Spirituality, Race, and the Contested Origins of Psychological Health and Sickness

Oct 5, 5:00–6:30 p.m.

Taylor Hall Room 203

Judith Weisenfeld, Princeton University and Ira Helderman, Vanderbilt University

What’s the relationship between mental illness and spiritual experiences and how have American psychiatric hospitals, clinicians and policy-makers understood this relationship? Why have so many psychiatrists linked religion and spirituality to psychological illness during the past century? Also, how have judgments about both “normal” and pathological mental states been linked to ways of thinking about the American social order, race, gender and class? Why have white Americans seen Black religions as pathological while embracing Asian religious practices such as meditation as therapeutic? This panel brings together experts on the history of mental health, race, and spirituality to consider these questions and others raised by audience members.

Judith Weisenfeld is the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Her work focuses on African American religious history, religion and race. She is currently finishing a book called Spiritual Madness: Race, Psychiatry, and Black Religions.

Ira Helderman is a practicing psychotherapist and a visiting assistant professor of religious studies at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Prescribing the Dharma: Psychotherapists, Buddhist Traditions, and Defining Religion.

This event will be moderated by Christopher White, Professor of Religion at Vassar. White is the author of Unsettled Minds: Psychology and the American Search for Spiritual Assurance.

side-by-side portraits of Judith Weisenfeld and Ira Helderman
Judith Weisenfeld and Ira Helderman