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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Looking at Faith Through the Brain

Harvard psychiatrist Dr. George Vaillant was on WBUR's "On Point" with guest host Jane Clayson yesterday, making the case that we're hard-wired for spirituality, which he defines in terms of positive emotions like trust, hope, love, and joy. These positive emotions—which are present in our hymns and songs, but not in psychiatric textbooks—are remarkably adaptive and housed in a different part of the brain (the limbic system) than the creeds and dogmas of our religious beliefs (which are housed in the neocortex), he says. Vaillant fleshes out this argument, looking at faith through neuroscience, in his new book Spiritual Evolution, which draws a strong distinction between spirituality and religion. "Like breathing, our spirituality is common to us all," he writes. "On the one hand, religion asks us to learn from the experience of our tribe; spirituality urges us to savor our own experience. On the other hand, religious helps us to mistrust the experience of other tribes; spirituality helps us to regard the experience of our foreigner as valuable too." The book, Vaillant says, is written for readers "seeking to have both their spiritual hearts and their scientific intellects taken seriously," and its goal is to "restore our faith in spirituality as an essential human striving." —Heather Wax


Anonymous said...

I so agree that there is a true distinction between spirituality and religiosity - and I also agree with the definition given in this abstract. I think God had spirituality in mind when he spoke to the people of Israel so many thousands of years ago -- but it is hard for us to stay spiritual -- so much easier to go into religiosity. Thank you for this important study!