Perspectives on the Religious Experience Nicolina Cahouette 07/21/2009
The Religious Experience • Is defined as an experience where the subject asserts they have had an encounter with a divine, or supernatural being, or energy source.
Notable Observations • The Phenomenon of the religious experience pervades all human cultures. • Although types of experiences differ throughout the world, key commonalities occur in vastly different cultures. This allows for scientific observation. • Science cannot confirm the source of the religious experience, but has measured activity in the brain areas the experience activates.
Ancient Oracles Voice of the Gods? Tibetan Oracle • Religious experience induced by intense meditation. • Would enter trance, and speak in strange riddle. • Messages would be interpreted as prophecy.
Possession of the Subject by the “Loa” or God. In this case Papa Gede. Haitian Trance Dance
Symptoms of the Transcendental Experience • Sense of body, and self seems to dissolve. • Subjects report feeling of “transcendental love”. • Ecstatic sensory experience accompanied by trembling, or intense emotional outpouring. • A sense of freedom, a feeling of bliss.
Similar Symptoms • Euphoric feeling after a hard workout. • Ascetic practices, such as tattoo, piercing, and suspension. • Intense focus, or meditation. • The human orgasm.
Plato , 3rd century A.D. Fathers of Modern Thought
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) • French Philosopher • Human secretions are “Animal Spirits”. • Influenced by ancient Greek scholars, such as Aristotle, and Plato.
Key Components of the Religious Experience • The experience is short in duration. • The experience is hard to describe in words, and very emotional. • The experience leaves the subject feeling as though they have learned something very significant. • Lastly, the religious experience happens to the subject usually without conscious manipulation.
Transpersonal Psychology • Transpersonal Psychology is a school of thought inspired by the pioneering work of American Psychologist, William James. It is the exploration of the highest potential of man, as defined by the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology.
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) • asserted that our driving force is to uncover our innate purpose, and highest potential. • The divine, as Jung described it, is an integral part of the human condition.
Carl Gustav Jung Cont. • Jung asserted that matters of the soul could be examined subjectively even though it is perceived outside of scientific boundaries. • Proposed the concept of the collective unconscious, the “hive mind”. • Jung felt that the exact sciences were limited in what they could describe.
What Science has Found • In The Neurology of Religious Experience, edited by Patrick McNamara, (1984), the neurotransmitter dopamine, when produced excessively, has been correlated with increases in religious inclination, hallucinations, and dramatic shifts in the subject’s perception.
Religion and the Brain Patrick McNamara, Raymon Durso, Ariel Brown, and Erica Harris (1984), • Positive correlations with religion and health have also been noted in research on dopaminergic neurons, and their managerial properties in relation to the autonomic nervous system.
Religiosity & The Frontal Lobe • A subject in the throes of a religious experience shows high activity in the frontal and pre-frontal cortex of the brain, suggesting that higher order functions are at work, rather than the evolutionary biological reaction that would reside mostly in the limbic system. (Patrick McNamara, Raymon Durso, Ariel Brown, and Erica Harris 1984)
Positive Effects of the Religious Experience • Some of the noted positive heath effects on the subject include reduced anxiety, blood pressure, and pain symptoms. • Subjects reported a more positive mental well-being, and confidence. The lasting effects of regular spiritual practice are positively correlated to an increase in mental and physical health.
Textual References • Pioneers of Psychology. Fancher, Raymond. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1996. • The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature.James,William. New York: Penguin. 1985, orig. pub. 1902. • Emotional Intelligence. Goleman, Daniel. New York: Bantam. 1995.
Textual References Cont. • Where God and Science Meet, How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion.VOL 2,The Neurology of Religious Experience.Ed.by McNamara, Patrick. Connecticut: Praeger. 2006.
Textual References Cont. • Where God and Science Meet, How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion.VOL 3,The Psychology of Religious Experience.Ed. by McNamara, Patrick, • The Science of Spirituality, The God Chemical: Brain Chemistry and Mysticism, www.npr.org. Hagarty, Barbara Bradley. 16 July, 2009.
Photo References • www.flickr.com .Haitian Trance, Tibetan Oracle, and Wiccan Priestess. (7/2009) • www.encarta.msn.com. William James, Rene Descartes. (7/2009) • www.simpleessentials.net. Plato. (7/2009 ) • www.kcra.com. Lightning & the Sun. (5/2009) • www.jimmoorephoto.com. Fire walker. (7/2009) • www.neuroskills.com. Frontal Lobe. (7/2009) • www.wikipedia.org. Dopamine. (7/2009)