What is fear of religion called?

The fear of religion is called theophobia. It is an intense fear or aversion to religion or religious beliefs and practices. Individuals with theophobia experience extreme anxiety, panic, and distress when confronted with anything related to religion, from places of worship and religious symbols to religious services and rituals.

What causes theophobia?

There are several potential causes for developing a fear of religion:

  • Traumatic experiences related to religion in childhood, such as overly strict religious upbringing or punishment and threats of divine retribution
  • Negative experiences with religious institutions or religious leaders
  • Belief that religion encourages harmful or unethical practices
  • Association of religion with conflict, oppression, or abuse
  • Generalized anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder

In many cases, theophobia stems from multiple factors coming together to create a persistent, irrational fear response to religion and religious themes. Both environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a role.

What are the symptoms of theophobia?

The main symptom of theophobia is an intense fear response when confronted with religious places, events, symbols, etc. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Racing heart, sweating, trembling, and chest tightness
  • Nausea, dizziness, and hyperventilation
  • Urge to cry, scream, or flee when encountering religion
  • Avoidance of religious places and events
  • Distressing thoughts and images related to religion
  • Nightmares about religious themes
  • Difficulty concentrating and sleeping due to religious anxiety

Reactions tend to be immediate and extremely uncomfortable. The individual is unable to control their fear response even when they logically understand their fear is irrational and excessive.

Physical symptoms

The sympathetic nervous system activates the body’s fight-or-flight response when confronted with a threat. For people with theophobia, their brain perceives religion and religious themes as a danger, triggering bodily reactions like:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Sweating and chills
  • Trembling, shaking, muscle tension
  • Headache, fatigue, weakness
  • Nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath, chest tightness
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness

Psychological symptoms

In addition to physical sensations of fear, theophobia also causes several psychological and emotional symptoms, such as:

  • Feeling detached from reality or oneself
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying from the panic response
  • Distressing thoughts and mental images of religious themes
  • Irritability, inability to concentrate
  • Avoidance of places, objects, conversations related to religion

The emotional turmoil and constant anxiety over encountering religion can negatively impact daily functioning and quality of life.

How is theophobia diagnosed?

For an official diagnosis of theophobia, evaluation by a mental health professional is required. They will assess symptoms and their impact through:

  • Clinical interview: Discussion of the individual’s fear response, triggers, avoidance behaviors, and religious background.
  • Questionnaires: Standardized questionnaires about anxiety levels and severity of phobic avoidance.
  • Observation: Monitoring physiological and emotional reaction to religious themes and objects during evaluation.

Other anxiety disorders like OCD, PTSD, and generalized anxiety disorder may have similar symptoms. The clinician will rule out other potential diagnoses and determine that religious fear is excessive and impairing normal function.

Diagnostic criteria

To be diagnosed with theophobia, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists these specific criteria:

  • Extreme, persistent fear or anxiety about religious objects, themes, rituals
  • Immediate fear response when exposed to feared religious stimuli
  • Recognition that fear is excessive or irrational
  • Avoidance of religious situations, activities, conversations
  • Significant distress or impairment in daily functioning due to religious fear/avoidance
  • Symptoms persisting for 6 months or more

What are the treatment options for theophobia?

With professional guidance, theophobia can be successfully managed and overcome. Typical treatments include:

Exposure therapy

The most common approach is gradually exposing the individual to incremental levels of feared religious situations and objects, allowing them to confront their fear and build tolerance. This might start with viewing images of religious symbols and work up to attending a religious ceremony. Therapy provides a safe, controlled setting for exposure under a therapist’s care.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT helps identify and modify negative thought patterns contributing to theophobia. Reframing catastrophic thinking and irrational beliefs about religion allows the person to manage feelings of panic and anxiety.

Relaxation techniques

Methods like controlled breathing, meditation, and muscle relaxation help counteract the body’s instinctive fear response. These can be paired with exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring.


Anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications may be prescribed to help control intense symptoms of anxiety and depression related to theophobia. Medication is often most effective when combined with therapy.

Alternative treatments

Some individuals have found help through acupuncture, supplements, hypnotherapy, or EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) – though clinical research is limited regarding their efficacy for phobias specifically.

What complications are associated with theophobia?

Without proper treatment, theophobia can severely restrict quality of life and lead to additional mental and physical health issues, such as:

  • Depression – Due to isolation and diminished ability to enjoy activities
  • Substance abuse – Self-medication to cope with anxiety
  • Agoraphobia – Fear of leaving home and entering public situations
  • Social anxiety – Avoidance of social situations due to fear of judgment or embarrassment
  • Occupational issues – Inability to perform job duties or attend important religious functions for work
  • Strained relationships – Lashing out at loved ones or isolation from shame over theophobia symptoms

Seeking counseling and following treatment recommendations can help avoid these severe consequences over time.

What is the outlook for people with theophobia?

With professional treatment, most people with theophobia can achieve significant improvement or full recovery. Some key factors that influence outlook include:

  • Getting an accurate diagnosis and starting treatment early
  • Having a strong, collaborative relationship with the therapist
  • Consistently engaging in exposure activities and facing feared situations
  • Making positive lifestyle changes to manage stress and anxiety
  • Having a strong social support system of family and friends
  • Finding ways to challenge unhelpful thought patterns about religion

Improvement may be gradual, but sticking with therapy over months and years provides the best chance for overcoming symptoms. Even after recovery, periodic maintenance sessions are recommended to prevent relapse.

Recovery statistics

According to clinical research:

  • 75% of people with a specific phobia will benefit from proper treatment and management.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy has 60-90% success rate for phobia treatment.
  • Exposure therapy helps 80-100% of phobic adults achieve partial to complete recovery.

Controlled, repeated exposure to feared religious situations and themes under professional care provides the best results for conquering theophobia long-term.

What tips can help in managing theophobia?

In addition to pursuing formal treatment, the following self-care strategies can aid in coping with symptoms:

  • Learn relaxation exercises like deep breathing, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation
  • Practice identifying and redirecting negative automatic thoughts about religion
  • Develop a hierarchy list of feared situations from least to most anxiety-provoking
  • Gradually confront lower items on the hierarchy list in a safe setting
  • Limit avoidance of feared situations – avoidant behavior reinforces the phobia
  • Join a support group to share experiences and advice for managing symptoms
  • Communicate openly with loved ones for accountability and encouragement
  • Make time for enjoyable activities and self-care to relieve stress
  • Focus on achievements made in therapy – even small progress is still progress

With patience, courage, faith in the treatment process, and support from others, recovery from theophobia is absolutely attainable.

What questions should I ask my doctor about theophobia?

Questions to discuss with a doctor or mental health provider when seeking help for theophobia include:

  • Are my symptoms indicative of theophobia or another condition?
  • What treatment approach do you recommend for my fear of religion, and what results can I expect?
  • How can I find an experienced anxiety/phobia therapist in my area?
  • What self-help strategies and lifestyle changes do you suggest I also try at home?
  • Are there any online resources or support groups you recommend?
  • How long is treatment likely to last?
  • How will we measure progress and know when I am ready to reduce or stop treatment?
  • What signs or symptoms should I watch for that indicate I need to revisit therapy?
  • What tips do you have for discussing my theophobia with loved ones?
  • Do you foresee my religious fear interacting with any other mental or physical health conditions I have?

Open, candid discussion with a provider builds trust, aligns expectations, and empowers the individual to take an active role in their treatment plan.


Theophobia, while extremely distressing for those affected, is a highly treatable anxiety disorder. Through professional therapies like exposure, CBT, and medication, as well as self-care strategies, significant improvement in symptoms and quality of life is possible. With consistent effort focused on facing one’s fears, freedom from theophobia is well within reach.

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