My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
In the spring of 1961, Frantz Fanon wrote to his publisher in Paris to suggest that he ask Jean-Paul Sartre for a preface to his anti-colonial manifesto, The Wretched of the Earth. ‘Tell him that every time I sit down at my desk, I think of him.’ For revolutionary intellectuals in the Third World, Sartre seemed miraculously uncontaminated by the paternalism – and hypocrisy – that gave the white left such a bad reputation. While intellectuals in the orbit of the French Communist Party were vacillating over the Algerian war of independence, he gave his unconditional support to the rebels, a stance that nearly got him killed by an OAS bomb planted outside his flat. He contributed fiery prefaces not only to Fanon’s book, but to Léopold Sédar Senghor’s anthology of Négritude poets and to Albert Memmi’s Portrait of the Coloniser.BACK TO TOP