A reappraisal of medieval mysticism & hysteria

Jerome Kroll, Bernard S Bachrach, Kathleen Carey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


This paper examines the historical association between medieval mysticism and asceticism and the psychopathological condition of hysteria. We first review the particular forms of medieval mysticism and asceticism that seem to have inspired modern psychiatrists and reductive historians to dismiss these phenomena as indubitably neurotic behaviours. Then we review the concept of hysteria as it evolved during the last two centuries for points of convergence with mysticism. Finally, we question the validity of value-laden diagnostic formulations in the domain of personality assessment. A few highly dramatic but culturally endorsed religious behaviours occuring in an otherwise well functioning individual does not constitute a basis for any psychiatric diagnosis, let alone a condemnatory characterological one such as hysteria. We propose a perspective for looking at medieval mystical states of mind and behaviours in context that moves beyond ahistoric assumptions that employ modern Western standards as the yardstick for medieval health and illness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-98
Number of pages16
JournalMental Health, Religion and Culture
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002

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Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

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