"Highly similar mental and behavioral states may be designated psychiatric disorders in some cultural settings and religious experiences in others...Within cultures that invest these unusually states with meaning and provide the individual experiencing them with institutional support, at least a proportion of them may be contained and channeled into socially valuable roles."

Raymond Prince (1992) Religious experience and psychopathology: Cross-cultural perspectives. In Religion and mental health. J. F. Schumacher. New York, Oxford University Press (p. 289).

Mental illness and religion have been associated since the earliest recorded history, and undoubtedly before. The Old Testament uses the same term, in referenee to madness sent by God as a punishment for the disobedient, and to describe the behavior of prophets (Rosen, 1968). Socrates declared, "Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness, provided the madness is given us by divine gift." Not all self-reports of ecstatic divine unions indicate that the person is having a profound religious experience, but many mystics, saints, and visionaries have clearly gone through episodes which overlap with psychosis.

©2000 David Lukoff. All rights reserved.