« Ann Coulter and Morality | Main | Missing the Point on Deuteronomy »

September 1, 2006

The Itch for Religion -- 2

Or maybe what we're seeing is the culture -- human, global culture -- in the process of shaking off this need for a Heavenly Father. As we shook off (mostly) kings. As we shook off the belief that the earth is the center of the universe. Occasionally -- individually, globally -- we take a step back.

Presumably humans have an "itch" to see themselves in the center of the cosmos, too, but have managed, over time, to overcome it.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at September 1, 2006 12:13 PM


Mitch, sorry. Can't let this 'we shook off kings' language go by without comment, or the suggestion that we merely have an 'itch' (what's up w/ this word?) to be at 'the center of the cosmos'... the way you phrase this makes it seem almost whimsical. C'mon! These are fundamentally intertwined and bound up in metaphysics (as you know, b/c I know you've read Heidegger, Derrida etc.)... we've done *nothing* to overcome the need to be at the center, have we? Humanism merely the late modern version of the ontotheological tradition ... no? The theory of sovereignty no longer centered in kingship but, as Foucault says, 'we need to cut off the king's head':

"Sovereign, law, and prohibition formed a system of representation of power which was extended during the subsequent era by the theories of right: political theory has never ceased to be obsessed with the person of the sovereign. Such theories still continue today to busy themselves with the problem of sovereignty. What we need, however, is a political philosophy that isn't erected around the problem of sovereignty nor therefore around the problems of law and prohibition. We need to cut off the king's head: in political theory that has still to be done" ('Truth and Power').

That being said, don't disagree w/ you that this may be the moment that the ontotheological tradition is cracking... your book has the potential to contribute to a reimagining of what 'else' (but it's gotta get a little more serious than the language of this entry suggests, perhaps?)

Posted by: JM at September 2, 2006 9:27 AM

Found this that would say at least that if there is an Itch for Relgion, it is our heads we ought to be scratching! : )
Nuns prove God is not figment of the mind
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
(Filed: 30/08/2006)

The idea that there a "God spot" in the brain, a circuit of nerves which could explain mankind's almost universal belief in a deity, is questioned today by a study of Carmelite nuns.

Scientists have been in the pursuit of the brain processes underlying the Unio Mystica - the Christian notion of mystical union with God - and this endeavour is now part of a newly-emerging field called "neurotheology".

Carmelite nuns
Carmelite nuns assisted scientists in their quest to discover a circuit of nerves in the brain to explain man's almost universal belief in a deity

But the God module, as some scientists call it, is a mirage, according to the study by Dr Mario Beauregard, of the Department of Psychology at the Université de Montréal and his student Vincent Paquette, published in the journal Neuroscience Letters. "The main goal of the study was to identify the neural correlates of a mystical experience," said Dr Beauregard. "This does not diminish the meaning and value of such an experience, and neither does it confirm or disconfirm the existence of God."

Fifteen cloistered Carmelite nuns ranging from 23 to 64 years old were subjected to brain scan using a method called functional magnetic resonance imaging while being asked to relive a mystical experience, rather than actually try to achieve one. "I was obliged to do it this way seeing as the nuns are unable to call upon God at will," said Dr Beauregard.

This method was justified because previous studies with actors asked to enter a particular emotional state activated the same brain regions as people actually living those emotions.

Nun fact box

Rather than reveal a spiritual centre in the brain, a module of neural circuits specifically designed for religious experience, the study demonstrated that a dozen different regions of the brain are activated during a mystical experience.

In other words, mystical experiences are mediated by several brain regions and systems normally implicated in functions such as self-consciousness, emotion and body representation.

In the past, some researchers went as far as to suggest the possibility of a specific brain region designed for communication with God. This latest research discredits such theories.

Speculation about the God spot was triggered when a team at the University of California, San Diego, saw that people with temporal-lobe epilepsy were prone to religious hallucinations.

This led Michael Persinger, a neuropsychologist at Laurentian University in Canada, to stimulate emporal lobes artificially to see if he could induce a religious state. He found that he could create a "sensed presence".

Information appearing on telegraph.co.uk is the copyright of Telegraph Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium without licence. For the full copyright statement see Copyright

Posted by: Bonnie Kim at September 2, 2006 9:36 AM

I suppose it would be nice to think that humans and human institutions/constructions are moving linear, in a progressive direction. And perhaps science, with some missteps and reversals, is generally making progress. But otherwise I don't see much evidence supporting a Whiggish notion of history.

Posted by: george at September 2, 2006 3:37 PM

Maybe I have "Whigged" out, but I do want the right to note a bit of non-linear, herky-jerky progress in matters philosophical/scientific. Of course, JM is right that various metaphysical vanities and authoritarianisms always seem to manage to sneak back. But if you don't claim what victories you have won -- Galileo's victory, Jefferson's victory (as considerably expanded by the likes of Douglass, Stanton-Anthony, Gandhi) -- you risk devaluing the struggles responsible for winning them.

Posted by: mitch at September 2, 2006 9:55 PM

George, why would it be 'nice' to think that linear progress is a good thing? haven't we had more than 200 years to recognize not only the fallacy of such a perspective of temporality and history, but to witness the incredible violence that's been committed in western efforts to bring it about?

The historical victories Mitch rightly wants to celebrate notwithstanding, this entry just does not assist, in my mind, the effort to make visible--and thus begin to dismantle--the relations of power that made speaking a different version of truth so precarious for people such as Galileo, Gandhi, Douglass. And yet, esp for the latter (i.e. those since the Enlightenment), those victories came at the price of *buying right back in to the metaphysical concept of sovereignty* -- part of the current impasse that religious discourse now exploits: witness the South Dakota abortion ban for only one of a hundred examples: e.g., you can't pitch 'fetal rights' over a mother unless the concept of sovereignty, based in a particular understanding of 'law', is there to support such ridiculousness. Mitch, I'd suggest that those relations of power didn't 'sneak back' -- they were *never gone*. (It is very odd to find myself sounding like a pessimist when that is actually far from the case...)

Posted by: JM at September 2, 2006 11:29 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)