God on the brain, God in the brain

You may have to watcha brief ad to read this fascinating interview with Andrew Newberg on Salon about the neurological nature of religious consciousness, but it is a small price to pay. Here is a taste:

You studied Franciscan nuns who had prayed for decades, and you also studied Tibetan Buddhists who’d meditated for many years. What happened when they came into your lab?

We found that the Franciscan nuns activated several important parts of the brain during prayer. One part was the frontal lobe. I’ve been particularly interested in the frontal lobe because it tends to be activated whenever we focus our mind on something. This can be very mundane, like focusing on a problem we’re trying to solve at work. Or it can be focusing on a phrase from the Bible, which was happening with the Franciscan nuns. They would focus their attention on a particular prayer of great meaning, and they’d begin to feel a lot of unusual experiences. They would lose their sense of self. They would feel absorbed into the prayer itself. They’d no longer see a distinction between who they are and the actual prayer process itself. Some people call it a feeling of connectedness or oneness.

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