Armin W. Geertz

Variations on a Prayer

Praying, praying, praying

An interesting study (available online here) by a group of Danish researchers provides strong evidence that different types of prayer activate different areas of the brain and that some specific types of prayer activate areas of the brain usually associated with social cognition.

This may seem like fairly straightforward conclusions to begin with however the authors of the study point out “in fact most studies of the relation between brain function and religion assume the hypothesis that religious experience is fundamentally a uniform category of human experience” and illustrate this by pointing to examples such as the well publicised work of Dr. Persinger who claims to be able to be able to reproduce religious experiences by stimulating the temporal lobe.

To provide a more nuanced perspective and highlight the variability within the category of ‘prayer’ the authors designed a study to test whether different types of prayer were producing different patterns of neural activity. In order to discover this they took twenty young devout Christians from a Danish Lutheran sect, put them in an fMRI scanner and while they performed different types of prayer they collected images of their brain activity.