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Neural Correlates of the Religious Experience. Biology and God. Religious Experience & Neurotheology. Neurotheology history (Aldous Huxley to Newsweek to Rappaport to D’Aquili) Key questions for anthropology Cross-cultural neural basis for religious experience?

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religious experience neurotheology
Religious Experience &Neurotheology
  • Neurotheology history
    • (Aldous Huxley to Newsweek to Rappaport to D’Aquili)
  • Key questions for anthropology
    • Cross-cultural neural basis for religious experience?
    • Evolutionary adaptation? Neural dysfunction?
    • Does this prove/disprove God?
    • Can religious experience be induced w/o religion?
    • Vice versa: Can religion be induced w/o religious experience?
three interesting ways to god
Three interesting ways to GOD
  • Temporal lobe epilepsy
  • Psychoactive substances
  • Meditation
  • How are they related, phenomenologically and biologically?
three interesting experiments
Three interesting experiments
  • Good Friday experiment
  • Persinger’s God helmet
  • TM meditators and EEG
  • FIRST: epileptic phenomenology
epilepsy and religion videos

Epilepsy and Religion videos

Load these into your browser and watch…~ 5 min each…

wheat witches and st anthony s fire
Wheat, witches, and “St. Anthony’s fire”



Epileptic fits and religious auras triggered by heredity and/or psychedelic intake

Ergot wheat fungus: lysergic acid

Disease of the kings


Seizures and god experiences

St. Mary


Joseph Smith


religious experience neuroscience research
Religious Experience &Neuroscience Research
  • Lab attempts to record religious experiences
  • EEG/PET/SPECT studies of deep meditation
  • Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
  • Neural/cognitive models of religious experience
huichol art and creativity
Huichol art and creativity

Two continents (Asia, Americas)

Two mushrooms (Amanita, Psylocybe)

Similar art forms? (hyperdetail, pattern


Cognitive experiments interpret increase

in loose pattern association as “creativity”

ayuahuasca art
Ayuahuasca art

Different plant, similar artistic forms: hyperdetail and hyperredundancy of simple patterns

Evidence of cultural transmission? Evidence of cross-cultural psychedelic expression? A little of both?

the ayahuasca paradox
The ayahuasca paradox

Shamans and the politics of potions:

Question: how are such complicated plant combinations and preparations discovered?

One theory: shamans must distinguish themselves from one another by salience – they invent and utilize unique potions and techniques in order to demonstrate their unique ability to confer magic which heals or kills. Some of these inventive combinations produce particularly powerful results…which give extra credence to a shamans role in the eventual death/life of sick friends or offending enemies.


Biogenetic structuralism: cross-cultural neural patterns responsible for religious phenomena associated with epilepsy, meditation, and psychedelics?

some brain areas implicated in religious experience
Some brain areas implicated in “religious experience”
  • Temporal lobe, parietal lobe: out-of-body sensations; disembodiment
  • Wernicke’s area (spans temporal/parietal lobes): disembodied voices
  • Papez circuit: includes the amygdala; ecstacy OR dread sensations
  • Hippocampus: sense of “oneness”; triggers papez circuit, hypothalamus
  • Hypothalamus: ecstacy; “oneness”; profound sense of insight/meaning
  • Reticular formation: filters incoming stimuli; hyperdeactivated by many psychedelics; hyperactivated by some forms of meditation


  • (Arnold Mandell)
  • Repeated episodes of acute religious experiences due to…
  • Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
  • Psychedelic Drug Use
  • Magnetic Stimulation
  • Deep Meditation
  • …results in lowered activation threshold for CA3 cell system in the hippocampus…
  • …results in chronic (long-term) increases
  • in religiosity…

Sense of insight;

Feelings of ecstasy

Sensed presence;

loss of self

Sense of unity;

identity w/ non-self

three questions
Three questions
  • Worldwide, what are the three most common sensations associated with a religious/spiritual experience?
  • What is the most common psychoactive substance used in religious ritual?
  • Which parts of the brain have NOT been credited as having important roles in the production of religious experience?