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Vardy, M.M. Kaplan, B.M. (2008). Christ/Messiah Delusions Revisited: Toward an Anthropological Definition of Religious Delusions. Psychoanal. Rev., 95(3):473-487.

(2008). Psychoanalytic Review, 95(3):473-487

Christ/Messiah Delusions Revisited: Toward an Anthropological Definition of Religious Delusions

Michael M. Vardy, Ph.D. and Barbara M. Kaplan, Ph.D.

Certain themes in the delusions of psychotics have puzzled clinicians and anthropologists of this secular age because of the frequency of their occurrence. Patients who are indifferent to religion while in a nondelusional state identify with heroes of the religious or mythical pantheon, even though they may have been raised in homes without religion or literary culture. Among these types of delusions, Christ, or the Messiah, is a frequent figure of identification. The frequency of religious-mythical themes in the delusions of patients has remained remarkably constant over half a century. Kranz (1955) found (from German-speaking sources) that the frequency of religious-mythical delusions between 1886 and 1946 ranged from 43 percent to 45 percent.

The issue of the Christ delusion as a specific form of religious-mythical identification touches upon other psychopathological schemes and points to some of their limitations. Since at least the time of Bleuler, it is no longer possible to evade the challenge of understanding delusions with the argument that they are nothing more than the accidental products of deranged minds. We also have learned the therapeutic value of understanding delusional communications as a way to improve verbal interactions with patients who have only this enigmatic vehicle of self-expression at their disposal.

The striking similarity of the imagery and ideology of these religious-mythical delusions to those of some charismatic sects and their apocalyptic visions is a further theoretical challenge.

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