“Two University of Missouri psychologists are proposing “a neurophysiological model of spiritual experience” that explains what is happening inside the brain when people experience feelings of selflessness and transcendence. The model “suggests that all individuals, regardless of cultural background or religion, experience the same neurophysiological/neuropsychological functions during spiritual experiences,” according to co-authors Brick Johnstone and Bret A. Glass. It also attempts to explain why these brain activities are interpreted in such different ways by people from different religious traditions and cultures.
Their work, which is detailed in a newly published paper in the journal Zygon, builds on that of researchers such as Dr. Andrew Newberg, who conducted MRI scans of meditating Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns engaging in contemplative prayer. As Miller-McCune reported in October, such activity is associated with increased activity in the frontal lobe, combined with decreased activity in another part of the brain, the parietal lobe.
The Missouri researchers approached the issue from another angle altogether, studying the spiritual experiences of people who suffered traumatic brain injuries. They asked 26 adults who had suffered such injuries about their personal spiritual experiences, the amount of time they devote to spiritual or religious practices and the degree to which they feel close to God or some other spiritual entity.”