, also known as neurotheology
, is a field of scientific study that analyzes the biological basis of spirituality. This deals with the neurological, evolutionary, and psychological structures for cognitive experiences traditionally categorized as spiritual, such as feeling that time, fear and 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.
Critics of this approach, like philosopher Ken Wilber and religious scholar Huston Smith, see the more materialistic formulations of the approach as examples ofreductionism
and scientism that are only looking at the superficialaspects of the phenomena, and do not constitute a true explanation of spiritual experience.
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 Biotheology. Recently, however, Pehr Granqvist, a psychologist
at Uppsala University in Sweden, questioned the 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.
Dr. Persinger still stands by his findings. He argues that "Dr Granqvist and his colleagues failed to generate a 'biologically effective signal' in their subjets because of a failure to use the equipment properly."
- 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.