The term “delusion” refers to a strong, consuming belief in something that is untrue. Religious delusions involve beliefs concerning religious ideologies or figures.

Religious delusions differ from religious and spiritual beliefs or faith. They are associated with certain psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia or other conditions that alter a person’s mental state.

The content of religious delusions can vary. A person with religious delusions may feel sure that a religious figure or deity is speaking to them or that they themselves embody a religious figure.

Treatment for religious delusions will depend on an individual’s specific circumstances but could include medication as well as various psychotherapies.

This article discusses why a person may experience religious delusions, how to recognize them, and different kinds of treatments that may be available for this condition.

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The American Psychological Association defines religious delusions as “any delusion associated with religious content.” These delusions may involve a person believing they have special abilities or powers or that they are a religious prophet or messiah.

Generally, delusions make a person feel sure of something that is not true, even if they can see evidence that their beliefs are false. Individuals experiencing religious delusions usually have more severe symptoms and feel more convinced that their delusions are real than those experiencing certain other kinds of delusions.

A person’s immediate social and family environment can influence religious delusions, and these delusions can affect people even if they are not religious.

Learn more about delusions.

How a person experiences religious delusions can vary depending on the underlying cause of the delusions.

For example, a person with bipolar disorder may be more likely to experience grandiose delusions (feeling special or above others). A person with psychotic depression may be more likely to experience feelings of guilt within their delusion.

Signs of religious delusion include:

  • paranoia
  • performing excessive religious rituals
  • unshakeable belief in false information
  • grandiose beliefs
  • extreme guilt or feelings of being punished
  • incoherent or jumbled thoughts and communication
  • extreme emotional responses to religious topics
  • withdrawing from social life
  • neglecting responsibilities
  • defensive behavior in response to reason

A person with religious delusions may behave in several ways, and experiences may differ. The following includes a list of some types of religious delusions and examples of how a person may behave during a delusional episode:

  • Delusions of persecution: People may express that devils, demonic beings, or similar religious figures are persecuting them. They may fear that these beings will harm them or the people around them. They may display signs of paranoia, fear, or extreme distress and frequently attempt to find a safe space to hide from the perceived threat.
  • Grandiose identity delusions: A person experiencing this kind of religious delusion may show signs of what’s called a messiah complex. They may believe they have special abilities or powers, are responsible for saving others from an impending threat, or have a unique purpose or quest to complete. They may feel as though others are unable to understand their experience.
  • Delusions of guilt: This delusion may cause a person to believe they have committed unforgivable acts or are unworthy of forgiveness. They may experience very low self-esteem, express remorse for their real or perceived actions, and experience severe depression.
  • Delusions of control: This type of delusion occurs when individuals do not feel responsible for their movements and believe that a higher power is controlling them. They may feel overly aware of their physical movements and the consequences of any movement, believing that these movements are intentional actions made by another being.
  • Anti-Christ delusion: A person experiencing this type of delusion feels that either they or another person is the embodiment of an anti-Christ figure. They may believe that they or another person is out to harm others. This type of religious delusion is not common. It can cause a person to cause harm to others or themselves.

It can be very difficult for a person experiencing religious delusions to seek help from others. In most cases, a person experiencing delusions will not believe that their behavior or thoughts are irrational.

Most people who receive professional help for delusional disorders will have support from a friend or family member in seeking help. If an individual believes that someone in their life is showing signs of religious delusions, it is important to provide support in seeking help as soon as possible.

Although most people with religious delusions are not dangerous, in some cases, they may cause harm to themselves or others, and it is important that they receive help from specialized healthcare professionals.

A person may experience religious delusions for many reasons. While some people may have a preexisting condition leading to a delusional episode, other individuals experience these episodes without any other disorder.

While not everyone who experiences religious delusions is religious or part of religious communities, a 2019 study found that participants with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder were more likely to experience religious delusions if they were strongly connected to religious belief and practice.

Possible causes of religious delusions include:

While magical thinking is not a cause of religious delusions, a person who is predisposed to magical thinking may be more likely to experience a delusion episode.

While religious delusions can occur separately from any other health condition, several disorders may contribute to a person experiencing a delusional episode.

Disorders that may relate to religious delusions include:

Learn more about religious schizophrenia.

There are several ways to treat religious delusions, including both medication and psychotherapies. Treatment plans for religious delusions will vary depending on a person’s unique circumstances and any underlying conditions they may have.

Possible medications for treating religious delusions include:

Types of psychotherapy for treating religious delusions include:

The outlook for those with religious delusions will depend greatly on their specific circumstances and underlying conditions. It is common for individuals experiencing religious delusions to resist treatment or have difficulty sticking to a treatment plan after receiving help. In some cases, this can contribute to negative outcomes or delayed recovery.

Delusional disorder can become a chronic condition, but a person’s symptoms and general well-being generally improve with treatment, with around 50% of individuals having a positive response to medication.

An analysis published in 2023 found that people treated for first-time religious delusions were more likely to be nondelusional at checkups 1, 3, and 5 years after initial treatment than those who experienced other types of delusions.

Religious delusions refer to a condition that causes a person to have an unshakeable belief in something relating to religion that is untrue.

This may involve individuals feeling grandiose and believing they have received special powers or abilities. In other cases, a person may feel that demon-like figures are persecuting them. A person in a delusional episode will not be able to understand that their thoughts and feelings are irrational.

A doctor or healthcare professional may treat religious delusions with a combination of medication and psychotherapy, and many people respond well to treatment.