IN FOCUS: The biology of religious experiences

One of the Institute’s research concentrations is on the biology of religious and spiritual experiences. This topic was neglected until a couple of decades ago and is still relatively under-examined compared to other aspects of human biology and brain function. Yet it holds such fascination for people that almost every new study is widely publicized and greeted with enthusiasm or dismay or a strange combination of the two.

One of the reasons that neurological studies of religious and spiritual experiences are still relatively rare is that such studies are unusually complicated, with many variables for which it is difficult to control. Progress is always slower under such circumstances. Another reason such studies are rare is a social one: scientific reputation needs to be built carefully and there is enough suspicion around topics such as religion that young scientists hesitate to get involved for fear that they will not be taken seriously by their colleagues. The Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion exists in part to conduct and coordinate rigorous research in this area, and in other aspects of the biological and cultural functions of religious behaviors, beliefs, and experiences.

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