Neurotheology, also known as biotheology, is the study of the neural basis of spirituality. Neurotheology deals with the neurological and evolutionary basis for subjective experiences traditionally categorized as spiritual.
Aldous Huxley used the term neurotheology for the first time in the utopian novel Island. The 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. Huxley used it mainly in a philosophical context.
The use of the term neurotheology in published scientific work is currently uncommon. A search on the citation indexing service provided by Institute for Scientific Information returns five articles. Three of these are published in the journal Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, while two are published in American Behavioral Scientist. Work on the neural basis of spirituality has, however, occurred sporadically throughout the 20th century. Keywords for such work include 'deity', 'neurophysiological bases', 'spirituality' and 'mysticism'.
Defining and measuring spirituality
Neurotheology defines spiritual experiences to include subjective reports of phenomena such as:
- The perception that time, fear or self-consciousness have dissolved
- Spiritual awe
- Oneness with the universe
- Ecstatic trance
- Sudden enlightenment
- Altered states of consciousness
These subjective experiences are seen as the basis for many religious beliefs and behaviors.
Early studies in the 1950s and 1960s used EEGs to study brain wave patterns correlated with spiritual states. During the 1980s Dr. Michael Persinger stimulated the temporal lobes of human subjects with a weak magnetic field. His subjects claimed to have a sensation of "an ethereal presence in the room". This work gained a lot of publicity at the time.
Current studies use neuroimaging to localize brain regions active, or differentially active, during spiritual experiences. David Wulf, a psychologist at Wheaton College, Massachusetts, suggests that current brain imaging 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".
An attempt to marry a materialistic approach like neuroscience to spirituality naturally attracts much criticism. Some of the criticism is philosophical, dealing with the (perceived) irreconcilability between science and spirituality, while some is more methodological, dealing with the issues of studying an experience as subjective as spirituality.
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 empirical aspects of the phenomena, and not including the possible yet improbable validity of spiritual experience with all of its subjectivity.
In 2005 Pehr Granqvist, a psychologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, questioned Dr. Michael Persinger's findings in a paper published in Neuroscience Letters. Granqvist claimed that 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. 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, Persinger has stood by his findings, arguing that several of his previous experiments have explicitly used double-blind protocols, and that Granqvist failed to fully replicate Persinger's experimental conditions.
As far as My personal opinion on this subject, it definitely holds validity in an analytical sense, although not to discount the emotional response, which holds validity in an experiential / imaginative sense. The principle of The Intellectual Decompression Chamber serves both sides well, for there is definitely a time and place for both. I Am reminded of a statement made by Dr. LaVey once:
"I Am more concerned about how a soup tastes, rather than what the ingredients are."
In other words, what matters are the results obtained whether through Magic or psychodrama, or both. One frequently compliments the other. The emotion expended during ritual powerdrives the analytical configuration of the parchment, thereby fulfilling The Will unto materialization. Satanism reconciles the psychological with the parapsychological perfectly - ergo, The Third Side. Although this would not be catagorized as "spiritual" per se, but wholly carnal, as the results are completely derived from The Self, The Psyche, The Mind.