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This new and emotionally charged scientific field is trying to find out what effect the workings of the brain have on religious belief. One of the stimuli for such investigations is that some people who suffer from temporal-lobe epilepsy experience religious revelations or hallucinations during seizures, even if they are atheists. Work in the field roughly divides into two types: either stimulating spiritual experience with drugs, or studying brain activity during such experiences using imaging techniques to see which regions of the brain change. Such events seem to exist outside time and space and the evidence suggests they are caused by the brain losing its perception of a boundary between the physical body and the outside world. It may be that what causes these spiritual experiences also leads to other kinds of intangible events, such as reports of alien visitations, near-death episodes, and out-of-body experiences. The word was used as the title of a book by Laurence O McKinney in 1994; the earliest example I’ve heard of is in the title of an article in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science in September 1984.

The neurotheologians have done a useful service in showing how these deep and life-changing experiences operate in the brain. In doing so, they have not explained them away; but they do help to explain the persistence and even the validity of religion in a secular society.

The Dominion (Wellington, New Zealand), 2 Jun. 2001

To adherents of a controversial, fledgling science called neurotheology, these moments of serenity are little more than common blips in brain chemistry.

UFO Magazine, Jan. 2002

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 3 May 2003

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 3 May 2003.