Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 241–255 | Cite as

Exaltation in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy: Neuropsychiatric Symptom or Portal to the Divine?



Religiosity is a prominent feature of the Geschwind syndrome, a behavioural pattern found in some cases of temporal lobe epilepsy. Since the 1950s, when Wilder Penfield induced spiritual feelings by experimental manipulation of the temporal lobes, development of brain imaging technology has revealed neural correlates of intense emotional states, spurring the growth of neurotheology. In their secular empiricism, psychiatry, neurology and psychology are inclined to pathologise deviant religious expression, thereby reinforcing the dualism of objective and phenomenal worlds. Considering theological perspectives and the idea of cosmic consciousness, the authors urge a holistic approach to the spiritual events of epileptic aura, potentially leading to a deeper understanding of the mind and its transcendent potential.


Epilepsy Religion Spirituality Consciousness Geschwind syndrome 


  1. Alexander, E. 2012. “Heaven is Real: a Doctor’s Experience of the Afterlife.” Newsweek 15 October.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. 1994. Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  3. Barham, G.F. 1907. “Notes on the Management and Treatment of the Epileptic Insane with Special Reference to the NaCl-Free (or Hypochlorination) Diet.” Journal of Mental Science 53:361–367.Google Scholar
  4. Bartlet, J.E.A. 1957. “Chronic Psychosis Following Epilepsy.” American Journal of Psychiatry 114:338–343.Google Scholar
  5. Bartocci, G., and S. Dein. 2005. “Detachment: Gateway to the World of Spirituality.” Transcultural Psychiatry 42:545–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bear, D.M., and Fedio, P. 1977. “Quantitative Analysis of Interictal Behaviour in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.” Archives of Neurology 34:454–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berrios, G.E. 1979. “Insanity and Epilepsy in the Nineteenth Century.” In Psychiatry, Genetics and Pathography: a Tribute to Eliot Slater, edited by M. Roth and V. Cowie, 161–171. London: Gaskell.Google Scholar
  8. Betts, T.A. 1981. “Epilepsy and the Mental Hospital” . In Epilepsy and Psychiatry, edited by E.H. Reynolds and M.R. Trimble, 175–184. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.Google Scholar
  9. Bohm, D. 1980. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London: Ark.Google Scholar
  10. Brandon, O. 1960. The Battle for the Soul: Aspects of Religious Conversion. London: Hodder & Stoughton.Google Scholar
  11. Browne, V. 1978. Jung: Man and Myth. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  12. Caruncho, M.V., and F.B. Fernández. 2011. “The Hallucinations of Frédéric Chopin.” Medical Humanities 37:5–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Christensen, C.W. 1963. “Religious Conversion.” Archives of General Psychiatry, 9:207–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Coles, A. 2008. “God, Theologian and Humble Neurologist.” Brain 131:1953–1959.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Curlin, F.A., Odell, S.V., Lawrence, R.E., Chin, M.H., Lantos, J.D., Meador, K.G., and H.G. Koenig. 2007. “The Relationship between Psychiatry and Religion among U.S. Physicians.” Psychiatric Service 58:1193–1198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dawkins, R. 2007. The God Delusion. London: Black Swan.Google Scholar
  17. Devinsky, O., and G. Lai. 2008. “Spirituality and Religion in Epilepsy.” Epilepsy & Behaviour 12:636–643.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dewhurst, K., and A.W. & Beard. 1970. “Sudden Religious Conversions in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.” British Journal of Psychiatry, 117:497–507.Google Scholar
  19. Dolgoff-Kaspar, R., Ettinger, A.B.., Golub, S.A., Perrine, K., Harden, C., and S.D. Croll. 2011. “Numinous-Like Auras and Spirituality in Persons with Partial Seizures.” Epilepsia 52:640–644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dostoyevsky, F. 1869/2004. The Idiot, translated by D. McDuff. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  21. Edelston, H. 1949. “A Case of Hystero-Epilepsy Successfully Treated by Deep Analytic Psychotherapy.” Journal of Mental Science 95:388–402.Google Scholar
  22. Ellis, A. 1980. “Psychotherapy and Aesthetic Values: a Response to AE Bergin’s ‘Psychotherapy and Religious Values.’” Journal of Consultative Clinical Psychology 48:635–639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Esquirol, J.D. 1837/1845. Mental Maladies: Treatise on Insanity, translated by E.K. Hunt. Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard.Google Scholar
  24. Evans, H.M. 2008. “Affirming the Existential Within Medicine: Medical Humanities, Governance, and Imaginative Understanding.” Journal of Medical Humanities 29: 55–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fingelkurts, A.A., and A.A. Fingelkurts. 2009. “Is our Brain Hardwired to Produce God, or is our Brain Hardwired to Perceive God? A Systematic Review on the Role of the Brain in Mediating Religious Experience.” Cognitive Process 10:293–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Foote-Smith E., and L. Bayne. 1991. “Joan of Arc.” Epilepsia 32:810–815.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Forman, R. 1998. “What Does Mysticism Have to Teach us About Consciousness?” Journal of Consciousness Studies 5:185–201.Google Scholar
  28. Foster, L. 1993. “The Psychology of Religious Genius: Joseph Smith and the Origins of New Religious Movements.” Dialog: a Journal of Mormon Thought 26:1–22.Google Scholar
  29. Freemon, F.R. 1976. “A Differential Diagnosis of the Inspirational Spells of Muhammad the Prophet of Islam.” Epilepsia 17:423–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Freud, S. 1934. The Future of an Illusion. London: Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press.Google Scholar
  31. Galanter, M. 2005. Spirituality and the Healthy Mind: Science, Therapy and the Need for Personal Meaning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Gastaut, H. 1978. “Fyodor Mikhailovitch Dostoevski’s Involuntary Contribution to the Symptomatology and Prognosis of Epilepsy.” Epilepsia 19:186–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Geschwind, N. 1979. “ Behavioural Changes in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.” Psychological Medicine 9:217–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gibbs, F.A. 1951. “Ictal and Nonictal Psychiatric Disorders in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.” Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease 113:522–528.Google Scholar
  35. Granieri, E., and P. Fazio. 2011. “The Lombrosian Prejudice in Medicine: the Case of Epilepsy; Epileptic Psychosis; Epilepsy and Aggressiveness.” Neurological Sciences. Accessed October 24, 2011.
  36. Granqvist, P., Fredrikson, M., Unge, P., Hagenfeldt, A., Valind, S., Larhammar, D., and M. Larsson. 2005. “Sensed Presence and Mystical Experiences are Predicted by Suggestibility, Not By the Application of Transcranial Weak Complex Magnetic Fields.” Neuroscience Letters 379:1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hardy, A. 1965. The Living Stream: a Restatement of Evolution Theory and its Relation to the Spirit of Man. London: Collins.Google Scholar
  38. Hay, D. 2006. Something There: the Biology of the Human Spirit. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.Google Scholar
  39. Henderson, D.K., and R.D. Gillespie. 1950. Textbook of Psychiatry, 7th edition. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Henningsen, P., and L.J. Kirmayer. 2000. “Mind Beyond the Net: Implications of Cognitive Neuroscience for Cultural Psychiatry.” Transcultural Psychiatry 37:467–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hoch, P.H. 1943. “Clinical and Biological Interrelations Between Schizophrenia and Epilepsy.” American Journal of Psychiatry 99:507–512.Google Scholar
  42. Hood, R. 1996. The Psychology of Religion, 2nd edition. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  43. Howden, J.C. 1872. “The Religious Sentiment in Epileptics.” Journal of Mental Science 18: 82–497.Google Scholar
  44. Hunter, R., and I. Macalpine. 1963. Three Hundred Years of Psychiatry 1535–1860. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Iannaccone, L., Stark, R., and R. Finke. 1998. “Rationality and the ‘Religious Mind.’” Economic Inquiry 36:373–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Jackson, J.H.. and P. Stewart. 1899. “Epileptic Attack With a Warning of a Crude Sensation of Smell and Intellectual Aura (Dreamy State) in a Patient who has Symptoms Pointing to Gross Organic Disease of Right Tempero-Sphenoidal Lobe.” Brain 22: 534–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. James, W. 1902/2002. The Varieties of Religious Experience: a Study in Human Nature. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  48. Jamison, K.R. 1989. “Mood Disorders and Patterns of Creativity in British Writers and Artists.” Psychiatry 52:125–134.Google Scholar
  49. Kleinman, A. 2006. What Really Matters? New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Koenig, H.G. 2009. “Research on Religion, Spirituality and Mental Health: A Review.” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 54:283–291.Google Scholar
  51. Landsborough, D. 1987. “St. Paul and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 50:659–664.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Landtblom, A. 2004. “Did Sts Birgitta Suffer from Epilepsy? A Neuropathography.” Seizure 13:161–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lewis-Fernández, R., and N. Díaz. 2002. “The Cultural Formulation: A Method for Assessing Cultural Factors Affecting the Clinical Encounter.” Psychiatric Quarterly 73:271–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lukoff, D., Lu, F., and R. Turner. 1992. “Toward a More Culturally Sensitive DSM-IV.” Journal of Nervous &Mental Disease 180:673–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. MacDonald, M. 1990. “Insanity and the Realities of History in Early Modern England.” In Lectures on the History of Psychiatry, edited by R.M. Murray and T.H. Turner, 60–81. London: Gaskell.Google Scholar
  56. Maslow, A.H. 1964. Religion, Values and Peak Experience. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  57. Maudsley, H. 1869. “Emanuel Swedenborg.” Journal of Mental Science 15:169–198.Google Scholar
  58. May, R.M. 1993. Cosmic Consciousness Revisited: the Modern Origins and Development of a Western Spiritual Psychology. Rockport: Element.Google Scholar
  59. Mayer-Gross, W., Slater, E., and M. Roth. 1955. Clinical Psychiatry. London: Cassell & Company.Google Scholar
  60. Mungas, D. 1982. “Interictal Behaviour Abnormality in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy: A Specific Syndrome or Nonspecific Psychopathology.” Archives of General Psychiatry 39:108–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Newberg, A.B.., and E.G. d’Aquili. 2000. “The Neuropsychology of Religious and Spiritual Experience.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 7:251–266.Google Scholar
  62. Ng, F. 2007. “The Interface Between Religion and Psychosis.” Australasian Psychiatry 15: 62–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Persinger, M.A. 1987. Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  64. Plante, T.G. 2009. Spiritual Practices in Psychotherapy: Thirteen Tools for Enhancing Psychological Health. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  65. Prince, R. 1979. “Religious Experience and Psychosis.” Journal of Altered States of Consciousness 5:167–181.Google Scholar
  66. Skinner, B.F. 1987. “What Religion Means to Me.” Free Inquiry 7:12–13.Google Scholar
  67. Slater, E., and A.W. Beard. 1963. “The Schizophrenia-Like Psychoses of Epilepsy.” British Journal of Psychiatry 109:95–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Szasz, T. 1974. The Second Sin. Garden City: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  69. Tallis, R. 2011. The Aping of Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity. Acumen.Google Scholar
  70. Temkin, O. 1971. The Falling Sickness: a History of Epilepsy from the Greeks to the Beginnings of Modern Neurology, 2nd edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Trimble, M. 1991. The Psychoses of Epilepsy. New York: Raven.Google Scholar
  72. -----. 2007. The Soul in the Brain: the Cerebral Basis of Language, Art and Belief. Baltimore: Johns Hopskins University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Trimble, M., and A. Freeman. 2006. “An Investigation of Religiosity and the Gastaut-Geschwind Syndrome in Patients with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.” Epilepsy & Behaviour 9:407–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Tucker, D.M., Novelly R.A., and P.J. Walker. 1987. “Hyperreligiosity in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy: Redefining the Relationship.” Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease 175: 181–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. van Huyssteen, J.W. 2006. Alone in the World: Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.Google Scholar
  76. von Dänicken, E. 1977. Miracles of the Gods: a Hard Look at the Supernatural. London: Corgi.Google Scholar
  77. Walach, H. 2007. “Mind-Body-Spirituality.” Mind & Matter 5:215–240.Google Scholar
  78. Waxman, S.G., and N. Geschwind. 1975. “The Interictal Behaviour Syndrome of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.” Archives of General Psychiatry 32:1580–1586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Whitley, R. 2010. “Atheism and Mental Health.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry 18:190–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Wolf, P., and M.R. Trimble. 1985. “Biological Anatagonism and Epileptic Psychosis.” British Journal of Psychiatry 146:272–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wuerfel, J., Krishnamoorthy E.S., Brown R.J., Lemieux L., Koepp M., Tebartz van Elst L., and M.R. Trimble. 2004. “Religiosity is Associated with Hippocampal but not Amygdala Volumes in Patients with Refractory Epilepsy.” Journal of Neurology & Neurosurgical Psychiatry 75:640–642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Yin, R.K. 1994. Case Study Research: Design and Methods, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Florence Nightingale School of Nursing & Midwifery, James Clerk Maxwell BuildingKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Department of PsychiatryMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations