The Religious Model views disability as a punishment inflicted upon an individual or family by an external force. It can be due to misdemeanors committed by the disabled person, someone in the family or community group, or forbears. Birth conditions can be due to actions committed in a previous reincarnation.
Sometimes the presence of "evil spirits" is used to explain differences in behavior, especially in conditions such as schizophrenia. Acts of exorcism or sacrifice may be performed to expel or placate the negative influence, or recourse made to persecution or even death of the individual who is "different".
In some cases, the disability stigmatizes a whole family, lowering their status or even leading to total social exclusion. Or it can be interpreted as an individual’s inability to conform within a family structure. Conversely, it can be seen as necessary affliction to be suffered before some future spiritual reward.
It is an extreme model, which can exist in any society where deprivation is linked to ignorance, fear and prejudice.
In a Western Judea-Christian society, the roots of understanding bodily difference have been grounded in Biblical references, the consequent responses and impacts of the Christian church, and the effect of the enlightenment project underpinning the modern era. These embodied states were seen as the result of evil spirits, the devil, witchcraft or God's displeasure. Alternatively, such people were also signified as reflecting the "suffering Christ", and were often perceived to be of angelic or beyond-human status to be a blessing for others.
Therefore, themes which embrace notions of sin or sanctity, impurity and wholeness, undesirability and weakness, care and compassion, healing and burden have formed the dominant bases of Western conceptualizations of, and responses to, groups of people who, in a contemporary context, are described as disabled. In the past, various labels have been used for such people. These include crippled, lame, blind, dumb, deaf, mad, feeble, idiot, imbecile, and moron.
In the nomadic and/or agrarian societies of pre-industrialization, when time was cyclic, people perceived with limitations often lived with their families. They were ascribed roles and tasks in line with their capabilities, and which fulfilled the co-operative requirements for corporate survival. Others, though, could not stay with their families. Some were ostracized, and their survival threatened, because of a popular conception that such persons were monsters, and therefore unworthy of human status. Some became homeless and dislocated for other reasons such as poverty or shame. Religious communities, often within the local precincts or parishes, responded to these groups of people in various ways. These included the promotion and seeking of cures by such actions as exorcisms, purging, rituals and so on; or providing care, hospitality and service as acts of mercy and Christian duty to "needy strangers".
However, important changes were to occur with the evolvement of the modern era profoundly influenced by the enlightenment and industrialization. During this time, religious values and modes were challenged by the uprising of reason and rationality.
The Moral model is historically the oldest and is less prevalent today. However, there are many cultures that associate disability with sin and shame, and disability is often associated with feelings of guilt, even if such feelings are not overtly based in religious doctrine. For the individual with a disability, this model is particularly burdensome. This model has been associated with shame on the entire family with a member with a disability. Families have hidden away the disabled family member, keeping them out of school and excluded from any chance at having a meaningful role in society. Even in less extreme circumstances, this model has resulted in general social ostracism and self-hatred.