Neurological Link Between Religious Experiences and Epilepsy

Author: University of Missouri-Columbia
Published: 2017/03/09 - Updated: 2021/06/13
Contents: Summary - Main - Related Publications

Synopsis: Research supports the notion that the human propensity for religious or spiritual experiences may be neurologically based. 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. Past research has indicated that humans might have a distinctive neurological tendency toward being spiritually oriented.

Main Digest

A relationship between epilepsy and heightened religious experiences has been recognized since at least the 19th century.

In a recent study, researchers from the University of Missouri found a neurological relationship exists between religiosity - a disposition for spiritual experience and religious activity - and epilepsy.

This finding sheds light on the connection between religion and neuropsychological processes within the human brain.

"Past research has indicated that humans might have a distinctive neurological tendency toward being spiritually oriented," said Brick Johnstone, a neuropsychologist and professor of health psychology. "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," said Daniel Cohen, co-author and assistant professor of religious studies. "If a connection exists, what does it mean for humans and their relationship with religion?"

Religion - It's ALL in Your Head!

In their study, the researchers asked individuals with epilepsy to take two surveys.

The average participant was 39 years old, with the majority of participants of Caucasian descent:

"We found a strong correlation between philosophical religious thoughts and epilepsy, but no correlation between emotional thinking and epilepsy," said Greyson Holliday, co-author and MU 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.

"Heightened religiosity and epilepsy: evidence for religious-specific neuropsychological processes," recently was published in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture.

Johnstone is a professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health Professions. Future research from Johnstone, Holliday and Cohen will examine religious experiences before and after brain surgery. The psychology and religious studies departments are in the MU College of Arts and Sciences.

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This quality-reviewed publication pertaining to our Neurological Disorders section was selected for circulation by the editors of Disabled World due to its likely interest to our disability community readers. Though the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or length, the article "Neurological Link Between Religious Experiences and Epilepsy" was originally written by University of Missouri-Columbia, and submitted for publishing on 2017/03/09 (Edit Update: 2021/06/13). Should you require further information or clarification, University of Missouri-Columbia can be contacted at the missouri.edu website. Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith.

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