Researchers may have uncovered a link between religiosity—a disposition for spiritual experience and religious activity—and epilepsy.
This connection between epilepsy and heightened religious experience has been recognized since at least the 19th century.
“Past research has indicated that humans might have a distinctive neurological tendency toward being spiritually oriented,” says Brick Johnstone, a neuropsychologist and professor of health psychology at the University of Missouri. “This research supports the notion that the human propensity for religious or spiritual experiences may be neurologically based.”
“The end goal of this research is to understand if some type of connection exists between the brain and spiritual experience,” says Daniel Cohen, coauthor and assistant professor of religious studies. “If a connection exists, what does it mean for humans and their relationship with religion?”
In their study, the researchers asked individuals with epilepsy to take two surveys. The first survey assessed behavior characteristics specifically associated with epilepsy. The second survey measured religious activities and spiritual orientations.
The average participant was 39 years old, the majority of participants were white; 32 percent identified as Protestant, 10 percent as Catholic, 5 percent as Buddhist, 5 percent as atheist, 38 percent as other, and 10 percent did not indicate any religious affiliation.
“We found a strong correlation between philosophical religious thoughts and epilepsy, but no correlation between emotional thinking and epilepsy,” says Greyson Holliday, coauthor and undergraduate student studying psychology. “This study suggests that people may have natural neurological predispositions to think about religion but not in a way that is necessarily associated with emotion.”
Based on the findings, future research from Johnstone, Holliday, and Cohen will examine religious experiences before and after brain surgery to help determine the specific nature of religiously oriented neuropsychological processes.
The work appears in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture.
Source: University of Missouri