An Oxford University researcher and neuroscientist has denied reports that she implied religious fundamentalism may one day be treated as a curable mental illness, insisting that she has been “misreported.”
Dr Kathleen Taylor, who describes herself as a “freelance science writer affiliated to the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford,” supposedly made the comments speaking during a question and answer session at the Hay Festival in Wales on Wednesday. Her remarks about religious fundamentalism were then reported by several major news outlets including the Times and the Huffington Post, where the story attracted tens of thousands of comments and shares on social media sites.
Taylor was reported in the Times as having said at the festival, “One man’s positive can be another man’s negative. One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated. Someone who has for example become radicalised to a cult ideology – we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance.
“In many ways it could be a very positive thing because there are, no doubt, beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage.
“I am not just talking about the obvious candidates like radical Islam or some of the more extreme cults. I am talking about things like the belief that it is OK to beat your children.”
She was also reported as warning about the ethical concerns of such developments, adding, “But, and here is where I worry about the positive versus the negative, there are also huge libertarian implications for that as well.”
Taylor, speaking to Cherwell, claimed, “I have been misreported (it happens).”
She also clarified her position, saying, “I did not claim that religious fundamentalism was a mental illness that neuroscience would someday be able to cure.”
A full rebuttal and explanation is understood to be forthcoming later this week in the form of a public letter sent to the Observer.
This clarification, however, has done little to dampen the media reaction to her comments. Writing for the Guardian, Raymond Tallis said, “Studies that locate irreducibly social phenomena – such as ‘love’, the aesthetic sense, ‘wisdom’ or ‘Muslim fundamentalism’ – in the function or dysfunction of bits of our brains are conceptually misconceived…It will not boil down to something a scan could pick up, such as over-activity in the brain’s Qur’an interpretation centre.”
No one from the Times or the Huffington Post Uk was available for comment.