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Neurotheology

From Academic Kids

Neurotheology, also known as biotheology, is a relatively new field of scientific study that analyzes the biological basis of spirituality. This deals with the neurological and evolutionary basis for subjective experiences traditionally categorized as spiritual. Examples include the perception that time, fear or self-consciousness have dissolved, spiritual awe, oneness with the universe, ecstatic trance, sudden enlightenment and other altered states of consciousness which are the basis for many religious beliefs and behaviors.

In neurotheology, psychologists and neurologists try to pinpoint which regions of the brain turn on, and which turn off, during subjective experiences that seem to exist outside normal time and space. This precision resulting from continually progressing brain imaging tools differentiates current neurotheology from the comparatively rudimentary research of the 1950s and 1960s that evidenced predictable brain wave changes when meditating. Current neurotheology also brings to the table research on why brain waves change, and which specific regions in the brain lie behind the change.

According to psychologists such as David Wulf of Wheaton College, Massachusetts, the current brain scanning studies, along with the consistency of spiritual experiences across cultures, history, and religions, "suggest a common core that is likely a reflection of structures and processes in the human brain."

'Neurotheology' as a 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.

Contents

Important findings

During the 1980s Dr. Michael Persinger simulated people's temporal lobes artificially with a weak magnetic field to see if he could induce a religious state. He found it to create the sensation of "an ethereal presence in the room." The study was an instant sensation and was a landmark study in the field of neurotheology. Template:Sci-stub

Criticism

Philosophical criticism

Critics of this approach, like philosopher Ken Wilber and religious scholar Huston Smith, see the more materialistic formulations of the approach as examples of reductionism and scientism that are only looking at the superficial aspects of the phenomena, and do not constitute a true explanation of spiritual experience.

Scientific criticism

In 2005 Pehr Granqvist, a psychologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, questioned Dr. Michael Persinger's findings in a paper published in Neuroscience Letters. Dr. Granqvist believes Dr. Persinger's work was not "double blind." Those conducting Persinger's trials, who were often graduate students, knew what sort of results to expect, with the risk that the knowledge would be transmitted to experimental subjects by unconscious cues. They were also frequently given an idea of what was happening by being asked to fill in questionnaires designed to test their suggestibility to paranormal experiences before the trials were conducted. Dr. Granqvist set about conducting the experiment double blinded and found that the presence or absence of the field had no relationship with any religious or spiritual experience reported by the participants.

However, Dr. Persinger has stood by his findings, arguing that several of his previous experiments have explicitly used double-blind protocols, and that Dr Granqvist failed to fully replicate Persinger's experimental conditions [1] (http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/granqvist_persinger.htm).

See also

References

Further reading

  • NeuroTheology: Brain, Science, Spirituality, Religious Experience by R. Joseph, Andrew Newberg, Matthew Alper, William James, Friederich Neitzshe, Eugene G. d'Aquili, Michael Persinger, Carol Albright. (2nd edition, 2003) University Press. ISBN 0971644586.
  • Neurotheology: Virtual Religion in the 21st Century by Laurence O. McKinney. (1994) American Institute for Mindfulness. ISBN 0945724012.

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