More Evidence Links Epilepsy With Vivid Religious Experiences

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How can the rational and empirical forces of science explain visions of angels, conversations with God, and deals with the Devil?

For over a century, there have been studies on the link between epilepsy and vivid religious experiences. A new study has taken up the mantle that says it too has found a neurological relationship between religion, neuropsychological processes, and epilepsy. Their work can be found in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture.

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that can cause seizures and convulsions due to abnormal bursts of neurons firing off electrical impulses in the brain. It's also documented that people with epilepsy might be more inclined to experience vivid sensory religious experiences. Last year, scientists were fortunate enough to watch the moment a patient with right temporal lobe epilepsy underwent a religious experience while doctors were studying his brain activity.

"Past research has indicated that humans might have a distinctive neurological tendency toward being spiritually oriented," Brick Johnstone, a neuropsychologist and professor of health psychology, said in a statement. "This research supports the notion that the human propensity for religious or spiritual experiences may be neurologically based."

The study kicked off by asking individuals with epilepsy to carry out a survey about behavior associated with their condition and another on their religious activities and spiritual orientations. Of the participants, 32 percent identified as Protestant, 10 percent as Catholic, 5 percent as Buddhist, 5 percent as atheist, 38 percent as other, and 10 percent did not indicate any religious affiliation.

One particular finding came as a surprise to the researchers. Although they discovered a strong correlation between religious thoughts and epilepsy, they found no correlation between emotional thinking and epilepsy.

The implication of that, according to co-author Greyson Holliday, is that “people may have natural neurological predispositions to think about religion but not in a way that is necessarily associated with emotion.”

Of course, at the moment this finding is just a correlation they’ve found and not a direct cause. Nevertheless, the team of researchers have big plans for this field of study. They will go on to study the effects of brain surgery on religious experiences, which they hope will determine the specific nature of religiously oriented neuropsychological processes.

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