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Collaborative Success Stories: Finding Religion

Finding Religion

University of Missouri researchers have found a neurological link between religious experience and epilepsy.

For more than a century, the scientific community has recognized a correlation between epilepsy and heightened religious experiences. However, this link is incompletely understood. At MU, researchers in neuropsychology and religious studies are working to change that.

By surveying individuals with epilepsy, investigators were able to pin down some details about how human neurology may relate to religious experience. The team assessed behavior characteristics specifically associated with epilepsy as well as religious activities and spiritual orientations. The group they surveyed included adherents to multiple religions, atheists and people without a religious affiliation.

The researchers found a strong correlation between epilepsy and philosophical religious thoughts, but no correlation between epilepsy and emotional thinking. Their findings suggest that humans may have a natural neurological predisposition to think about religion–but not necessarily in an emotional way.

The team next plans to examine religious experiences before and after brain surgery to continue uncovering details about the convergence of neurology and religion.

Collaborators on the project included undergraduate student Greyson Holliday; Dr. Brick Johnstone, a professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions; and Dr. Daniel Cohen, an assistant professor of religious studies in the College of Arts and Science.

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Related Initiative(s):
One Health/One Medicine