Richard Saville-Smith – Acute Religious Experiences (123-Word Book Review)

Richard Saville-Smith – Acute Religious Experiences: Madness, Psychosis and Religious Studies
Bloomsbury Academic, 2023

In this fascinating scholarly work on extraordinary/mystical/religious experiences, Richard Saville-Smith re-reads James, Otto, Osterreich, Eliade, Stace, Pahnke, and Maslow from a fresh mad studies perspective, demonstrating blind spots and problems in how they approached, described, and categorized extraordinary experiences. His criticism of mystical experiences as inherited into psychedelic research from Stace via Pahnke is particularly forceful. He then analyzes the DSM-5’s acknowledgment of non-pathological dissociation/possession (but not psychosis!) and Foucault, before offering his own definition of acute religious experiences and applying it to the life of Jesus.

Most writers on the mystical/numinous/religious have indeed done their best to “sanitize them from experiences of culturally accommodated madness“. For Saville-Smith, instead, “[m]ystical experiences are psychotic experiences – desirable psychotic experiences”. (p. 96) A seriously thought-provoking, provocative book!


123-Word Book Review by Samuli Kangaslampi,, 10/2023