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A Neuro-psychological Explanation of Religious Experience?
Uppsala University, Humanistisk-samhällsvetenskapliga vetenskapsområdet, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology. Religionsfilosofi. (Science and Religion)
2004 (English)In: Studies in Science and Theology, SSTh, ISSN 91-631-5211-8, Vol. 9, 59-70 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The search for the basis of religious experience among neurological processes in the brain has resulted in a widespread debate both within and outside the academic world. The aim of this paper is to analyse to what extent a neuro-psychological theory could explain the phenomenon religious experience. To clarify what the neuro-psychological studies of the present paper mean by the concept religious experience, the concept is divided into three different types: the Erlebnis or RErl type, the Erfahrung or RErf- type and the ideological or RIT-type of religious experience. Furthermore, the present paper is focused on the work of Neuropsychologist, Prof. M. A. Persinger [1993, 1992, 1991, 1985, and 1984]. In his studies he indicates that mystical experience (RErl) has its seat in the right hemisphere of the human brain, while (religious) ideology’s (RIT) type is related to the left hemisphere. Consequently, in which hemisphere the (religious) experience is experienced seems to label the type of the experience. Persinger, interested in the powerful effects that religious experience (of the RErf type) have on a human being asserts that, if we could understand the neuro-cognitive processes that are involved in experiencing religiously, such processes might be copied and used in a clinical sense, and might make psychiatric therapy for curing depression more effective. Thus, he studied and compared persons who practice religious meditation with persons who do not and studied the results of PET scanning on the experiences of schizophrenic and epileptic patients. The latter measuring the metabolic activity in the hemispheres ranging it on a scale from under normal to over normal activity. The present paper will account for the relevance of comparing these two apparently different studies as well as for the problem that arises when drawing not thoroughly reasoned conclusions. Religious experience is compared with the experience of pain because, neurologically speaking pain, like religious experiences, is said to be ‘caused’ by the brain.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2004. Vol. 9, 59-70 p.
Keyword [en]
religious experience, religious erlebnis, religious erfahrung, ideology, neuroscience, neuropsychology, pain, PET, reductionism, partial reductionism, transcendental meditation, epilepsy, schizophrenia
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-78290OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-78290DiVA: diva2:106203
Available from: 2006-11-27 Created: 2006-11-27 Last updated: 2011-01-12

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