Case study: Brain tumor linked to intense spiritual interest, religious delusions and psychosis

A case study recently published in Frontiers in Psychiatry profiles a woman whose brain tumor appears to have dramatically changed her religiousness and spirituality over decades.

The woman ended up at the psychiatric emergency service at the University Hospital of Psychiatry Bern, Switzerland in 2015 when she was 48 years old. She appeared at the hospital with multiple serious self-inflicted stab wounds, which she described as a religious sacrifice that was inspired by divine voices.

She said she started experiencing the “heavenly” voices three years before, which were diagnosed as persistent auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH). She also said she went through multiple periods of intense spiritual interest and devotion starting at the age of 13 and reoccurring at ages 23, 32, and 41.

The woman was admitted to the hospital’s inpatient department, where she presented a psychotic syndrome with grandiose religious delusions.

MRI brain scans revealed she had a slowly growing brain tumor affecting the posterior thalamus, the posterior putamen, the dorsal internal capsule, and parts of the left external globus pallidus. These areas of the brain have been linked to auditory processing, emotional regulation, and spiritual experiences.

The authors of the report said the “main finding of this case is the impressive link between anatomical structures and very specific symptoms (religious delusion and AVH).”