Sudden Religious Conversions in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

Kenneth Dewhurst and A. W. Beard, The British Journal of Psychiatry, 1970, 117, 540, 497-507.


Six cases of religious conversion experiences occurring in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy are described. The conversion experiences of various mystics and saints, who were probably epileptic, are reviewed. Some theological and psychiatric aspects of religion are discussed.


The religiosity of the epileptic has been recognized since the time of Esquirol [12] and Morel [35]. These, and later French workers (including [34]), have sought to explain the epileptics religiosity as being the result of his disability, social isolation and his enhanced need for the consolation of religion. Aspecific conversion experience after a fit was reported by Howden [22]. 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 [4] 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.