Mental Disorder, Meaning-making, and Religious Engagement

Theologica 7 (1) (2023)
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Abstract

Meaning-making plays a central role in how we deal with experiences of suffering, including those due to mental disorder. And for many, religious beliefs, experiences, and practices (hereafter, religious engagement) play a central role in informing this meaning-making. However, a crucial facet of the relationship between experiences of mental disorder and religious engagement remains underexplored—namely the potentially positive effects of mental disorder on religious engagement (e.g. experiences of bipolar disorder increasing sense of God’s presence). In what follows, I will present empirical findings from two recent studies of mine which shed light on the extent to which participants experienced these positive effects, specific components of these effects, and how they fit into their understanding of their mental disorder and its relationship to their religious identity. In doing so, I will draw on and expand Tasia Scrutton’s Potentially Transformative view (2015a, 2015b, 2020) according to which mental disorders may provide opportunities for spiritual growth. My empirical results align with and help deepen an account according to which mental disorders are potentially spiritually transformative by providing further insight into such instances: specifically, which symptoms and internal and external factors are often involved, as well as which religious beliefs, experiences, and/or practices are often affected. After presenting these results and articulating their relevance for a potentially transformative view of mental disorder, I will then address some potential objections to the theoretical account as well as some limitations of the empirical work, before sketching possible promising directions for future research.

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