Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-55597f9d44-rn2sj Total loading time: 0.263 Render date: 2022-08-13T00:26:36.228Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Sudden Religious Conversions in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 January 2018

Kenneth Dewhurst
Littlemore Hospital, Oxford
A. W. Beard
The Middlesex Hospital, W.1


The ‘religiosity’ of the epileptic has been recognized since the time of Esquirol (1838) and Morel (1860). These, and later French workers (including Marchand and Ajuriaguerra, 1948), have sought to explain the epileptic's religiosity as being the result of his disability, social isolation and his enhanced need for the consolation of religion. A specific conversion experience after a fit was reported by Howden (1872–73). The patient believed that he was in Heaven. He would appear to have been depersonalized, as it took three days for his body to be reunited with his soul. ‘He maintained that God had sent it to him as a means of conversion, that he was now a new man, and had never before known what true peace was…. He assured me that he was a converted man and that he was convinced he would have no more fits.’ Howden also reported on John Engellerecht who, after many years of depression, attempted suicide and appeared to die. After visiting Hell and Heaven, he cast off his depression, and acquired a state of religious ecstasy accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations. Boven (1919) mentions a 14-year-old boy who after a seizure ‘saw the good God and the angels, and heard a celestial fanfare of music’. He regards the religiosity of the epileptic character as being due to experiences acquired in the course of an epileptic aura and in the subsequent confusional state. Eventually the patient becomes preoccupied with a cure which he believes depends entirely on God, and this belief is the basis of his euphoria. Boven stresses the intensified piety of the epileptic after a severe seizure.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal College of Psychiatrists, 1970 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Allison, G. A. (1967). ‘Psychiatric implications of religious conversion.’ Canad. psychiat. Ass. J., 12, 5561.Google Scholar
Bartet, J. E. A. (1957). ‘Chronic psychosis following epilepsy.’ Am. J. Psychiat., 114, 338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beard, A. W. (1963). ‘The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy, ii Physical aspects.’ Brit. J. Psychiat., 109, 113–29.Google Scholar
Boven, W. (1919). ‘Religiosité et épilepsie.’ Schweiz. Arch. f. Neurol. u. Psychiat., 4, 153–69.Google Scholar
Brain, Lord, (1962). Diseases of the Nervous System. 6th ed. London: O.U.P.Google Scholar
Brandon, E. (1960). The Battle for the Soul: Aspects of Religious Conversion. Hodder and Stoughton, London.Google Scholar
Bryant, J. E. (1953). Genius and Epilepsy. Concord, Mass., U.S.A. Google Scholar
Chafetz, M. E., and Schwab, R. S. (1959). ‘Psychological factors involved in bizarre seizures.’ Psychosom. Med. 21, 96105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Christensen, C. W. (1963). ‘Religious conversion.’ Arch. gen. Psychiat., 9, 207–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Daniels, A. H. (1895). ‘The new life; a study of regeneration.’ Amer. J. Psychol., 6, 61106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davenport, F. M. (1905). Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
Esquirol, J. E. D. (1838). Des Maladies Mentales. Baillière, Paris.Google Scholar
Falconer, M. A. (1954). ‘Clinical manifestations of temporal lobe epilepsy and their recognition in relation to surgical treatment.’ Brit. med. J., 2, 939–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Falconer, M. A., Serafetinides, E. A., and Corsellis, J. A. (1964). ‘Etiology and pathogenesis of temporal lobe epilepsy.’ Arch. Neurol., 10, 233–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Glaser, G. H. (1964). ‘The problem of psychosis in psychomotor temporal lobe epileptics.’ Epilepsia., 5, 271–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gowers, W. R. (1881). Epilepsy; new ed. 1964, N.Y.: Dorren Inc.Google ScholarPubMed
Graef, H. (1962). Mystics of our Time. London: Burns and Oates.Google Scholar
Green, J. R., and Scheetz, D. G. (1964). ‘Historical aspects of epileptic surgery.’ Arch. Neurol., 10, 135–48.Google Scholar
Hahn, G. (1883). Les phénomènes hystériques et les reévélations de Sainte Thérèse. S.J. Rev. des Questions Scientifiques, Bruxelles., Vols. XIII and XIV.Google Scholar
Henderson, D., and Batchelor, I. R. C. (1962). Henderson and Gillespie's Textbook of Psychiatry. 9th ed. London: O.U.P.Google Scholar
Hill, D., Pond, D. A., Mitchell, W., and Falconer, M. A. (1957). ‘Personality changes following temporal lobectomy for epilepsy.’ J. ment. Sci., 103, 1827.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Howden, J. C. (1872/3). ‘The religious sentiments in epileptics.’ J. ment. Sci., 18, 491–7.Google Scholar
Jackson, John Hughlings, (1876). West Riding Asylum Medical Reports. Vol. VI. (In Selected Writings of Hughlings Jackson , ed. Taylor, James. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1931. Reprinted 1958. London: Staples Press. Vol. I. p. 141).Google Scholar
Jackson, John Hughlings, (1879). Medical Times and Gazette. (In Selected Writings. p. 299).Google Scholar
Jackson, John Hughlings, (1888). Brain, 11, p. 179. (In Selected Writings, p. 389).CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
James, William (1902). The Varieties of Religious Experience. London: Longmans, London; new ed. 1952.Google Scholar
Karagulla, S., and Robertson, E. E. (1955). ‘Physical phenomena in temporal lobe epilepsy and the psychoses.’ Brit. med. J., i, 748–52.Google Scholar
Krenkel, M. (1895). Reiträge zur Aufhellung der Geschichte und der Briefe des Apostels Paulus. Google Scholar
Lennox, W. G. (1960). Epilepsy and Related Disorders, vol. II. London: Churchill.Google Scholar
Leuba, J. H. (1896). ‘A study in the psychology of religious phenomena.’ Amer. J. Psychol., 7, 309–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leuba, J. H. (1925). The Psychology of Religious Mystics. London: Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
Lombroso, C. (1888). L'Uomo de Genie. Eng. Trans. 1891. The Man of Genius. London, W. Scott, 5th ed.: 189.Google Scholar
Mabille, H. (1899). ‘Hallucinations religieuses et délire religieux transitore dans l'épilepsie.’ Ann. médicopsychol., 9–10, 7681.Google Scholar
Marchand, L., and de Ajuriaguerra, J. (1948). Epilepsies. Paris.Google Scholar
Morel, B. A. (1860). Traité des Maladies Mentales. Masson, Paris.Google Scholar
Mullan, S., and Penfield, W. (1959). ‘Illusions of comparative interpretations and emotions.’ A.M.A. Arch. Neurol. Psychiat., 81, 269–84.Google Scholar
Ostow, M. (1957). ‘Psychic function of temporal lobe as inferred from seizure phenomena.’ Arch. Neurol. Psychiat., 77, 79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Penfield, W. (1955). ‘The role of the temporal cortex in certain physical phenomena.’ J. ment. Sci., 101, 451–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Penfield, W. and Jasper, H. (1954). Epilepsy and the Functional Anatomy of the Human Brain. London: Churchill.Google Scholar
Pirkner, , (1929). ‘Epilepsy in the light of history.’ Ann. med. Hist., 1, 461–66.Google Scholar
Preston, D. N., and Atack, E. A. (1964). ‘Temporal lobe epilepsy.’ Canad. med. Assoc. J., 91, 1256–9.Google Scholar
Sackville-West, V. (1943). The Eagle and the Dove. London: Michael Joseph.Google Scholar
Sargant, W. (1957). Battle for the Mind. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
Sargant, W. (1969). ‘The physiology of faith.’ Brit. J. Psychiat., 115, 505–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sedman, G. (1966). ‘Being an epileptic: a phenomenological study of epileptic experiences.’ Psychiat. Neurol. Basel, 152, 116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sedman, G. and Hopkinson, G. (1966). ‘The psychopathology of mystical and religious conversion in psychiatric patients.’ Confin. neurol., 9, 119 and 65–77.Google Scholar
Seeligmüller, A. (1910). War Paulus Epileptiker? Leipzig: J. C. Heinrich.Google Scholar
Selbie, W. B. (1924). The Psychology of Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
Slater, E., and Beard, A. W. (1963). ‘The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy.’ I. Psychiatric aspects: Brit. J. psychiat., 109, 95112. V. Discussion and conclusions. Brit. J. psychiat., 109, 143–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Starbuck, E. D. (1896/97). ‘A study of conversion.’ Amer. J. Psychol., 8, 268398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stevens, J. R. (1957). ‘The “march” of temporal lobe epilepsy.’ A.M.A. Arch. Neurol. and Psych., 77, 227–36.Google Scholar
Thouless, R. H. (1923). An Introduction to the Psychology of Religion. Cantab: C.U.P.Google Scholar
Underwood, A. C. (1925). Conversion—Christian and Non-Christian. London: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
Weil, A. A. (1956/57). ‘Depression and anxiety in temporal lobe disorders.’ Amer. J. Psychiat., 113, 149–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Williams, D. (1956). ‘The structure of emotions reflected in epileptic experiences.’ Brain, 79, 2967.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Williams, D. (1966). ‘Temporal lobe epilepsy.’ Brit. med. J., i, 4391442.Google Scholar
Wilson, S. A. Kinnier, (1940). Neurology. 2nd ed. 1955. Ed. Bruce, A. N. London: Butterworths.Google ScholarPubMed
Woods, M. (1913). Was the Apostle Paul an Epileptic? New York: Cosmopolitan Press.Google Scholar
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Sudden Religious Conversions in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Sudden Religious Conversions in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Sudden Religious Conversions in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *