Neuroscientists have identified a network of brain regions activated when nuns feel that they are at one with God. Artificially stimulating the brain in this way, they say, might allow people to have mystical experiences without believing in God themselves. Lead author Mario Beauregard at the University of Montreal, Canada, says that he wanted to know what was going on in the brain during spiritual, mystical or religious episodes because of his own personal experiences. During such moments, people feel that they are in union with God and feel peace, joy and love.
Beauregard and his colleague Vincent Paquette recruited 15 nuns from Carmelite monasteries, slid them into a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and asked them to fully relive the most mystical moment in their lives. They didn’t scan the subjects when actually praying, because the nuns told the researchers that they could not connect with God at will.
As a comparison, the nuns also relived an experience in which they felt at union with another person.