In its initial development, neurotheology has been conceived in very broad terms relating to the intersection between religion and brain sciences in general. The author's main objective is to introduce neurotheology in general and provides a basis for more detailed scholarship from experts in theology, as well as in neuroscience and medicine. Neurotheology is multidisciplinary in nature and includes the fields of theology, religious studies, religious experience and practice, philosophy, cognitive science, neuroscience, psychology, and anthropology.
Each of these fields may contribute to neurotheology and conversely, neurotheology may ultimately contribute in return to each of these fields. Ultimately, neurotheology must be considered as a multidisciplinary study that requires substantial integration of divergent fields, particularly neuroscience and religious phenomena.
More importantly, for neurotheology to be a viable field that contributes to human knowledge, it must be able to find its intersection with specific religious traditions. After all, if neurotheology is unable to intersect with Islam, then it will lack utility in its overall goal of understanding the relationship between the brain and religion.
Obviously, these resulting changes of behavior would lead to a better understanding or perception of the world around us creating better harmonious, functional individuals, who can be the driving force behind change and on a larger scale of family and society as well. Strictly speaking, neurotheology refers to the field of scholarship linking the broad categories of both neurosciences and theological studies.
Neuroscience used to imply the study of nerve cells and their function without a clear regard for behavioral and cognitive correlates. Neuroscience today extends over many different fields including cognitive neuroscience, neurology, neurobiology of spirituality, psychiatry and psychology, and sociology.
The tools have also become much more advanced, including a variety of brain imaging capabilities, for exploring the relationship between the brain and various cognitive, emotional, and behavioral processes i. Theology has also changed over time. In a very strict sense, theology is the study of God.
Both Judaeo-Christian and Islamic theologians are divided among themselves about whether to integrate philosophy into their theologies, or to base their theologies solely upon their scriptures. For neurotheology to be a viable field, it most likely should not be limited to only neuroscience and theology.
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It would seem appropriate for neurotheology to refer to the totality of religion and religious experience as well as theology. This ability to consider, in a broad scope, all of the components of religion from a neuroscientific perspective would provide neurotheology with an abundant diversity of issues and topics that can ultimately be linked, under one heading.
On the other hand, if the target of study encompasses so many aspects of religion and spirituality, the field might become so broad that it loses its ability to say something unique about religious and spiritual phenomena.
In this section, I will examine a variety of overarching brain functions to determine how theological concepts, in general, might be derived.
It should be emphasized that the brain functions described below relate to broad categories of functions. Future neurotheological scholarship will need to better evaluate the specifics of different brain processes to determine if and how they relate to religious and theological concepts in general. The brain, especially the right hemisphere, has the ability to perceive holistic concepts such that we perceive and understand wholeness in things rather than particular details.
For example, we might understand all the cells and organs to comprise the whole human body. From a religious or spiritual perspective, we might understand a concept of absolute oneness as pertaining to God. Furthermore, the holistic process in the brain allows for the expansion of any religious belief or doctrine to apply to the totality of reality, including other people, other cultures, animals, and even other planets and galaxies.
In fact, as human knowledge of the extent of the universe has expanded, the notion of God has incorporated this expanding sense of the totality of the universe. The holistic function pushes us to contemplate that whatever new reaches of the universe astronomers can find, God must be there. No matter how small and unpredictable a subatomic particle might be, God must be there, too.
In the most general sense, the quantitative processes of the brain help to produce mathematics and a variety of quantitative-like comparisons about objects in the world. The quantitative function clearly both underlies and supports much of science and the scientific method.
In terms of philosophical and theological implications, the quantitative function appears to have heavily influenced the ideas of philosophers such as Pythagoras who often used mathematical concepts such as geometry to help explain the nature of God and the universe.
A potentially interesting application of the quantitative function is in the evaluation of the strong emphasis on certain special numbers used in religious traditions. For example, specific numbers abound in the bible such as the number 40 40 days and nights of the flood; the Jews wandered the desert for 40 years, etc.
Islam also makes use of special numbers in the Quran and in the doctrines that follow from it.
One might ask if these numbers provide additional meaning within our brain. Is it easier for us to believe in or comprehend these concepts when presented along with a specific number? We know that our brain has a great interest in numbers and generally likes to utilize them.
This quantitative process might strengthen our belief in anything associated with numbers. And again, there are special numbers such as 5, 10, 40, or 99, which might strike a particular effect in the brain, a function of the left hemisphere.
The binary processes of the brain enable us to set apart two opposing concepts.
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This ability is critical for theology since the opposites that can be set apart include those of good and evil, justice and injustice, and man and God among many more. Much of the purpose of religions is to solve the psychological and existential problems created by these opposites. Theology, then, must evaluate the myth structures and determine where the opposites are and how well the problems presented by these opposites are solved by the doctrines of a particular religion such as Islam.
The instructive styles of the Quran are often examples juxtaposing the good and the bad. The ability of the brain to perceive causality is also crucial to theology. When the causal processes of the brain are applied to all of reality, it forces the question of what is the ultimate cause of all things.
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For monotheistic religions, the foundational doctrines posit that God is the uncaused cause of all things. However, this very question of how something can be uncaused is a most perplexing problem for human thought.
In fact, theologians, philosophers, and scientists have tangled with causality as integral to understanding the universe and God. Aristotelian philosophy postulated four aspects of causality i. The question of causality thus became applied to God to determine how, in fact, God could cause the universe.
Two other important brain functions are related to the ability to support willful or purposeful behaviors and the ability to orient our self within the world. Neuroscientifically, the willful function is regarded to arise, in large part, from the frontal lobes. Evidence has also shown the frontal lobes to become activated when an individual performs a meditation or prayer practice in which there is intense concentration on the particular practice.
There are a number of neuroscience topics that might directly influence and be influenced by neurotheological research. One of the major issues that neurotheology faces, is the problem of the ability to determine the subjective state of the subject. This is also a more universal issue in the context of cognitive neuroscience.
If you have a subject solving a mathematical task, one does not know if the person's mind wandered during the task.
You might be able to determine if they did the test correctly or incorrectly, but that in and of itself cannot determine why they were right or wrong. The issue of the subjective state of the individual is particularly problematic in neurotheology.
Hence, it is important to ascertain as much as possible what the person thinks they are experiencing. Neurotheology research can help better refine subjective measurements.
Neurotheology: The relationship between brain and religion
Spiritual and religious states are perhaps the best described of all states and thus, can be an important starting point for advancing research in the measurement of subjective states. Another area in which neurotheology could provide important scientific information is in understanding the link between spirituality and health.
On the other hand, research has also shown that those individuals engaged in religious struggle, or who have a negative view of God or religion, can experience increased stress, anxiety, and health problems. Finally, one of the most important goals of cognitive neuroscience is to better understand how human beings think about and interact with our environment.
In particular, this relates to our perception and response to the external reality that the brain continuously presents to our deep consciousness. Thus, integrating religious and scientific perspectives might provide the foundation upon which scholars from a variety of disciplines can address some of the greatest questions facing humanity.
As an emerging field of study, neurotheology has the potential to offer a great deal to our understanding of the human mind, consciousness, scientific discovery, spiritual experience, and theological discourse.
In particular, there are many potentially rich areas to consider in the context of Islam. It should be remembered that neurotheological scholarship must tread carefully upon these topics and attempt to develop clear, yet novel methods of inquiry. All results of neurotheological scholarship must be viewed and interpreted cautiously and within the context of existing doctrine, beliefs, and theology. However, if neurotheology is ultimately successful in its goals, its integrative approach has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the universe and our place within it.
Better understanding of human mind, its biology and neurocircuitry has the potential to solve man-made problems. It can even create a bridge between the empirical science of neurology with the intangibility and sensitivities of theology. How to cite this article: Sayadmansour A.
Neurotheology: The relationship between brain and religion. Iran J Neurol ; 13 1 : National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Iran J Neurol v. Iran J Neurol. Alireza Sayadmansour. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer.
Corresponding author. Received Aug 19; Accepted Nov This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Brain functions and theological topics In this section, I will examine a variety of overarching brain functions to determine how theological concepts, in general, might be derived. The holistic function The brain, especially the right hemisphere, has the ability to perceive holistic concepts such that we perceive and understand wholeness in things rather than particular details.
The quantitative function In the most general sense, the quantitative processes of the brain help to produce mathematics and a variety of quantitative-like comparisons about objects in the world.
The binary function The binary processes of the brain enable us to set apart two opposing concepts. The causal function The ability of the brain to perceive causality is also crucial to theology. Willfulness and orienting functions Two other important brain functions are related to the ability to support willful or purposeful behaviors and the ability to orient our self within the world.
Reflections on neurotheology and neuroscience There are a number of neuroscience topics that might directly influence and be influenced by neurotheological research. Conclusion As an emerging field of study, neurotheology has the potential to offer a great deal to our understanding of the human mind, consciousness, scientific discovery, spiritual experience, and theological discourse. Notes How to cite this article: Sayadmansour A. Conflict of Interests The authors declare no conflict of interest in this study.
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