Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues

i found this article in the NY Times fascinating. i've only spoken in tongues once (that i am aware of) and i'm not sure of it's value/purpose on that occasion apart from a deep sense of communion with God - i was greatly comforted and renewed by the experience (i was alone so there was no interpreter...i'm not sure what i sounded like hebrew which i studied for a couple of years prior to this event but it may well have been gibberish....anyway....where was i?)

the article...i found it interesting because neuroscience is such a new field and i think these kinds of technologies are going to broaden our understanding of how humans are (being) made and how we (think/believe we) experience the divine. it is a place where theology and anthropology merge and i imagine this to be a great, exploritory-science dialogue that has enormous implications for missiology (among other things).

so here's a quote or two and here is the link to the article.

"The passionate, sometimes rhythmic, language-like patter that pours forth from religious people who “speak in tongues” reflects a state of mental possession, many of them say. Now they have some neuroscience to back them up.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took brain images of five women while they spoke in tongues and found that their frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. The regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. The women were not in blind trances, and it was unclear which region was driving the behavior.

Contrary to what may be a common perception, studies suggest that people who speak in tongues rarely suffer from mental problems. A recent study of nearly 1,000 evangelical Christians in England found that those who engaged in the practice were more emotionally stable than those who did not. Researchers have identified at least two forms of the practice, one ecstatic and frenzied, the other subdued and nearly silent.
The new findings contrasted sharply with images taken of other spiritually inspired mental states like meditation, which is often a highly focused mental exercise, activating the frontal lobes. "


Beth said...

Fascinating link. It reminded me of the studies that were in the news a year+ ago about brain activity in nuns practicing contemplative prayer. What's interesting to me is how totally different regions of the brain are involved depending on the mode of interacting with God.

jkoch said...

this article is so very interesting. my gran has prayed over me in tongues before. there hasn't been any interpretation, but there's peace and power in her prayers. i have just been confident that she's a woman of God and her prayers are a gift. but it has been awkward to be in a church service and the tongues/interpretation thing happens. but i also try to put God into a "safe" and "normal" image.