Religious practices may require the inflicting of pain on one's self or others, as a test, as an element of sacrificial worship, as self-mortification, as discipline or punishment, as a consequence of rituals whose purposes are purificatory or sacramental, or from customs that are binding in the community and connected with its welfare. The methods of inflicting pain may be so unusual, or the instances of its application so frequent or humiliating, as to constitute a form of torture.
Inquisition was a papal judicial institution that combated heresy in medieval and early modern times. It was Pope Gregory IX (1227-41) who authorized the use of torture by the Inquisition. Thousands – perhaps even millions – were tried, tortured and burned at the stake for their ideas.
Religious torture in modern times exists in some inhumane applications of Koranic law to its infringements such as amputations, tongue-cutting and flogging in Sudan, Iran and elsewhere, and in the rites of circumcision both in Islam and Judaism. In Christianity an ascetic strain persists, ranging from a small Orthodox sect that practices self-mutilation, and snake-bitten Fundamentalists who prove their faith by handling poisonous serpents, to cloistered orders whose Rule and daily Hours includes solitary confinement, silence, hunger, self-flagellation and sleeplessness. Religious torture occurs among tribes that tattoo and deform themselves, or slowly kill their enemies. Some new cults imprison members, brainwash and torment them. These latest forms of religious mental torture include incessant mutual criticism, mutual spying and reporting on behaviour, and sophisticated psychological conditioning. They seem to parallel ideological indoctrination techniques in general.
Constant attacks on the religious beliefs of a group or individual in an attempt to erode these beliefs can be considered religious torture. This may involve violation of dietary practices, such as forcing Hindus or Buddhists to eat meat or Jews or Muslims to eat pork. Victims may be forced to defile sacred objects, such as icons; or witness mockeries of sacred rituals. People who believe in the sacredness of human life may be forced to witness or participate in murder.