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 Table of Contents  
CASE SERIES
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 105-107

The complex interaction between religion conversion, technology, and psychopathology


Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College and Hospital, Chandigarh, India

Date of Submission26-Feb-2021
Date of Decision12-Mar-2021
Date of Acceptance08-Apr-2021
Date of Web Publication29-Apr-2022

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Nidhi Chauhan
Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College and Hospital, Level V, D Block, Chandigarh
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/aip.aip_21_21

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  Abstract 


Religion is an abstract concept encompassing specific set of organized beliefs and practices, usually shared by a community or group, whereas spirituality is more of an individual practice dealing with having a sense of peace and purpose. Religion and psychiatric illness too share a complex relationship and intent for religious conversions pose a diagnostic dilemma in many cases. This relationship is further being influenced by easy access to social media and excessive smartphone use in the contemporary world. Here, we discuss two cases of young males who presented to us with intense desire to change their religion (interest generated after watching YouTube videos and listening to speeches on the smartphone), consequently leading to interpersonal problems and psychopathology. The management approach highlights the need to identify the intent and knowledge for religious change, differentiate individual preferences from that of the family/society, avoiding misdiagnosis and focusing on symptom resolution and improving functionality.

Keywords: Conversion, media use, psychopathology, religion


How to cite this article:
Chauhan N, Agrawal A, Kaur R, Jaswal S. The complex interaction between religion conversion, technology, and psychopathology. Ann Indian Psychiatry 2022;6:105-7

How to cite this URL:
Chauhan N, Agrawal A, Kaur R, Jaswal S. The complex interaction between religion conversion, technology, and psychopathology. Ann Indian Psychiatry [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 May 22];6:105-7. Available from: https://www.anip.co.in/text.asp?2022/6/1/105/344423




  Introduction Top


Religion is an abstract concept that includes human notions of spirituality, morality, humanity, philosophy, and culture.[1] It encompasses a specific set of organized beliefs and practices, usually shared by a community or group whereas, spirituality is more of an individual practice dealing with having a sense of peace and purpose. Religious conversion signifies adopting and intensifying religious beliefs, values, and practices that were not earlier part of the individual's life.[2] Advancements in technology have changed the world around us by changing the means and methods of reaching the audience. Thus, making it easier for people to study religion and feel connected to their faith. On the other hand, excessive use of technology, via, mobile phones, computers, etc., is creating another wave of complex problems in the socio-occupational and interpersonal arena of an individual's life, religious beliefs being one such area.

Religion and psychiatric illness share a complex relationship in the realm of diagnosis. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, the section “Problems related to other psychosocial, personal and environmental circumstances” includes spiritual crisis (manifests in the form of identity crisis which occurs after a spiritual experience), which is not a mental disorder per se, although it may have a significant impact on the socio-occupational functioning and outcome of preexisting disorders.[3] Strongly held beliefs that are shared within an existing religious or spiritual context are not considered abnormal, but the same is difficult to say when it comes to religious fervor leading to marked socio-occupational dysfunction and interpersonal crisis.[4] Here, we discuss two cases of young males who presented to us with intense desire to change their religion (interest generated after watching youtube videos and listening to speeches on smartphone), consequently leading to severe interpersonal problems and psychopathology.


  Case Reports Top


Case 1

A 20-year-old young man of Hindu nuclear family of middle socioeconomic class was brought by parents to psychiatry outpatient services for gradually increasing agitation and unmanageability at home. On exploration, the major bone of contention was the strong disagreement of family members towards his wish to convert to Islam, which had been there for around 2 years before he presented to us. He had friends belonging to Muslim families and gradually got interested in learning about Islam and its beliefs from them. Subsequently, he started watching religious videos related to Islam on the internet and social media most part of the day and was influenced by the teachings to the extent that he started to express that “Islam was the one true religion” and the only means to attain “Jannat” was to convert to Islam and follow its path. He would offer “Namaz” twice/day at his home and also started to greet family members accordingly. His parents tried to convince him to the contrary but to no, aggravating the interpersonal problems. Due to over involvement on phone, his interaction with family members decreased and the only interaction left was arguments and verbal censure centered around religious conversion. A few days before presentation, he had started to have sudden onset episodes of abnormal body movements characterized by upward rolling of eyes and turning of neck to one side without loss of consciousness, lasting 15–20 min, 2–3 times/day. No urinary/fecal incontinence, tongue bite, disorientation, or abnormal involuntary movement of any other body part was observed. These events had proximity to the occurrence of arguments at home regarding his wish to convert to Islam; following which the family members were less critical in front of him but continued to disagree on this issue. Seizures were ruled out (history, video-graphic recording of episodes, and electroencephalography) by a neurologist. No delusions, hallucinations, or disturbances in higher cognitive functions were observed. No past or family history of any psychiatric illness was elicited. Serial interviews with the patient and family members revealed that the critical attitude of family toward the patient wanting to convert to Islam as the major stressor. He was diagnosed with dissociative convulsions with problems related to other psychosocial, personal and environmental circumstances. He was managed with supportive psychotherapy, psychoeducation sessions of family members with focus on imparting information about religious conversion and the fact that wanting to convert into a different religion than the one born into is not a psychiatric illness. Over a few days, dissociative symptoms and irritability reduced but the patient's wish to convert into Islam and the family's insistence of not allowing the same continued. He was lost to follow up within a month as the family shifted to another state.

Case 2

A 26-year-old unmarried male of middle socioeconomic status, Hindu nuclear family, pursuing PG diploma in mass communication presented to psychiatry outpatient services with the complaint from parents regarding unwillingness to give his academic (engineering semester) final examination. On exploration, it was revealed that he had developed a strong inclination toward Christianity, was preoccupied with teachings of Jesus Christ, for around 1½ years. His fascination toward Christianity developed after watching a movie based on the life of Jesus Christ and subsequently watching similar videos on the Internet. Gradually, he started discussing and messaging about it with other people inclined toward Christianity on certain online platforms. The videos, chats, and teachings mainly centered around “God (Jesus Christ),” “demon” and consequences of not abiding by the rules and regulations set by “God.” One night, he experienced a severe panic attack which he attributed to be caused by the “demon,” for not following what was told to him, i.e., converting to Christianity and abandoning all earthly belongings. The family noticed that he spent more time on his phone and less and less time with them, got irritable whenever was enquired about his activities on phone. Over time they discovered that he was watching Christianity-related videos, chatting on online platforms and had started to change his routine activities and future goals accordingly, not understandable by family members. He selectively attached significance to certain phrases in videos and interpreted messages to be sent by God to navigate his way towards his future goals of serving the poor. The family was concerned when he started to shun academics saying that it interfered with his purpose of following Jesus and his goal in life and plainly refused to sit for his only left final examinations to get the engineering degree (if he did not give this exam, the entire period of his engineering would go waste). He decided to leave his home and go in search for the real meaning and purpose of his life as indicated to him by God through videos and chats. No other delusional beliefs, hallucinations, muttering/smiling to self, seizure disorder, or impairment in higher cognitive functions was evident. Biological functions were reportedly undisturbed. No past or family history of psychiatric illness was reported. On mental status examination, he gradually revealed about his desire to convert to Christianity, was adamant for not appearing in the examination, as this was not required for achieving his goal, which his parents did not understand. He could not elaborate on details of his plan to achieve his goals, especially without any financial assistance. Any explanation offered regarding the likelihood of serving the poor after completion of degree and possibly without converting to Christianity was futile. Rorschach inkblot test revealed evidence for depressive symptoms and intact reality testing. Based on the history and mental status examination, it was difficult to come to a conclusive diagnosis of a psychotic illness. The belief that he held with regard to change in religion could not be labeled as a delusion, as it's a personal choice of which religion to follow. Furthermore, there was no evidence of any psychotic symptoms and on the Rorschach inkblot test. However, considering the stubbornness and adamancy of his desire to change religion, belief not amenable to discussion and related socio-occupational impairment, a provisional diagnosis of ? Psychosis NOS was considered along with “Problems related to other psychosocial, personal, and environmental circumstances” with interpersonal problems with parents and was managed with T. olanzapine titrated up to 7.5 mg HS and limited phone/Internet use following his consent. It was decided to closely follow the patient to see for the evolution of his illness. Over 2–3 weeks of treatment, conviction to convert religion decreased, gave final examination and expressed that he himself was not able to comprehend what he was doing. Olanzapine was stopped within 3 months, he continues to use his phone and Internet, occasionally watches religious videos but refrains from watching it too intently fearing he might get into the earlier situation.


  Discussion Top


Religion and spirituality are powerful forces in society, are intensely personal aspects of human awareness and behavior and are difficult to analyze objectively. Religious conversion and psychopathology, especially psychosis share an intricate yet complex relationship. In addition, contemporary classification of mental illness relies highly on subjective criteria with conclusions stemming from behaviors we observe. In both cases reported here, problems among family members started following conflict regarding religious conversion. Literature reports that such problems coexisting with intrusive imagery, visions, hallucinations, odd behavior, depressive symptoms, verbal messages, signs from the divine, possession by devil forces, contact with spirits, etc., are easily misinterpreted as signs of serious mental disorder,[5] and complicating differential diagnosis as well.[6] In both cases, the crux of issues centered around religious conversion and no other deficits indicative of other psychopathology was evident. The conviction for religious conversion displayed in the second case could be easily mistaken for a delusional disorder, however, detailed history taking and psychological assessment proved beneficial in avoiding misdiagnosis. Gross had reported that diminished affectivity and cognitive dysfunction differentiates patients with psychosis from individuals with religious/spiritual crisis and these were not evident in the index cases.[7] It is also suggested that mystical and spiritual experiences that may manifest themselves as religious and spiritual problems according to the DSM-system, may easily be labeled as pathological in today's medical world but in reality, it may eventually promote personal development and empowerment.[8] Therefore, it may be detrimental to categorize them as purely pathological phenomena.

Religion conversion is often associated with profound changes in core self-identity, finding out who one really ought to be and the meaning-making system.[2],[9] Although, altered representation of self, characterizes both spiritual maturation and psychosis but disruption of self-related processes (lack of sense of self, social withdrawal, feeling of lack of existence) are pronounced in psychosis whereas, spiritual transformation witnesses a gradual reduction of self-centered attitude.[10] This clearly manifested in the second case as described earlier, however, this was not that clearly illustrated in the first case probably because the case was lost to follow up.

Although our constitution guarantees freedom of religion, anti-conversion law is in place in certain states of India, which emphasizes against religious conversions (due to inducement, allurement, undue influence, coercion, supernatural threats). The two cases reported here did not want religion conversion based on inducement, allurement, coercion, or supernatural threats but undue influence due to excessive time spent using smartphone and having free access to one specific content as per what they wanted to watch, can be considered as the possible reason for the intense desire for religion conversion. Thus, amongst the various harmful effects of 'how much' and 'what content' of smartphone use, undue influence on young individuals' minds and modifying/altering the religious beliefs is also apparent which warrants further attention.

Moreover, there is no way of knowing how any individual clinician's particular personal or spiritual views guide their work or influence their conclusions, and a more rigorous look into the same is recommended for further study.

Declaration of patient consent

The authors certify that they have obtained all appropriate patient consent forms. In the form the patient(s) has/have given his/her/their consent for his/her/their images and other clinical information to be reported in the journal. The patients understand that their names and initials will not be published and due efforts will be made to conceal their identity, but anonymity cannot be guaranteed.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

1.
Freud S. Civilization and its Discontents. London: Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press; 1930.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Paloutzian RF and Park CL. Integrative themes in the current science of the psychology of religion. In: RF Paloutzian and CL Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality 2005b:3-20. New York: Guilford Press.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed. Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
Grover S, Davuluri T, Chakrabarti S. Religion, spirituality, and schizophrenia: A review. Indian J Psychol Med 2014;36:119-24.  Back to cited text no. 4
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
5.
Kéri S. On the intricate relationship between religious conversion and psychosis. Lond J Humanit Soc Sci 2017;17:85-95.  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Allmon AL. Religion and the DSM: From pathology to possibilities. J Relig Health 2013;52:538-49.  Back to cited text no. 6
    
7.
Gross G, Huber G, Klosterkotter J, and Linz M. BSABS - Bonn Scale for the Assessment of Basic Symptoms: Manual, Commentary, References, Index, Documentation Sheet (Berichte aus der Medizin). Aachen, Germany: Shaker Verlag 2008.  Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.
Clarke I, editor. Psychosis and spirituality: Consolidating the new paradigm. John Wiley and Sons; Hampshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust 2010.  Back to cited text no. 8
    
9.
Paloutzian RF. Psychology of religious conversion and spiritual transformation. The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion. Oxford University Press; 2014.  Back to cited text no. 9
    
10.
Bhargav H, Jagannathan A, Raghuram N, Srinivasan TM, Gangadhar BN. Schizophrenia patient or spiritually advanced personality? A qualitative case analysis. J Relig Health 2015;54:1901-18.  Back to cited text no. 10
    




 

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