Depersonalization Disorder and Living Corpses: Psychiatry, Religion, and Alienation

milarepa emaciated

(The 11th century yogi Milarepa, in his retreat cave.  He appears here  in his iconic emaciated, green-tinged form that was brought about by subsisting on a diet of nettle soup)

I tend to read pop science pieces on neurological/psychiatric conditions with interest, as I’m sure most cultural and medical anthropologists do. I’m versed in neither neuro-anthropology nor neuro-theology but I do often find myself wondering about the broader social, historical, economic, and political landscapes through, in, and in spite of which specific bio-medical conditions emerge. It’s probably far too reductive and glib to characterize the cases below as merely examples of a contemporary willingness to ‘neurologize’ sicknesses of society. Still, while I’m not about to advocate for a hard-line social constructivist take on these kinds of ‘bizarre’ neurological conditions, I do think it can be interesting to reflect on contemporary psychiatric disorders and discourse in parallel to, and against religious vocabularies. Continue reading

Science Explaining or Science-splaining? Neurologists take on Sleep Paralysis, OOBEs, and Demon Dominatrices

(Images detailing different forms of sleep paralysis with spiritual causes from the website http://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org)

A while back Vice published this piece reflecting on Rodney Ascher’s documentary cum horror film about people’s experiences of sleep paralysis. Over the course of my life I’ve experienced sleep paralysis/terrifying ‘waking’ night visitations several times. I think the link between so-called sleeping disorders and phenomena like out-of-body-experience, spirit visitation and alien abduction is compelling, and the idea of learning to relate to the experience and its attendant beings differently is interesting and sounds very sensible to me. That said, I’m wary of reductive explanations – after all I’ve experienced out-of-body and menacing spirit encounters just as often if not more so without any associated sleep paralysis. Continue reading