This book engages the problem of how, in the 21st century, we are to speak about experiences of the extraordinary/anomalous/extreme which occur on a transhistorical and transcultural basis. Critical re-readings of seminal texts show how 20th-century theoreticians in the humanities sought to erase madness from their irrational subjects. This propensity to sanitize madness in the study of religions was mirrored by the instinct of psychiatrists to degrade religious experiences by reducing mad consciousness to psychosis or dissociation. Richard Saville-Smith introduces explanatory pluralism as a way of recognizing these disciplinary biases and mad studies as a way of negotiating this understanding. The disproportionate significance of madness in shaping the fabric of the human story can then be recovered from both erasure and dismissal to be given the recognition previously denied - as acute religious experiences.
Acute Religious Experiences divides into three sections, beginning with re-readings of William James’s pathological programme, Rudolf Otto’s numinous, T. K. Oesterreich’s possession, Mircea Eliade’s shamanism, Walter Stace’s mysticism, Walter Pahnke’s psychedelic experience, and Abraham Maslow’s peak experiences. These ideas are shown to constitute the beginnings of a fractured discourse on the irrational. In part two, contemporary psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) and Foucault’s History of Madness are re-read to reposition madness as not necessarily pathological. This opens the way for the identification of acute religious experiences as a new holistic and post-colonial approach through which religious data can be organized and addressed on a comparative basis. In part three, The Gospel of Mark is re-read as a case study to demonstrate the novel insights which flow from the identification of acute religious experiences.
Richard Saville-Smith draws on his own experiences of madness and his PhD from the School of Divinity at The University of Edinburgh to elucidate his research.
This is a major, much needed intervention in the study of (religious) experiences. It offers a brilliant critique of the works of major 20th-century theorists, most of whom went to great lengths to distance religious and psychopathological experiences, and a fascinating new approach to visions, voices and possession from the perspective of mad studies. * Ann Taves, Distinguished Professor (Emerita) of Religious Studies, UC Santa Barbara, USA * Richard Saville-Smith introduces a novel reframing of acute religious experiences away from dominant, normative psychiatric classificatory schemes. Yet the proposed and developed replacement is not merely the frame of traditional ineffable mysticism or of apophatic striving, but rather that of "mad studies" wherein a mutually beneficial and intelligible reciprocity between "the mad" experiencer and the "rational" listener may be sought. Madness may yield knowledge, as the ancient Greeks intuited. The author applies this old intuition to the modern world through the tracing of a dialogue amongst relevant figures such as William James, Rudolf Otto, Walter Stace, and Foucault - alongside critical analyses of psychiatric manuals of "diagnosis". Here is a fascinating, refreshing work that will no doubt ignite further debate. * Peter Sjoestedt-Hughes, Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Exeter, UK * Acute Religious Experiences is a ground-breaking transdisciplinary work that brings the domains of madness and mysticism together in a transformative synthesis. Richard Saville-Smith offers a powerful challenge not only to the tendency in psychiatry to view psychosis through an exclusively pathological lens, but also to the tendency in religious studies to erase the madness of the mystic and the prophet. The discourse of the phenomenology of the extraordinary/anomalous/extreme, heretofore fractured, is unified and made visible in this brilliant text. * Awais Aftab, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Case Western Reserve University, USA * This major contribution offers an interdisciplinary reading of religious and mystical experiences, opening up a pluralistic space that undercuts any rapid move from anomalous experiences to pathology. It will be of great value to clinicians, researchers and those with lived experience. * Matthew Broome, Professor of Psychiatry and Youth Mental Health, and Director of the Institute for Mental Health, University of Birmingham, UK *