Mysterium Tremendum

Gregory R. Peterson, Zygon, June 2002.

Abstract: In recent years, interest in the scientific basis of religious experience has resurged. In particular, research and publications by V. S. Ramachandran and by Eugene d’Aquili and Andrew Newberg have sparked considerable curiosity and debate over the reality and basis of religious experience. This article puts such research into a broader context and examines the extent to which scientific research supports or undermines particular religious and theological claims. I argue that such experiments show that religious experience has some biological basis and is not simply a product of cultural suggestion. At the same time, such experiences are not completely self-interpreting, so that cultural context, including theological claims, are needed to make sense of such experiences. By itself, scientific research does not prove or disprove the reality of religious experiences generally, but it does shape how we think of the possibilities and interpretations of such experiences.