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A research topic I like to explore is the intersection of science and faith, also called neurotheology. As I studied the neuroscience of learning, called Mind, Brain, and Teaching, at Johns Hopkins University, the Covid pandemic began, and our program of studies went online. Around the same time, in our culture, the topics of science and religion became “heated” around vaccines. Rumors spread about vaccine contents in social media and some evangelical preachers stated the pandemic was a punishment from God. Other preachers stated believers did not need a vaccine as God would protect them. Personally, I waited in line for every available vaccine. I believe God protects people with science. Yet, the pandemic spurred my interest in neurotheology.

In transparency, my interest in neuroscience and faith is that I believe God is the source of all creation, including the learning of science. This topic is not either / or yet both, for me. Scripture states we are made in God’s image and likeness. Our brains inform our minds about God. Our brains have two primary functions: to keep us alive and to learn (Zuckerman, 2009). While I place God first in my life, I cherish learning about the science of the brain and mind and how this learning informs faith. Using fMRI scanning, Northwestern University researchers (Grafman, et al., 2020), found many areas of the brain are involved in religious belief including the frontal lobe and the pre-frontal cortex that sits behind our forehead. This part of our brain helps manage our daily activities like time, organizing work, and our sense of sight. When we focus on matters of faith, this part of the brain connects through chemicals to “nucleus accumbens” (Willis & Haines, 2018), that link to the inner part of our limbic system that controls emotions leading to behavior. This area is also part of our reward and reinforcement system. No “God” module exists in our brain. However, the more our faith experience grows, our brains send more and stronger signals building a larger spiritual belief system just like with other knowledge and learning. These signals also grow stronger when we share faith with others. Sharing faith with others is part of the “theory of mind” network of our brains, that refers to the ability to make inferences about what other people know and think. Theory of mind is the capacity to take another person’s perspective. These abilities appear in our minds around preschool age and continue to develop through adolescence and adulthood (Ludden, 2020). Generally, the more we interact with others around faith, the more our own faith tends to grow.

Faith and religion matter in other parts of life, particularly prayer linked to mental health. Numerous studies have found that people who pray tend toward positive thinking and even experience less pain in illness and injury (miller, 2009). Brain-imaging studies also show that repetitive prayer activates the brain’s reward system. Neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania finds prayer can improve your physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being and may even slow the brain’s aging process. The same areas of the brain associated with pleasant experiences “light up” during intensive prayer sessions (Ludden, 2020). In short, neuroscience shows us that believers in God experience multiple benefits in brain and mind.


Ludden, D. (2020, Feb 15). This Is Your Brain on Religion: The neuroscience of religious belief.

Miller, D.I. (2009, Apr 27). This is your brain on religion. SFGate.

Willis M.A. & Haines, D.E. (2018). Fundamental Neuroscience for Basic and Clinical Applications (Fifth Edition),

Zuckerman, C. (2009, Oct 15). Brain 101. National Geographic.

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