Divine Madness: On the Aetiology of Romantic Obsession

Keith Sutherland

Abstract: The paper opens with a brief overview of ‘limerence’ or obsessive love disorder (OLD) from the perspectives of psychology, neurology, anthropology, and sociology, but concludes that certain unique characteristics of the condition suggest that it is better under­stood as a form of ‘divine madness’, resulting from the failure of the Platonic ascent of love to follow its natural trajectory. The paper focuses on Plotinus’s model of the erotic ascent from the one to the ONE, drawing parallels with the Indian bhakti tradition and other models derived from transpersonal psychology. The final section explores the distinction between pagan and Christian Platonism and the entailments of the latter for secular perspectives on love.


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Divine Madness



  1. Keith Sutherland on 23rd January 2022 at 11:39 am

    Although the focus of this paper is psychopathology, having now read John Higgs’ book William Blake vs The World, I’m increasingly of the view that the only encounter most of us have with the sublime is when they fall in love. According to Higgs, Blake believed the apprehension of the sublime was limited to artists, poets and musicians, or those blessed with apophatic mystical experience. Unfortunately falling in love is generally a missed opportunity as our culture lacks the contemplative tools (tapas and bhakti yoga) to transform the initial encounter into a permanent transformation, hence the tragic pathologies identified in the paper. I’m very keen for feedback on this, as the topic was close to the heart of the founders of JCS (Joe Goguen, Bob Forman, Jonathan Shear and myself).

  2. Keith Sutherland on 13th February 2022 at 10:07 am

    As Mark McIntosh puts it (citation in my paper) “the alienation of human culture has so infected our understanding of this desirous love that we can only think of it as either a dangerous throwing away of self upon another or as a manipulative attempt to possess another for our own gratification.” I sometimes think I was born 800 years too late as I can relate far better to Dante’s Vita Nuova than the work of any modern writer!

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