Richard Kent Evans is Research Associate in Quaker Studies at Haverford College. He is the author of MOVE: An American Religion (Oxford University Press, 2020). He is currently working on a book manuscript titled “A Madness Divine: Religion Insanity and the Making of the Modern Mind,” which explores the cultural and intellectual history of a cluster of psychiatric diagnoses called religious madness. Evans received his PhD in North American Religions from Temple University in 2018. In 2021, he will be Visiting Assistant Professor of Independent College Programs at Haverford College.
However our times will be remembered—as the triumph of fascism or its nadir, as the end of capitalism or its beginning, as the death of the planet or its rebirth—this young century has been an era of contagion.
By the first decade of the nineteenth century, a new idea had entered the Western world. Psychiatrists, naturalists, politicians, and theologians throughout Europe and North America came to believe that there existed a form of insanity that caused its victims to express false religious opinions, to hold clearly unreasonable religious beliefs, or to dwell too deeply on religious issues.