This is Your Brain on Religion at NPR

NPR Talk of the Nation
Principles of Neurotheology By Andrew B. Newberg

For thousands of years, religion has posed some unanswerable questions: Who are we?  What's the meaning of life? What does it mean to be religious?........
Dr. NEWBERG: Well, for a lot of the work that I've been doing over the past two decades has been to utilize brain-imaging studies and to evaluate what's happening in people's brains when they are deep in a spiritual practice, like meditation or prayer.
These are techniques that we've never had before, up until the last 15 or 20 years. And what we can do is actually scan the brain when somebody is in meditation, is in prayer, is in a practice like speaking in tongues or some other type of ecstatic state, and actually compare what's going on in their brain at that point to what is happening in their brain when they're just at rest or perhaps when they're doing some other kind of task, maybe a mathematics task or a relaxation task.
And what we are able to find are the changes in the activity in different parts of the brain, how the different parts of the brain turn on or turn off, depending on the kind of practice and depending on the kind of experiences that they have.
So this has really given us a remarkable window into what it means for people to be religious or spiritual or to do these kinds of practices...........................
And we found some very significant and profound changes in their brain just at rest, particularly in the areas of the brain that help us to focus our mind and to focus our attention.
And in fact, many of the people related to us just subjectively that they felt that they were thinking clearer and that they were able to remember things better. And we had the scans to show us that we actually had changes in their brain in those areas that support those kinds of functions, and we also tested their memory and showed that they had improvements of about 10 or 15 percent in several different memory tasks.
And this is only after eight weeks at 12 minutes a day. So you can imagine what happens in people who are deeply religious and spiritual who are doing these practices for maybe hours a day for years and years and years........listen to the entire 'Neurotheology: This Is Your Brain On Religion' interview at NPR 

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