The UK newspaper Telegraph published an article today called “Nuns prove God is not figment of the mind” (08/30/06).
Scientists have been in the pursuit of the brain processes underlying the Unio Mystica – the Christian notion of mystical union with God – and this endeavour is now part of a newly-emerging field called “neurotheology”.
The article discusses a scientific study of a group of Carmelite nuns. The nuns were asked to relive a religious experience with God while undergoing a brain scan.
… the study demonstrated that a dozen different regions of the brain are activated during a mystical experience.
In other words, mystical experiences are mediated by several brain regions and systems normally implicated in functions such as self-consciousness, emotion and body representation.
Although I am not qualified to comment on the scientific merit of this study, I do find the results of this study quite interesting from a theological point of view. Whereas some scientists have speculated that there is a “God spot” or “God module” — basically a spiritual center of the brain — this study suggests that multiple parts of the brain are at work during a religious experience. This corresponds well with Catholic theology which has long taught that it is the whole person — body, soul, and mind — who encounters the Living God, not just some isolated part of our being. God meets us as we are — in our feelings, in the cells of our muscles, in the remote recesses of our brains, in our relationships — basically wherever we are, God is. So I am not at all surprised by these findings because it “fits” with our faith. Cool, eh?