Atheist Stanford Professor Teaches Religion Is Mental Illness

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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A Stanford University professor has been teaching for years that religion is a form of mental illness, according to a Tuesday report from The Independent highlighting the lessons.

Professor and neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky teaches Stanford students that religion in all of its forms, regardless of benefits, is an irrationality and a kind of “organized schizophrenia,” and has made these claims since at least 2009.

Sapolsky said religious rituals were regarded as expressions of obsessive compulsive disorder, as opposed to a voluntary discipline, and claimed that fervently held religious belief and sustained interest in religion stemmed from damage to the brain and epilepsy, according to the Tuesday report.

“We are permeated by irrationality,” Sapolsky said in a recorded lecture from 2009. He continues to teach in Stanford University’s biology department.


Eighty-four percent of the world population identified as religious in 2015, according to data from the Pew Research Center. According to Sapolsky, 84 percent of the world population is therefore mentally ill to some degree.

Sapolsky recently asserted that “the single most important question is how to construct a society that is just, safe, peaceful – all those good things – when people finally accept that there is no free will,” in a May 8 interview with Stanford News. All human action and decision, according to Sapolsky, boils down to pure biology.

Sapolsky admitted that religion had observable health benefits, despite his belief that it is an expression of mental illness.

“One of the healthiest things you could do with your life is to be religious,” Sapolsky said in a video. “And to be highly religious, it is a very strong protector against major depression. Religious belief extends your life expectancy, and that’s after you control for – it changes risk factors, you’re less likely to drink to excess, all of that. The big issue in that field is, do the health benefits of religiosity merely come from the social community that you get typically by being religious?”

Sapolsky currently teaches 15 independent studies in biology as well as “Cell Biology and Animal Physiology” and “Mechanisms of Neuron Death.”

Sapolsky did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

Update: Sapolsky responded with a comment after publication and explained that he teaches that “different facets of religious belief provide interesting sanctuaries for some facets of psychiatric disorders.”

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