Mixing Memory

Cognitive Neuroscience of Religion

Over at The Neurocritic, there’s a great post on an imaging study that contrasted singing and speaking in tongues in five religious women. That reminded me of a paper I had read a couple months ago by one of the authors of the speaking in tongues study. It’s a paper on the neuroscientific study of religion, but it primarily focuses on methodological issues (operational definitions of religion, subject selection, imaging techniques, etc.), so it may not be interesting to everyone. If you want to read it, you can do so here. Anyway, the reason I bring this stuff up (other than to link to the Neurocritic post) is because this passage from the paper really cracked me up:

Are scientific investigations of religiousness of divine origin? In the biblical book of Daniel we read:

“Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food. (Daniel 1:12-15 NKJV)

Thus, even in early religious texts there was a notion that there could be some way of evaluating the effects of religiousness on the human person. This example may well be one of the first descriptions of a controlled trial. However, biomedical research obviously has advanced significantly since biblical times, even though the study of religious phenomena is difficult.

I… don’t know what to say.


  1. #1 Elke
    November 5, 2006

    Eat your veggies religiously.

  2. #2 Badger3k
    November 5, 2006

    I just finished reading his book (Why we believe what we believe), and it’s…uneven. He has some interesting things that, if further studies show they are real, are fascinating and can explain why “religious” experiences are really believed. But he also has some really stupid things – for instance, his idea that “belief” without any evidence (faith) is the same as “belief” with evidence (trust) are the same is bizarre. I think he believes that since they use similar mental processes, then they are equal in value and “reality”. He seems to support some bizarre beliefs (I think he tends towards some kind of relativism), and overall I think he needs to be read with skepticism. He also seems to believe that if a portion of the mind that tells us something is “real” is affected, the fact that we think it is real makes it so, even though it is not external to our mind – I say seems, since in his writing he tends to hem and haw and (to me) it is not clear what, if anything, he is advocating (he doesn’t even make it clear that he is neutral). I did find his book under the religion/philosophy section rather than science, so that may say something as well.

  3. #3 mark
    November 6, 2006

    In the conclusion: the “integrated field of neuroscience and religion”.(?)

  4. #4 Don Clark
    April 8, 2007

    Interesting. To let you know that we are still out here trying to make sense of this research, you might want to see the discussion:


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