The purpose of this paper will be to provide a perspective on the current state of the research evaluating the neurobiological correlates of spiritual practices and review the methodological issues that confront this research field. There are many types of spiritual practices that might be studied including prayer and meditation, as well as unusual practices such as mediumistic trance states, speaking in tongues, and also drug-induced experiences. Current studies have utilized neuroimaging techniques including functional magnetic resonance imaging, single photon emission computed tomography, and positron emission tomography. These studies have helped elucidate the neurobiological mechanisms associated with spiritual practices. Such studies confront unique challenges for scientific methodology including determining the most appropriate objective measures such as neuroimaging studies and physiological parameters, and correlating them with subjective measures that help capture states of spiritual significance. Overall, a neuroscientific study of spiritual practices and experiences has the potential to provide fascinating data to further our understanding of the relationship between the brain and such phenomena.
Recommended CitationNewberg, MD, Andrew B., "The neuroscientific study of spiritual practices." (2014). Marcus Institute of Integrative Health. Paper 14.