A new study at the University of Utah is trying to determine what’s happening in the brain when someone has strong religious feelings.
Studies of Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns have shown significant changes in the brain during periods of quiet meditation. Now, neurology researcher Jeffrey Anderson has designed a study to watch what happens to former Mormon missionaries as they experience religious emotions.
Anderson will ask about 20 returned missionaries to read scriptures and watch church videos as they lie still in an MRI scanner. He’ll watch how blood flow changes to different areas of the brain that process both emotions and conscious thoughts.
Anderson tells KUER, “We use each participant as their own control by comparing times when they subjectively are feeling something to times when they’re not so much. So we’ll have them be able to push a button when they’re really experiencing some peak response.”
Doctor Anderson says he’s studying former missionaries because they have significant religious background and training. He concedes it would be harder to study someone who gets up and moves around during peak religious experiences.
Anderson’s Religious Brain Project includes researchers from BYU, Utah Valley University and Westminster College. The group is also hoping to raise money for its research through a crowdfunding website.