On the 20th June 2003, on the occasion of Gustavo Rol's birth centenary, an association called Società Europea di NeuroTeologia - SENT (European Society of NeuroTheology), was founded. The following extract from the constitution, points out the objective:
«The European Society of Neurotheology represents the ideal continuation of the spirit which characterized the foundation of the Gustavo Adolfo Rol Scientific Association on the 22/5/00. The dissolution of the latter (on the 03/03/03), was necessary for the creation of the present Organization which, both through its denomination and scopes, is more pertaining to its purpose. The term "Neurotheology" was coined by Franco Rol on the 12th April 2000, on the basis of studies regarding Gustavo Adolfo Rol's life, experiences and learnings and also on the basis of a synthetic expression capable of representing: on the one hand the metaphysic essence which characterizes each Religion and Traditional Tuition and on the other the transformation process put into action through the active knowledge of such metaphysics. Gustavo Adolfo Rol's possibilities fall into this very description, as achievement of a rigorous spiritual course. They are possibilities unbound by any profane circumstance and by any unorthodox interpretation that is not in line with the consolidated Traditions, keeping in consideration, nevertheless, the originality of the Principles' application, typical of the means and symbols that G.A. Rol was accustomed to using. The scope and aim of this association is represented by: the demonstration of the existence of such possibilities, the acknowledgement of their functional role and not of their purpose; their inclusion in a theoretic context capable of allowing, as part of the Sacred Science, an objective and subjective understanding; the reproduction and "repeatability" of such possibilities in a purely ethic context and for the benefit of the entire human community; their role as a cognitive tool for other states of manifestation, as further aid to overcoming the same, through the expression of the superior Possibilities of the Divine Intelligence».
Neurotheology, as mentioned above, is a term autonomously coined by the present writer, Franco Rol, cousin of Gustavo Rol, though during the same period the same term was already being used in restricted Neuroscience environments (in the United States). One of the pioneers of this "new science" is Dr. Andrew Newberg from the University of Pennsylvania, who carried out some interesting studies on the behaviour of the human brain during meditation. The term "neurotheology" became of public domain during 2001, following the publication of an article (reproduced below) on the magazine Newsweek (february 5, 2001). The same article was translated in italian for the newspaper La Repubblica, on January 31, 2001.
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Searching for the God Within
The way our brains are wired may explain the origin and power of religious beliefs
by Sharon Begley
«He begins the way he begins every meditation session, lighting candles and jasmine incense before setting into a lotus position. He focuses inward, willing the essence he regards as his true self to break free from his desires, worries and senses. There is a difference this time, thought. The young Tibetan buddhist has a legth of twine beside him and an IV in his left arm. As he approaches the trascendent peak of this meditative state, he tugs on the twine. At theo other end, in the next room, Dr. Andrew Newberg feels the pull, and quickly inject a radioactive tracer into the IV line. Rhen Newberg whisks him into a brain imaging machine called SPECT - and the man's sense of unity with the cosmos gets boiled down to a computer readout. A region at the top rear of the brain which weaves sensory data into a feeling of where the self ends and the rest of the world begins looks like the victim of one of Califrnia's rolling blackouts. Deprived of sensory imput by the man's inward concentration, this "orientation area" cannot do itd job of finding the border between self and world. "The brain had no choice", says Newberg. "It perceived the self to be endless, as one with all of creation. And this felt utterly real".
The tension between science and religion is about to get tenser, for some scientists have decided that religious experience is just too intriguing not to study. Neurologists jumped in first, finding a connection between temporal lobe epilepsy and a sudden interest in religion. As V.S. Ramachandran of the University of California, San Diego, told a 1997 meeting, these patients, during sezures, "say they see God" or feel "a sudden sense of enlightenment". Now researcher are looking at more-common varieties of religious experience. Newberg and the late Dr. Eugene d'Aquili, both of the University of Pennsylvania, have a name for this field: neuro-theology. In a book to be published in April, they conclude that spiritual experiences are the inevitable outcome of brain wiring:"the human brain has been genetically wired to encourage religious beliefs".
Even plain old praying affects the brain in distinctive ways. In SPECT scans of Franciscan nuns at prayer, the Penn team found a quieting of the orintation area, which gave the sisters a tangible sense of proximity to and merging with God. "The absorbtion of the self into something larger [is] not the result of emotional fabrication or wishfull thinking, "Newberg and d'Aquili write in "Why God Won't Go Away". It springs, instead from neurological events, as when the orientation area goes dark.
Neuro-theology also explores how ritual behaviour elicits brain states that bring on feelings ranging from mild community to deep spiritual unity. A 1997 study by japanese researchers showed that repetitive rhythms can drive the brain's hypothalamus, which can bring on either serenity or arousal. That may explain why incantatory himns can trigger a sense of quietude that believers interpret as spiritual tranquillity and bliss. In contrast, the fast rapturous dancing of Sufi mystics causes hyperarousal, scientists find, which can make participants feel as if they are channelling the energy of the universe. Although the inventors of rituals surely didn't know it at the time, these rites manage to tap into the precise brain mechanism that tend to make believers interpret perceptions and feelings as evidence of God or, at least, trascendence. Rituals also tend to focus the mind, blocking out sensory perceptions - including those that the orientation area uses to figure out the boundaries of the self. That's why even non believers are often moved by religious ritual. "As long as our brain is wired as it is", says Newberg, "God will not go away".
If brain wiring explains the feelings believers get from prayer and ritual, are spiritual experiences mere creations of our neurons? Neuro-theology at least suggests that spiritual experiences are non more meaningfull than, say, the fear the brain is hard-wired to feel in response to a strange noise at night. Believers, of course, have a retort: the brain's wiring may explain religious feelings - but who do you think was the master electrician?». Newsweek, February 5, 2001
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Our point of view however, goes well beyond the praiseworthy and useful contribution to knowledge that such study approach entails. When I myself (the writer), coined the term neurotheology (almost one year before the above article was published), I intended, through a single word, to synthesize a Theory and a Practice or also a Doctrine and a Process. However it's neither a new doctrine nor a process invented by someone. By "-theology" we intend, on the one hand, the essence of all the theological doctrines and all those things which, in general, are related to the divine sphere. By "neuro-" we intend man's nervous system and the brain. To the present writer neurotheology is mainly "the study of interaction between the divine (t h e o s) and the human (n e u r o n), or even, in a more extensive manner, "the study of the interaction between the divine and the neuronal interface of the human being".
It is therefore something more than just an analysis of the brain's neuronal variation. It is a Science capable of showing us that, when man's neuronal system is oriented in a certain direction and manner, it can open the doors to all mysteries, looking on to a Vision of Infinity, Purity, Light, Love and Eternity. It is a Science which confirms the Ancient Word, through the use of a modern word. It is a Science that suggests we should study in more depth the Sacred Texts in order to find the right self-regulation parameters and the relevant rules of discipline and guidelines in order to attain the Supreme Destination which all humanity is destined for. Finally, it is a Science that desires a definitive reconciliation between all the different kinds of Faith, beyond any of the exoteric differences by which they may be characterized: differences that are such just because different were also the places, climates and temperaments of those to whom they were destined.
Enter the NeuroTheology
or read other articles :
- Religion and the Brain, Newsweek, may 7, 2001
- Tracing the Synapses of Our Spirituality, Washington Post, june 17, 2001
- Deux chercheurs sur la piste de Dieu, au coeur du cerveau humain, Le Monde, february 2, 2001
- Le cerveau de la foi, Sciences & Avenir, june 2001
- Neuroteologia: il cervello è costruito per la fede?, Avvenire, february 1, 2001
- La fede? Abita nel nostro cervello, Il Messaggero, may 1, 2001
- Il cervello in estasi, Mente & Cervello, July/Aug. 2003
- La religion y el cerebro, Newsweek, may 14, 2001
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