Historical Perspective

Dr. Andrew NewbergIn 1999, Andrew Newberg, M.D. studied a group of Franciscan nuns who had been practicing Centering Prayer.  It was the first brain scan of Christian contemplative practitioners.  He discovered that there were significant neurological changes that differed from normal human brain functions.  The frontal lobes, known to be the seat of moral judgment and spirituality, had increased activity;  the limbic activity decreased;  and the combination generated a peaceful and serene state of consciousness.1

Since that early work, there has been considerable research on the subject, much of which has been on non-theistic Tibetan Buddhist monks, yet comparatively little on theistic Christian practitioners.  As valuable as that research has been, it misses the opportunity available from the findings of research on the power of faith, which over 90% of the U.S. population has.  Though most researchers are Christian, they have difficulties getting enough practitioners, since the focus has been mostly on a small number of Tibetan monks; whereas, there is a much broader base of theistic interfaith practitioners with over 100,000 Christian contemplatives alone.  Research incurs a high cost of transporting equipment and researchers to the practitioners, rather than capitalizing on these local practitioners.  There seems to be a greater emphasis on theoretical neuroscience, as opposed to clinical applications.  The research is fragmented worldwide, rather than having a physical focal point, as could be the case in the Houston Texas Medical Center (TMC), which is the largest in the world, exceeding the next largest by four times.

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Announcement: Study of Effects of Spirituality on the Brain

CN collaboration with ISH, BCM teams up with the Institute for Spirituality and Health

Houston – (March 26, 2013) – Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and the Institute for Spirituality and Health (ISH) have teamed up to study the effects of spirituality on the brain.

This new collaboration, signed by Dr. Dora Angelaki, chair of neuroscience at BCM, and Dr. John Graham, president of ISH, is a Master Research Services Agreement between the two institutions that includes the use of the Center for Advanced MR Imaging, one of the worlds’ largest, at BCM. Researchers through the ISH, located in the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical complex, will not only use the functional magnetic resonance imaging facilities (fMRI) at BCM but also collaborate with researchers within the department of neuroscience. The first such project is currently in the planning stages for later this year.

The goal of the ISH, at 57 years the oldest such interfaith organization in the United States, is to engage in scientific research to provide evidence-based information on the role spirituality plays in health and healing, as well as educate and equip healthcare professionals so they may incorporate spirituality in treatments of patients when needed.

This collaboration was also completed with the support of BCM’s Center for Advanced MRI (CAMRI) Director of Research, Krista Runge, and ISH Vice Chairman, Dr. Robert Hesse. 

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Though the teaching of Centering Prayer specifically calls for the practitioner to not seek to gain anything from the prayer practice, experience has shown that the gifts of the Holy Spirit normally follow, with a sense of peace being the most common which often aids in healing.
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