Religious Trauma is Trauma

A Fine Art Photo Series by Andrew Pledger

Artist Statement

“Religious Trauma is Trauma” is a fine art photo series bringing awareness to the psychological and emotional effects of toxic religion. This issue has affected me personally and countless others. Many people have suffered in silence afraid to speak out against religious institutions. Marlene Winell a psychologist coined the term Religious Trauma Syndrome in 2011, but the topic is finally becoming more popular recently.

            In this series, I am communicating how emotional trauma from religion manifests itself in life. I am bringing awareness to this issue and educating people through visual language. Specifically, I want viewers to understand and feel on a deep level how religious trauma changes a person internally. Art is powerful because it causes people to empathize and reflect, which can lead to change in behavior.

            I communicate this message by using various techniques. I use a combination of location, camera settings, editing, and colors. I use double exposures and motion blur to add chaotic energy to the series. The series starts in a calm environment and becomes increasingly chaotic. Compositionally, I use diagonal lines to add to the energy. For the location, an abstract environment is created to express the internal state of the subject.

            At the end of the series, the subject escapes their situation, but this is not the end of their struggle with religious trauma. Many individuals who leave toxic religious settings carry the trauma with them and must heal on their own."

~Andrew Pledger

Photo 1. Locked Away

This photo represents the feeling and experience of being locked away or isolated from the outside world. I was isolated through homeschooling and my only resource was religion. This tells the story of someone praying as a way to overcome or get through hardships.

Photo 2. Praying

This photo is a closer shot of the previous pose. I used overlays to convey the desperation of the person's spirit to escape or be delivered from their mental suffering.

Photo 3. Warfare

This photo shows how the subject perceives how their struggles are spiritual warfare. To me, this represents how I was shamed and blamed for my mental health issues. I believed what spiritual leaders told me and that reading the Bible would drive away demons. This photo shows that the subject is not being delivered from their suffering. Religion was not going to deliver me from the suffering because religion was the source of the pain.

Photo 4. Disassociation

This photo shows how the subject is disassociating due to religious trauma. I experienced disassociation because my mind and body were trying to cope with the trauma. Religion was not doing anything to help but making my symptoms worse. At this point, I was too indoctrinated in the cult to even question the religion's harm.

Photo 5. Destroyed Self

This photo shows how the subject has taken off a mask and they have no face. This represents how toxic religions or cults give you an identity and stop you from developing. Without the cult, I did not have an identity because it prevented me from being an autonomous individual.

Photo 6. Inner Turmoil

This photo shows how the subject is frustrated and struggling with inner turmoil. They put back on the mask because they don't know who they are without it. The several repeated overlays of the person represent all the conflicting and intense emotions.

Photo 7. Realization

This photo shows how the subject is realizing the harm caused by religion. The mirror represents them seeing themselves as they really are which is a person that has been used and abused. The mirror is blocking their view of the cross which suggests they are questioning the validity of the religion. To me, this represents the moment when I admitted the religion was damaging me. It had nothing to do with spirituality and demons, but toxic religion.

Photo 8. Regurgitation

This photo shows the subject throwing up a dark substance. For me, this represented undoing the indoctrination and purging all the negative messages received in toxic religion.

Photo 9. Nightmares

This photo shows the subject sleeping in hell with demons grabbing their body. For me, this represents my lifelong fear of hell and the struggle with nightmares of burning for eternity.

Photo 10. Knowledge

This photo shows the subject discovering a book behind their bed. For me, this represents when I discovered information outside the cult.

Photo 11. Enlightenment

This photo shows the subject learning about the function of a key. Throughout the series, the subject had a key around their neck. This key represented their autonomy and how it was the answer to escaping their environment. The subject learns that a key is used to unlock a door. The subject has been locked in this environment and now knows how to unlock the door.

Photo 12. Deconstruction

This photo shows the subject turned away from the cross and the key in their hand. They are finally understanding how to escape and the cracking wall represents the deconstruction of their faith.

Photo 13. Escape

The subject uses their key or autonomy to escape the toxic environment. The person is free, but still has a lot of healing to do.