The Info List - Neurotheology

--- Advertisement ---


NEUROTHEOLOGY, also known as SPIRITUAL NEUROSCIENCE, attempts to explain religious experience and behaviour in neuroscientific terms. It is the study of correlations of neural phenomena with subjective experiences of spirituality and hypotheses to explain these phenomena. This contrasts with the psychology of religion which studies mental, rather than neural, states.

Proponents of neurotheology say there is a neurological and evolutionary basis for subjective experiences traditionally categorized as spiritual or religious . The field has formed the basis of several popular science books, but has received criticism from psychologists.


* 1 Introduction * 2 Terminology * 3 Theoretical work

* 4 Experimental work

* 4.1 Magnetic stimulation studies * 4.2 Neuropsychology
and neuroimaging * 4.3 Psychopharmacology

* 5 See also * 6 References * 7 Further reading * 8 External links


"Neurotheology" is a neologism that describes the scientific study of the neural correlates of religious or spiritual beliefs, experiences and practices. Other researchers prefer to use terms like "spiritual neuroscience" or "neuroscience of religion". Researchers in the field attempt to explain the neurological basis for religious experiences, such as:

* The perception that time , fear or self-consciousness have dissolved * Spiritual awe * Oneness with the universe * Ecstatic trance * Sudden enlightenment * Altered states of consciousness


Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley
used the term neurotheology for the first time in the utopian novel Island . The discipline studies the cognitive neuroscience of religious experience and spirituality. The term is also sometimes used in a less scientific context or a philosophical context. Some of these uses, according to the mainstream scientific community, qualify as pseudoscience . Huxley used it mainly in a philosophical context.

The use of the term neurotheology in published scientific work is currently uncommon. A search on the citation indexing service provided by Institute for Scientific Information returns five articles. Three of these are published in the journal Zygon: Journal of Religion ">

What Andrew B. Newberg and others "discovered is that intensely focused spiritual contemplation triggers an alteration in the activity of the brain that leads one to perceive transcendent religious experiences as solid, tangible reality. In other words, the sensation that Buddhists call oneness with the universe."

The radical Catholic theologian Eugen Drewermann developed a two-volume critique of traditional conceptions of God
and the soul and a reinterpretation of religion (Modern Neurology
and the Question of God) based on current neuroscientific research.

However, it has also been argued "that neurotheology should be conceived and practiced within a theological framework." Furthermore, it has been suggested that creating a separate category for this kind of research is moot since conventional Behavioural and Social Neurosciences disciplines can handle any empirical investigation of this nature.

Various theories regarding the evolutionary origin of religion and the evolutionary psychology of religion have been proposed.


British biologist Alister Hardy founded in 1969 a Religious Experience Research Centre at Oxford after retiring from his post as Linacre Professor of Zoology and citing William James
William James
's The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) set out to collect first-hand accounts of numinous experiences. He was awarded the Templeton Prize
Templeton Prize
before his death in 1985. His successor David Hay suggested in God’s Biologist: A life of Alister Hardy (2011) that the RERC later dispersed as investigators turned to newer techniques of scientific investigation.


Main article: God

During the 1980s Michael Persinger stimulated the temporal lobes of human subjects with a weak magnetic field using an apparatus that popularly became known as the " God
helmet " and reported that many of his subjects claimed to experience a "sensed presence" during stimulation. This work has been criticised , though some researchers have published a replication of one God
Helmet experiment.

Granqvist et al. claimed that Persinger's work was not "double-blind ." Participants were often graduate students who knew what sort of results to expect, and there was the risk that the experimenters\' expectations would be transmitted to subjects by unconscious cues. The participants were frequently given an idea of the purpose of the study by being asked to fill in questionnaires designed to test their suggestibility to paranormal experiences before the trials were conducted. Granqvist et al. failed to replicate Persinger's experiments double-blinded, and concluded that the presence or absence of the magnetic field had no relationship with any religious or spiritual experience reported by the participants, but was predicted entirely by their suggestibility and personality traits. Following the publication of this study, Persinger et al. dispute this. One published attempt to create a "haunted room" using environmental "complex" electromagnetic fields based on Persinger's theoretical and experimental work did not produce the sensation of a "sensed presence" and found that reports of unusual experiences were uncorrelated with the presence or absence of these fields. As in the study by Granqvist et al., reports of unusual experiences were instead predicted by the personality characteristics and suggestibility of participants. One experiment with a commercial version of the God
helmet found no difference in response to graphic images whether the device was on or off.


The first researcher to note and catalog the abnormal experiences associated with temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) was neurologist Norman Geschwind , who noted a set of religious behavioral traits associated with TLE seizures. These include hypergraphia , hyperreligiosity , reduced sexual interest , fainting spells , and pedantism , often collectively ascribed to a condition known as Geschwind syndrome .

Vilayanur S. Ramachandran explored the neural basis of the hyperreligiosity seen in TLE using the galvanic skin response (GSR), which correlates with emotional arousal, to determine whether the hyperreligiosity seen in TLE was due to an overall heightened emotional state or was specific to religious stimuli. Ramachandran presented two subjects with neutral, sexually arousing and religious words while measuring GSR. Ramachandran was able to show that patients with TLE showed enhanced emotional responses to the religious words, diminished responses to the sexually charged words, and normal responses to the neutral words. This study was presented as an abstract at a neuroscience conference and referenced in Ramachandran's book, Phantoms in the Brain , but it has never been published in the peer-reviewed scientific press.

Research by Mario Beauregard at the University of Montreal
University of Montreal
, using fMRI on Carmelite nuns, has purported to show that religious and spiritual experiences include several brain regions and not a single ' God
spot'. As Beauregard has said, "There is no God
spot in the brain. Spiritual experiences are complex, like intense experiences with other human beings." The neuroimaging was conducted when the nuns were asked to recall past mystical states, not while actually undergoing them; "subjects were asked to remember and relive (eyes closed) the most intense mystical experience ever felt in their lives as a member of the Carmelite Order." A 2011 study by researchers at the Duke University Medical Center found hippocampal atrophy is associated with older adults who report life-changing religious experiences, as well as those who are "born-again Protestants , Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation".

A 2016 study using fMRI found "a recognizable feeling central to ... ( Mormon
)... devotional practice was reproducibly associated with activation in nucleus accumbens , ventromedial prefrontal cortex , and frontal attentional regions. Nucleus accumbens
Nucleus accumbens
activation preceded peak spiritual feelings by 1–3 s and was replicated in four separate tasks. ... The association of abstract ideas and brain reward circuitry may interact with frontal attentional and emotive salience processing, suggesting a mechanism whereby doctrinal concepts may come to be intrinsically rewarding and motivate behavior in religious individuals."


Some scientists working in the field hypothesize that the basis of spiritual experience arises in neurological physiology. Speculative suggestions have been made that an increase of N,N-dimethyltryptamine levels in the pineal gland contribute to spiritual experiences . Scientific studies confirming this have yet to be published. It has also been suggested that stimulation of the temporal lobe by psychoactive ingredients of ' Magic Mushrooms
Magic Mushrooms
' mimics religious experiences. This hypothesis has found laboratory validation with respect to psilocybin .


* Biological psychology
Biological psychology
* Bicameralism (psychology) * Cognitive science of religion * Daniel Dennett
Daniel Dennett
* Dimethyltryptamine
* Dualism / Materialism
/ Nondual
* Eight-circuit model of consciousness
Eight-circuit model of consciousness
* Entheogen
* Eugen Drewermann * Evolutionary
origin of religions * Geschwind syndrome * God
gene * God
helmet * God
in a Pill? * Julian Jaynes * Meditation
* Music Therapy
Music Therapy
* Neuroethics
* Neuroscience
* Neurotechnology
* Oceanic feeling * Out-of-body experience
Out-of-body experience
* Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of mind
* Philosophy of science
Philosophy of science
* Psychedelic crisis * Psychology of religion * Religious ecstasy * Religious experience
Religious experience
* Temporal lobe epilepsy
Temporal lobe epilepsy
* Theological anthropology * Third Man factor * Transpersonal psychology * Viruses of the Mind * VMAT2
* Zen and the Brain


* ^ "David Biello, Searching for God
in the Brain, Scientific American, 2007-10-03". Retrieved 2009-03-22. * ^ A B C Aaen-Stockdale, Craig (2012). " Neuroscience
for the Soul". The Psychologist. 25 (7): 520–523. * ^ Gajilan, A. Chris (2007-04-05). "Are humans hard-wired for faith?". Cable News Network. Retrieved 2007-04-09. * ^ Matthew Alper. The "God" Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality
and God. * ^ James H. Austin. Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation
and Consciousness. * ^ James H. Austin. Zen-Brain Reflections: Reviewing Recent Developments in Meditation
and States of Consciousness. * ^ Burton, Robert A. (5 February 2008). "Neurotheology". On Being Certain. Believing You Are Right Even When You\'re Not. New York City: Macmillan Publishers
Macmillan Publishers
/St. Martin\'s Press . ISBN 1-42992611-2 ; ISBN 978-1-429-92611-9 ( Macmillan Publishers
Macmillan Publishers
edition). ISBN 0-31235920-9 ; ISBN 978-0-312-35920-1 ( St. Martin's Press edition). * ^ Carr, Robert (2003). God
Men Con Men. Smriti Books. * ^ Laurence O. McKinney (1994). Neurotheology: Virtual Religion in the 21st Century. American Institute for Mindfulness . ISBN 0-945724-01-2 . * ^ Newberg, Andrew B. ; D\'Aquili, Eugene G. ; Rause, Vince (2002). Why God
Won\'t Go Away. Brain Science
and the Biology of Belief. New York : Ballantine Books
Ballantine Books
. p. 90. ISBN 0-345-44034-X . CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link ) * ^ Eugen Drewermann (2006–2007). Atem des Lebens: Die moderne Neurologie und die Frage nach Gott. (Modern neurology and the question of God) Vol 1: Das Gehirn. Vol. 2: Die Seele. Düsseldorf
: Patmos Verlag. Vol. 1: 864; Vol. 2: 1072. ISBN 3-491-21000-3 . (Vol. 1). ISBN 3-491-21001-1 (Vol. 2). * ^ Apfalter, Wilfried (2009). "Neurotheology: What Can We Expect from a (Future) Catholic Version?". Theology and Science. 7: 163–174. doi :10.1080/14746700902796528 . * ^ "Neurotheology": A semantic trap set by pseudo-science for the unwary scientist, Dr Milind Ovalekar * ^ Persinger, M A (1983). "Religious and mystical experiences as artifacts of temporal lobe function: a general hypothesis.". Perceptual and motor skills. 57 (3 Pt 2): 1255–62. PMID 6664802 . doi :10.2466/pms.1983.57.3f.1255 . * ^ Persinger, MA (2003). "The Sensed Presence Within Experimental Settings: Implications for the Male and Female Concept of Self". The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied. 137 (1): 5–16. doi :10.1080/00223980309600595 . * ^ Granqvist, P; Fredrikson, M; Unge, P; Hagenfeldt, A; Valind, S; Larhammar, D; Larsson, M (2005). "Sensed presence and mystical experiences are predicted by suggestibility, not by the application of transcranial weak complex magnetic fields". Neuroscience
Letters. 379 (1): 1–6. PMID 15849873 . doi :10.1016/j.neulet.2004.10.057 . Lay summary – BioEd Online (December 9, 2004). * ^ Larsson, M., Larhammarb, D., Fredrikson, M., and Granqvist, P. (2005). "Reply to M.A. Persinger and S. A. Koren's response to Granqvist et al. "Sensed presence and mystical experiences are predicted by suggestibility, not by the application of transcranial weak magnetic fields"". Neuroscience
Letters. 380 (3): 348–350. doi :10.1016/j.neulet.2005.03.059 . CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link ) * ^ Tinoca,, Carlos A;; Ortiz,, João PL; (2014). "Magnetic Stimulation of the Temporal Cortex: A Partial " God
Helmet" Replication Study". Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research. 5 (3): 234–257. Lay summary. * ^ Richards, P M; Persinger, M A; Koren, S A (1993). "Modification of activation and evaluation properties of narratives by weak complex magnetic field patterns that simulate limbic burst firing.". The International journal of neuroscience. 71 (1–4): 71–85. doi :10.3109/00207459309000594 . Lay summary – " subjects exposed to a computer-generated wave form, designed to simulate neuronal burst firing, generated narratives dominated by more pleasantness and less activation than a reference group.". * ^ Persinger, Michael; et al. (2005). "A response to Granqvist et al. "Sensed presence and mystical experiences are predicted by suggestibility, not by the application of transcranial weak magnetic fields".". Neuroscience
Letters. 380 (1): 346–347. PMID 15862915 . doi :10.1016/j.neulet.2005.03.060 . * ^ French, CC., Haque, U., Bunton-Stasyshyn, R., Davis, R. (2009). "The "Haunt" project: An attempt to build a "haunted" room by manipulating complex electromagnetic fields and infrasound". Cortex. 45 (5): 619–629. PMID 18635163 . doi :10.1016/j.cortex.2007.10.011 . CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link ) * ^ Gendle, MH & McGrath, MG (2012). "Can the 8-coil shakti alter subjective emotional experience? A randomized, placebo-controlled study.". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 114 (1): 217–235. doi :10.2466/02.24.pms.114.1.217-235 . * ^ Craig Aaen-Stockdale (2012). " Neuroscience
for the Soul". The Psychologist. 25 (7): 520–523. Murphy claims his devices are able to modulate emotional states in addition to enhancing meditation and generating altered states. In flat contradiction of this claim, Gendle & McGrath (2012) found no significant difference in emotional state whether the device was on or off. * ^ Waxman SG, Geschwind N (1975). "The interictal behavior syndrome of temporal lobe epilepsy.". Arch Gen Psychiatry. 32 (12): 1580–6. PMID 1200777 . doi :10.1001/archpsyc.1975.01760300118011 . * ^ Ramachandran, V. and Blakeslee (1998). Phantoms in the Brain . * ^ Harper Collins Publishers Author Interview with mario Beauregard, HarperCollins.com * ^ Mario Beauregard; Mario Beauregard (26 June 2006). "Neural correlates of a mystical experience in Carmelite nuns" (PDF) (405 (2006)). Neuroscience
Letters. Retrieved 2010-05-09. * ^ Owen AD, Hayward RD, Koenig HG, Steffens DC, Payne ME (2011). "Religious factors and hippocampal atrophy in late life". PLoS ONE. 6 (3): e17006. PMC 3068149  . PMID 21479219 . doi :10.1371/journal.pone.0017006 . * ^ Ferguson MA, Nielsen JA, King JB, Dai L, Giangrasso DM, Holman R, et al. (29 November 2016). "Reward, salience, and attentional networks are activated by religious experience in devout Mormons.". Social Neuroscience
: 1–13. PMID 27834117 . doi :10.1080/17470919.2016.1257437 . * ^ Strassman, R (2001). DMT: The Spiritual Molecule. Inner Traditions Bear and Company. ISBN 0-89281-927-8 . * ^ Hood, Jr., Ralph W. and Jacob A. Belzen (2005). "Research Methods in the Psychology of Religion", in Handbook Of The Psychology Of Religion And Spirituality, ed. by Raymond F. Paloutzian and Crystal L. Park. New York: Guilford Press. p. 64. ISBN 1-57230-922-9 . * ^ Skatssoon, Judy (2006-07-12). "Magic mushrooms hit the God spot". ABC Science
Online. Retrieved 2006-07-13. * ^ Griffiths, Rr; Richards, Wa; Johnson, Mw; McCann, Ud; Jesse, R (2008). "Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later." . Journal of psychopharmacology. 22 (6): 621–32. PMC 3050654  . PMID 18593735 . doi :10.1177/0269881108094300 . * ^ Griffiths, R R; Richards, W A; McCann, U; Jesse, R (2006). " Psilocybin
can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance.". Psychopharmacology. 187 (3): 268–83; discussion 284–92. PMID 16826400 . doi :10.1007/s00213-006-0457-5 .


* Andrew Neher, The Psychology of Transcendence, Dover, 2nd ed 1990, ISBN 0-486-26167-0 * Andrew B. Newberg, The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience, (1999), Fortress Press, Minneapolis, ISBN 0-8006-3163-3 * Patrick McNamara, "The Neuroscience
of Religious Experience". Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. ISBN 978-0-521-88958-2 * Thomas B. Roberts, "Chemical Input — Religious Output: Entheogens
" Chapter 10 in Where God
and Science
Meet: Vol. 3. The Psychology of Religious Experience edited by Robert McNamara. Westport, CT: Praeger/Greenwood. * Runehov Anne L.C., "Sacred or Neural? The Potential of Neuroscience
to Explain Religious Experience". Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2007. ISBN 978-3-525-56980-1 . * Gerald Wolf, (science-in-fiction novels) Der HirnGott; Dr. Ziethen Verlag 2005, Sich Verlag 2008, ISBN 978-3-9811692-8-7 . Glaube mir, mich gibt es nicht; Sich Verlag 2009, ISBN 978-3-9812628-0-3 .


* The Science
Of Spirituality
- Is