As a field of study, neuroscience seeks to understand the mysteries of the human nervous system and how our psychological and physical experiences are mapped into our neural architecture. Though the mixing of science and religion was once taboo, many modern scientists embrace it. This marriage of study has allowed for the creation of a new subfield of neuroscience, neurotheology, devoted to studying the relationship between religion and the brain (Newberg, 2010; Sayadmansour, 2014).
For many people, prayer is an incredibly meditative practice. Taking time to focus internalities and to quiet the mind causes changes in brain activation and connectivity that can be witnessed in real time. Imaging analyses have shown that prayer causes similar brain activity seen during meditation. There is a reduction in activity within the parietal lobe, which is thought to play a role in feelings of interconnectedness, feeling one with others (Yaden & Newberg, 2016). Moreover, those who engage in prayer receive similar cognitive benefits to meditation, such as increased focus, emotional control, and cognitive flexibility (Hagerty, 2009; Kober et al., 2017).
From a psychological perspective, religion provides many people with a reliable social network and support. In fact, religious social support has been positively correlated to decreases in depressive symptoms (Holt et al., 2017). Religion can play a very positive role in one’s experience of a healthy life, however, it can also detract from one’s mental wellness. There is data to suggest that religious practice can also induce anxiety and obsessive thought patterns in some practitioners (Estrada et al., 2019).
Like all things, religion is not a one-size-fits-all. Some people find it to be very beneficial in daily practice, while others find more solace in a life devoid of it. It is important to accept that both of these perspectives, as well as those in between are okay! We should celebrate our differences in thought and work to accept each other and maintain open dialogue.