Troubled by Faith: Insanity and the Supernatural in the Age of the Asylum

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The early nineteenth century witnessed the birth of psychiatry, a new medical science that fundamentally changed how mental illness was labelled and understood. Troubled by Faith explores how psychiatrists not only thought they were agents of modernity but that they could also explain the occult mysteries of the past. They bristled with confidence that, in an era of unprecedented change, unlocking the secrets of the mind was essential to an ordered and progressive society. And a progressive society was one that did not believe in witches, ghosts, and fairies, and did not exhibit excited religious emotions and divine communications. Through examining the extensive psychiatric literature from Europe and America, Troubled by Faith charts how once widely-held popular beliefs were pathologized, and how this fundamentally impacted on the notion of criminal and legal responsibility. In the second half of the book, we listen to the voices of asylum patients as recorded in case books. The asylum was an extraordinary cultural space where under one roof prophets, messiahs, the bewitched, and the haunted mixed, and people wrestled with angels, devils, imps, and witches. It was a place filled with talk of infernal machines and sinister electrical forces. Whether seriously ill and deluded, or sane and lucid in their beliefs and imaginings, patients’ experiences were, nevertheless, reflective of a society being transformed by technology and yet still rooted in the supernatural.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherOxford University Press (OUP)
Number of pages350
ISBN (Electronic)9780191983863
ISBN (Print)9780198873006
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2023


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