News and Events

16 February 2023


We are pleased to announce that Eugenia’s abstract “PUTTING THE INSANITY DEFENSE ON TRIAL” has been accepted for presentation at the Extreme Belief and Responsibility Workshop, organized by the  ERC funded Extreme Beliefs project at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, June 29-30 2023. The workshop programme is still in the making, so we will keep you posted on the exact date and time.

The workshop explores the relation between extreme beliefs and extreme behavior on the one hand and responsibility on the other. The first part concerns the issue of who is responsible. For instance, should we target the individual, the community, or none, i.e., are structural factors to blame? The second part concerns what kind of responsibility is at issue. For instance, how do legal, moral, and epistemic responsibility relate to each other with respect to extreme beliefs? The third part concerns when responsibility attributions are appropriate and when not. What are excusing or exculpating conditions of individual or group responsibility for extreme belief?


The Insanity Defense is a tool that most Western legal systems employ to account for mental illness as a mitigating condition in assessing culpability. In most of these countries, the Insanity Defense has two major prongs. The first is that a defendant must suffer from a “severe mental disease or defect that affected him or her at the time of the crime”. The second prong is that “a defendant, as a result of this severe mental defect, must have been unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions at the time of the crime”. Wrongfulness must be interpreted with reference to “objective societal or public standards of moral wrongfulness, not the defendant’s subjective personal standards of moral wrongfulness”.

However, the application of the Insanity Defense is particularly problematic when it comes to crimes committed as a consequence of holding extreme religious beliefs. This is because the line between normal and pathological is more blurred in religious beliefs. Whereas in general pathological beliefs such as delusions stand out because they depart from shared norms of rationality and evidence, irrationality and resistance to counterevidence characterize both normal and pathological religious beliefs. Moreover, while pathological, irrational beliefs like delusions are usually not shared by a community of people, a religious belief that is odd for one group could easily be the norm in another. These factors make the task of understanding whether an extreme religious belief is the result of a mental illness or of a non-pathological – though dangerous - process of acquisition extremely daunting.

Some solutions have been proposed to overcome this conundrum and make the Insanity Defense applicable also in the presence of extreme religious beliefs. For example, some have argued that, while non-pathological, extremist religious believers would be able to engage with public standards of moral wrongfulness (though this would not change their end belief), this would not be the case for extremist religious believers affected by mental disorders such as psychosis.

After discussing this and other solutions more in detail, this paper aims to contribute to a fairer understanding and application of the Insanity Defense in cases of extreme religious beliefs and behaviours by envisaging an excusing condition for such beliefs and behaviours so far neglected by Western legal systems. I argue that the Insanity Defense must be fine-tuned to allow for criminal cases where appreciation of moral wrongfulness according to public standards is present, but the extremist religious beliefs and behaviours are the result of an identity disturbance due to prolonged and intense coercive persuasion as found in some sects, cults or other extremist religious organization. To do this, I will rely on the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - that makes room for dissociative disorders brought about by coercive persuasion - and apply it to the legal case of Nebraska vs Michael Ryan, where the culpability of some of the defendants could be overturned if considered under this new light. 

7 February 2023


We are pleased to announce that our closed panel proposal "RESILIENT BELIEFS: CAN RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE HELP US UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF ROCK-BOTTOM CONVICTIONS?" has been accepted by the organisers of this year's conference of the European Academy of Religion, which will take place in St Andrews, Scotland, UK, from 19 to 23 June. The conference programme is still in the making, so we will keep you posted on the exact date and time.

Panel Abstract



Believing in something and believing that something is the case have some notoriously puzzling aspects. Believing means, on the one hand, having something stored in one’s mind, which one more or less explicitly accepts and, on the other hand, committing oneself to the implications of trusting that belief. Believing that EUARE is the right place to present the results of one’s research is a good example of this dual character of beliefs. If you entertain that belief, then you are more likely to attend the conference, but the nature of this attitude is far from transparent.

Now, these features of believing stand out when a belief is particularly resistant against contrary evidence. In such cases, resistance to change may appear as clear proof of irrationality. The experience of religious faith, however, shows that things are not so simple. Indeed, there are areas of existence in which unconditional faith in a person, an ideal, a certain vision of the future or the causes of our being in the world can reasonably influence people’s beliefs according to eccentric logics that pose genuine epistemic challenges.

Presenting intermediate results of the interdisciplinary research project “Resilient Beliefs: Religion and Beyond” (Euregio Science Fund), the panel will focus on the nature of disbelief, extreme religious beliefs, conspiracy theories, the role of metaphors in Christian faith, and how these boundary cases of the human capacity to believe may appear in different shapes depending on whether one approaches them from an internal (emic) or external (etic) perspective.


Chair: Paolo Costa (Fondazione Bruno Kessler)



Boris Rähme (Fondazione Bruno Kessler), Varieties of Non-Belief

Eugenia Lancellotta (Fondazione Bruno Kessler), Putting the Insanity Defense on Trial

Gloria Dell’Eva (PTH Brixen), Religious Faith and Epistemic Belief: An Example from the History of Philosophy

Scott Hill (University of Innsbruck), Was King David a Conspiracy Theorist? 

7 February 2023


The recording of Taylor's lecture is now available on the YouTube channel of the Centre for Religious Studies (FBK) at THIS link.

12 January 2023


Many have a sense that democracy is in trouble in the West today. But what are the causes of the erosion of the basis of a political regime that seemed to have no alternative until a few years ago? Populism is often blamed for the origin of this degeneration. However, if democracy is not an end state but a process, shouldn’t the root causes of this malaise be sought rather in the crisis of participation, in failures of practices of inclusion and the spread of a paralyzing sense of powerlessness among citizens?

The event, organized by FBK’s Center for Religious Studies in collaboration with the Departments of Sociologia e Ricerca sociale and Lettere e Filosofia of the University of Trento, will be held in English and is part of the activities of the research project IPN 175: “Resilient Beliefs: Religion and Beyond,” funded by the Euregio Science Fund.

The event will be held in-person, but will be recorded and made available later on the YouTube channel of the Center for Religious Studies.

For further information, please visit THIS link.

23 November 2022



The first workshop of the interregional and interdisciplinary research project REBE – “Resilient Beliefs: Religion and Beyond” (2022-2024), was held in Brixen / Bressanone on 18-19 November.

At the heart of the research, as users of this website already know, are those beliefs that, for good or bad reasons, often difficult to make explicit, are particularly resistant to change, sometimes even in the face of glaring contrary evidence. Examples are well known and range from common sense certainties to political opinions, sports partisanship, scientific notions gathered during the school years, and life insights around which people build their own sense of integrity or moral rectitude.

Many of these topics were discussed during the workshop: from conspiracy theories (Scott Hill – Innsbruck) to pathological delusions and their legal implications (Eugenia Lancellotta – Trent), from the role of dogma in Christian faith and theology (Gloria Dell’Eva –  Bressanone) to the distinction between good and bad doxastic resilience (Winfried Löffler – Innsbruck), from the relationship between religion and delusion (Paolo Costa – Trento) to the epistemic relevance of disbelief (Boris Rähme – Trento).

The atmosphere of the discussion was both easygoing and passionate: an ideal context for developing new thoughts and ideas on central contemporary issues such as epistemic pollution of the public sphere, the distinction between conspiracy theories and conspiracies as actual causes of historical events, the similarities and differences between psychological delusions and delusions typical of esoteric cults, the function of theologically bold metaphors such as the womb of the Father in facilitating the adaptation of religious belief to changing historical circumstances, the nature of doxastic resilience in science, meaningful existential change as an example of nondoxastic resilience, faith, trust and commitment as different facets of belief resilience in the religious domain.

Already in the pipeline for the coming months are, in addition to publications, more workshops and a final conference in which the investigation of this enigmatic aspect of human mental life will be further developed. 

19 November 2022

The first workshop of the research group REBE - Resilient Beliefs: Religion and Beyond will be held at the Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule in Brixen/Bressanone on November 19. This is the programme for the day.

Morning Session (9.00 – 12.30)

Afternoon Session (14.30 – 16.00)

Resilient Beliefs and Beyond: What’s Next? (Open Discussion) 

27 June 2022

Within the framework of the project "Resilient Beliefs", a workshop on Trust, Delusion, and Dissent with Cord Friebe (University of Siegen and Visiting Fellow of the Centre for Religious Studies) and Eugenia Lancellotta (postdoctoral researcher) will be held in the Aula Piccola of the Fondazione Bruno Kessler on Monday 27 June, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

In his paper entitled “Trust in Science, Unfruitful Dissents in Science?”, Friebe will examine the criteria for determining when scientific dissent can become counterproductive and whether the efforts to distinguish fruitful from detrimental dissents may not sometimes foster distrust in science.

Eugenia Lancellotta’s contribution (“Delusions: An Overview”) will instead present the most important theories about the formation and maintenance of delusions and will begin to discuss the similarities and differences with religious beliefs.

More info