SAINTS AND MADMEN by Russell Shorto


Breaking Down the Boundaries Between Psychiatry and Spirituality
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Psychiatry and psychology are disciplines that ostensibly study the soul (“psyche”), yet this emphasis was almost entirely absent from the time William James first took a psychiatrist’s lens to the varieties of religious experience until M. Scott Peck came to dominate the bestseller lists with psychospiritual advice in the 1980s. In this cogent, absorbing book, Shorto (Gospel Truth: The New Picture of Jesus Emerging from Science and History and Why It Matters, 1997) examines the divorce (and recent remarriage) of psychiatry and the spirit. Today, pioneering psychiatrists (several of whom have undergone poorly understood mental breakdowns themselves) are challenging some long-held assumptions of the field, e.g., that religious voices are a sure sign of psychotic dementia, or—perhaps more surprisingly—that psychotic episodes are always bad and must be “extinguished” through Haldol and other drugs. Patients interviewed here, who have experienced these bouts of psychosis, speak of them in terms of enlightenment. Common themes emerge in their accounts of what the experiences taught them; they become more aware of God in nature and of life’s transient beauty. They would like to incorporate what they—ve experienced during moments of insanity into mentally healthy lives, not pretend the incidents didn’t happen. A vivid account of psychiatry’s recent interest in “nonrational” (metarational?) cognitive experience.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-5902-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999


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