-monitoring. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 843:170–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Frith C D, Blakemore S J, Wolpert D M (2000) Explaining the symptoms of schizophrenia: Abnormalities in the awareness of action. Brain Research Reviews 31:357–363PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Heise D R (1988) Delusions and the construction of reality. In: Oltmanns T F, Maher B A (eds) Delusional beliefs. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  19. Huguelet P, Mohr S, Jung V, Gillieron C, Brandt P Y, Borras L (2007) Effects of religion on suicide attempts in outpatients with schizophrenia or schizo-affective disorders compared with inpatients with non-psychotic disorders. European Psychiatry 22:188–194PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jaspers K (1973) Allgemeine Psychopathologie, 9th unchanged edn. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  21. Johnson J G, Zhang B, Greer J A, Prigerson H G (2007) Parental control, Partner dependency, and complicated grief among widowed adults in the community. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 195:26–30PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kirkpatrick L A (1999) Attachment and religious representations and behavior. In: Cassidy J, Shaver P R (eds) Handbook of Attachment. Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications. Guilford Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Kraepelin E (1918) Hundert Jahre Psychiatrie. Zeitschrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie 38:161–275Google Scholar
  24. Kruglanski A W, Webster D M, Klem A (1993) Motivated resistance and openness to persuasion in the presence or absence of prior information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65:861–876PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lorenz K (1973) Die Rückseite des Spiegels. Versuch einer Naturgeschichte menschlichen Erkennens. Piper, MünchenGoogle Scholar
  26. Maher B (2005) Delusional thinking and cognitive disorder. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science 40:136–146PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Maher B A (1974) Delusional thinking and perceptual disorder. Journal of Individual Psychology 30:98–113PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. McKay R, Langdon R, Coltheart M (2006) Need for closure, jumping to conclusions, and decisiveness in delusion-prone individuals. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 194:422–426PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mohr S, Brandt P Y, Borras L, Gillieron C, Huguelet P (2006) Toward an integration of spirituality and religiousness into the psychosocial dimension of schizophrenia. American Journal of Psychiatry 163:1952–1959PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mohr S, Huguelet P (2004) The relationship between schizophrenia and religion and its implications for care. Swiss Medical Weekly 134:369–376PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Nesse R M, Lloyd A T (1992) The evolution of psychodynamic mechanisms. In: Barkow J H, Cosmides L, Tooby J (eds) The adapted mind. Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  32. O’Donnell L, O’Donnell C, Wardlaw D M, Stueve A (2004) Risk and resilience factors influencing suicidality among urban African American and Latino Youth. American Journal of Community Psychology 33:37–49PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Oltmanns T F (1988) Approaches to the definition and study of delusions. In: Oltmanns T F, Maher B A (eds) Delusional beliefs. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  34. Pfaff M, Quednow B B, Brüne M, Juckel G (2008) Schizophrenie und Religiosität. Eine Vergleichsstudie zur Zeit der innerdeutschen Teilung. Psychiatrische Praxis 35:240–246PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sacks O (1971) Migraine. The evolution of a common disorder. Faber and Faber, LondonGoogle Scholar
  36. Saroglou V (2002) Beyond dogmatism: The need for closure as related to religion. Mental Health, Religion and Culture 5:183–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Spence S A, Brooks D J, Hirsch S R, Liddle P F, Meehan J, Grasby P M (1997) A PET study of voluntary movement in schizophrenic patients experiencing passivity phenomena (delusions of alien control). Brain 120:1997–2011PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Steinebrunner E, Scharfetter C (1976) Wahn im Wandel der Geschichte. Eine historisch-vergleichende Studie. Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten 222:47–60PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Trivers R (2000) The elements of a scientific theory of self-deception. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 907:114–131PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. von Holst E, Mittelstaedt H (1950) Das Reafferenzprinzip. Naturwissenschaften 37:464–476CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Walsh A (1995) Parental attachment, drug use, and facultative sexual strategies. Social Biology 42:95–107PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Westermeyer J (1988) Some cross-cultural aspects of delusions. In: Oltmanns T F, Maher B A (eds) Delusional beliefs. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Psychosomatics and Preventative MedicineUniversity of Bochum, LWL University HospitalBochumGermany

Personalised recommendations