Neurotheology: Neuroscience of the Soul

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Abstract:

Neurotheology encompasses areas of research that investigate the neurological factors involved in religious conviction and sensations (religiosity). Since the 1970s case studies of patients with temporal lobe epilepsy have offered insights into religiosity and have sparked interest in the pursuit of neurological correlates for religiosity. Following the theory that the temporal lobes play important roles in religiosity, attempts were made to induce religious sensations by stimulating these areas of the brain, however the results proved unreliable. More recent research has focused on the usage of neuroimaging equipment to identify areas of the brain that presumably mediate feelings of religiosity. Brain scans of religious devotees engaging in verbal prayer and meditation have led researchers to conclude that religiosity is not as localized in the brain as was previously understood with research. Inzlich, McGregor, Hirsh and Nash (2009) offer an evolutionary approach to the subject by analyzing the possible purpose of religiosity as a defense mechanism against stress. The results from these data indicate that religiosity can be attributed to specific areas of the brain and that religiosity as a whole appears to be far more complex and less compartmentalized than previously believed. By critically reviewing the current literature the argument is made for the necessity of neurotheology as a separate discipline with the goal of providing a wide breadth of information about the psychological and neurological underpinnings of religiosity.

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