Are Some Religions More Compassionate Than Others?
Why do we have some people who are very religious who look at the world and other people in very compassionate ways and we have other people who are very religious and they look at the world in very negative ways?
Dr. Andrew Newberg is the director of research at the Jefferson Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine and a physician at Jefferson University Hospital. He is board certified in internal medicine and nuclear medicine. Andrew has been asking questions about reality, truth, and God since he was very young, and he has long been fascinated by the human mind and its complex workings. While a medical student, he met Dr. Eugene d’Aquili, who was studying religious experiences. Combining their interests with Andrew’s background in neuroscience and brain imaging, they were able to break new theoretical and empirical ground on the relationship between the brain and religion.
Andrew’s research now largely focuses on how brain function is associated with various mental states—in particular, religious and mystical experiences. His research has included brain scans of people in prayer, meditation, rituals, and trance states, as well as surveys of people's spiritual experiences and attitudes. He has also evaluated the relationship between religious or spiritual phenomena and health, and the effect of meditation on memory. He believes that it is important to keep science rigorous and religion religious. Andrew has also used neuroimaging research projects to study aging and dementia, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, depression, and other neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Dr. Newberg has published over 100 research articles, essays and book chapters, and is the co-author of the best selling books, Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief (Ballantine, 2001) and How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Ballantine, 2009). He has presented his research throughout the world in both scientific and public forums. He appeared on Nightline, 20/20, Good Morning America, ABC's World News Tonight, National Public Radio, London Talk Radio and over fifteen nationally syndicated radio programs. His work has been featured in Time, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and many other newspapers and magazines.
His newest work is How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain: The New Science of Transformation.
Do certain types of religions foster different kinds of beliefs? It really depends a lot on the individual who is participating in that religion and what ideas in that context they hold onto. If we look at the Christian tradition or the Muslim tradition or the Jewish tradition there are lots of people who are enormously compassionate and loving and wanting to help other people. There are also people who are very hateful and very angered at people who don't agree with them or who don't see things the same way that they do.
On the other hand, Buddhist and Hindu practices tend to be directed a little bit more on the notion of connectedness and interconnectedness and oneness. They also can foster tremendous senses of compassion and love for other people, but sometimes they also go awry.
So that's actually one of the big questions that I don't think we have the true answer to yet, which is why do we have some people who are very religious who look at the world and other people in very compassionate ways and we have other people who are very religious and they look at the world in very negative ways. We don't fully know if it's just the doctrine that people are holding onto, or whether its the neural connections in their brain initially that lead them down a path of being more angry or being more loving.
So this to me is a very important area for us to study going forward to try to better understand how all of the different traditions have an impact on the ways in which people believe, in the ways in which they think, and in terms of being compassionate.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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