Religious Trauma

It is no secret that religion has been used to justify unspeakable harms throughout history and across cultures.  The Christian Inquisition, the Hindu caste system, and Islamic terrorism all stand out as disturbing examples. When religion harms people in ways that impact their very ability to practice their religion, we might call it religious trauma.  Given the attention paid to the role of religious experiences in religious belief and the obstacles that the problems evil and divine hiddenness pose to it, it is doubly surprising that this kind of negatively transformative religious experience has been largely neglected within analytic philosophy of religion.

My current project seeks to correct this gap.  It has five major sections.  The first draws on literature in psychology, theology, and philosophy to carve out a working definition of religious trauma as any traumatic experience of the divine being, religious community, religious teaching, religious symbols, or religious practice that transforms the individual, either epistemically or non-cognitively, in such a way that her ability to participate in religious life is significantly diminished.  The second argues that a spiritually violent form of hermeneutical injustice often creates an environment in which other forms of religious trauma may be inflicted with impunity.  This hermeneutical injustice involves the skewing of religiously and morally salient concepts in ways that obscure the nature of the traumatic experience from the victim and prevents them from being able to communicate it to others.  The third considers the epistemic significance of religious trauma and argues that there are three ways in which it can constitute evidence against theism.  The fourth section demonstrates that the non-cognitive effects of trauma can give the survivor an all-things-considered, practical reason to deconvert, because the effects can preclude states constitutive of religious worship.  The final section suggests how religious communities might become safe and welcoming spaces for survivors of religious trauma: providing space for survivors’ narratives of trauma and its effects, and incorporating lament and protest into the liturgical structure of the religious services.