"Spiritual starvation" in a holy space - A form of "Jerusalem syndrome"

Moshe Kalian, Sara Catinari, Uriel Heresco-Levi, Eliezer Witztum

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Scopus citations


    The purpose of this article is to study the narratives of two religious tourists who have chosen self-starvation on the streets of Jerusalem as their idiom of distress. Both were hospitalized involuntarily due to self-endangering behavior. It appears that in specific groups, restrictions of food intake are regarded as particularly holy, pure, and blessed. Extreme cases of self-starvation using religious explanatory models could be regarded as forms of "spiritual starvation". Patients involved in these acts of fasting differ in both religious and cultural backgrounds, as well as the extent to which their families regard the importance of religiosity. Representing extreme forms of religious practice, both spiritual starvation and Jerusalem Syndrome are rare phenomena. The so-called "Jerusalem syndrome" is a rather dramatic, cultural-religious phenomenon, rarely displayed by pilgrims and tourists visiting the Holy City. Jerusalem, the "axis mundi" of faith, is perceived as the arena where great events are about to occur. This eschatological core element is at times exploited in a broader sense in the service of a public or an individual, to the extent where boundaries between reality and imagination are blurred. For some vulnerable individuals (mostly with previous recorded psychiatric history), the extraordinary and overwhelming mental experience of facing the holy space of Jerusalem might yield an emotional response that exceeds an adequate reaction. The narratives described display a unique form of the so-called syndrome. The current study examines spiritual and cultural aspects of delusion and shared beliefs and the complex relationship between normal religious belief and "pathological" religious delusions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)161-172
    Number of pages12
    JournalMental Health, Religion and Culture
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - 1 Mar 2008

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Clinical Psychology
    • Psychiatry and Mental health


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