• Kathryn Elliott

Bells, the Brain, and Belief



Here's your weekly check-in from the Unaffiliated podcast, including a peek at one spellbinding topic from this week's show (download it on iTunes here!).

The Spiritual Power of Smell

Did you know that "sniffs and musical riffs" taken in by an occasional bystander at religious services may have emotional and spiritual consequences?

The Brain and Spiritual Experiences on the podcast Unaffiliated: the Search for Meaning, hosted by Kathryn Elliott

Well, that's my take on more enlightening remarks by Sharon Hogan: the psychologist and atheist who joins me for this week's episode to talk about what the brain has to do with spiritual experiences.

Here's a bit of what she told me about a link between Catholic-Orthodox Christian rites and Buddhism:

"They both use 'bells and smells," Sharon says.

"They both are into burning incense; there are bells in Catholicism and chimes or gongs that are used in Buddhist practice. With the smells: the olfactory bulb is deep in the limbic system and is very connected to our emotional life."

What does it all mean, you guys?! Could there be a scientific reason why people like me get weepy in damp cathedrals?

Seizures and Spiritual Poetry

Also in this episode, Sharon gets into: where spiritual experiences actually reside in the brain. She says that people who have seizures in the temporal lobe, an area of the brain linked to emotion, sometimes describe it as a deeply spiritual experience. In medical literature, they are diagnosed with "symptoms" like euphoria and unprovoked joy or fear.

The Connecticut-born novelist and cellist Mark Salzman (on Goodreads here) imagines a Carmelite nun who faces surgical removal of this portion of the brain that results in an inability to "feel" spiritual ecstasy and the cessation of her creative ability to produce spiritual poetry. It's an interesting set of imaginings from an atheist whose temporal lobe helped him to achieve acceptance at Yale for his musical ability when he was 16 years old.

Find out much more (and get some other great book recs.) in the show notes for this extravaganza of an episode, on Buzzsprout.

And last but not least—do you see our posts online?

If not, do join us! Jump over to Unaffiliated's Facebook and Instagram pages immédiatement to follow us and get access to more cool stuff that we post.

After you listen to Episode 4, consider leaving a review or some stars on iTunes to help out the show. Every little bit counts.

Thanks! Kathryn

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