Neurotheology: This is Your Brain on Religion
- By Kyle Glatz --
- 07 Jul 2014 --
Neurotheology studies the brain and brainwaves of the religious to bridge the gap between religion and science.
There have been many recent studies into the concept of the effects of religion upon the brain. While scientists and researchers have theorized about this idea for centuries, only now do they have the equipment to examine the brain in the process of religious meditation. These studies are now being referred to as neurotheology, and serve to continue the discussion about divinity and science. Various neurotheology experiments have produced a wealth of interesting knowledge about religious experiences in the mind.
Carmelite Nuns Prove God is No Trick of the Brain
Dr. Mario Beauregard recently studied fifteen cloistered Carmelite nuns in order to see if there was a spiritual centre some place in the brain. Using magnetic resonance imaging to study their brain activity during religious meditation, Beaurgard found that there is no singular section of the brain that is used during a religious experience. Instead, over eight different sections of the brain experience increased activity during religious thoughts and meditation. This means that speculation about the brain being equipped with the specific function to sense God has no basis in science. Rather, human neural pathways utilize several parts of the brain to enter into a meditative state that constructs a religious experience.
Inducing A Sense Of God
One of the most controversial insights into neurotheology was brought on by Michael Persinger, who theorized that stimulating the portions of the brain which are affected during religious mediation could induce a religious experience. As a result, he built a helmet that stimulated these very sections of the brain and performed an experiment with religious individuals. The results found that eighty percent of those who wore the helmet sensed their deity, and experienced feelings of a divine absence when the helmet was removed. In this case, it would seem that neurotheology studies have discovered an important part of science within faith.
Don’t Dismiss God Just Yet
One of the biggest problems that neurotheology has encountered along the path to becoming considered a more valid area of study is the fact that it works in two opposing realms. The scientific community wishes to discount religion based on the lack of observable evidence, and the religious community believes that there is no way to quantify faith. These two conflicting ideals have made the study difficult for individuals such as Dr. Andrew Newberg, who continues to study the effects of the prayer and meditation on the brain. He insists that religion and science are not mutually exclusive, that while religion can be observed in the brain, it is by no means all in the believer’s head. You can purchase his book How God Changes Your Brain from the Telegraph Bookshop. He is also seen here in an interview with CSPAN’s BookTv.