Religion and science can combine to create some thorny questions: Does God exist outside the human mind, or is God a creation of our brains? Why do we have faith in things that we cannot prove, whether it’s the afterlife or UFOs? The new Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania is using brain imaging technology to examine such questions, and to investigate how spiritual and secular beliefs affect our health and behavior. Newberg’s center is not a bricks-and-mortar structure but a multidisciplinary team of Penn researchers exploring the relationship between the brain and spirituality from biological, psychological, social and ideological viewpoints.
How does the center test the relationship between the mind and spirituality? In one study, Newberg and colleagues used imaging technology to look at the brains of Pentecostal Christians speaking in tongues — known scientifically as glossolalia — then looked at their brains when they were singing gospel music. They found that those practicing glossolalia showed decreased activity in the brain’s language center, compared with the singing group.