Joshua Brahinsky

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Stanford U.

Grant number

Gr. 9658

Approve Date

April 18, 2018

Project Title

Brahinsky, Dr. Joshua D., Stanford U., Stanford, CA - To aid research on 'Religion Under the Skin: How Does Christian Prayer Become Embodied?'

Preliminary abstract: How does Christian prayer shape the mind, brain and body during religious experience? In other words, how do religious practices get under the skin? We hold that religious experience takes practice and that this practice molds the brain and body in specific ways. Existing ethnographic research suggests that Christians (in particular, charismatic evangelical Christians) learn to use their minds to foster intimate, embodied experiences of God. They report becoming more able to hear, see, feel and speak with an invisible other in ways that seem near sensory and non-agentic. Yet, how and why this happens remains understudied. We propose to combine ethnography and neuroscience to investigate several specific processes through which prayer practice may promote these experiences. To understand better the dynamic between culture and the material world, either in objects or in the body, is a perennial question across multiple anthroplogical subfields. In this study, we seek to fund phenomenological interviews and participant observation, which we plan to combine with psychological scales, and neurological tools (MRI, EEG, and cognitive tasks) with the hope that that these measures together will they teach us better ways to describe and explain the kinds of evolving capacities that practitioners and observers describe so vividly. Scholars have explored the ways Buddhist techniques – such as mindfulness – affect the mind and body. Evangelical prayer practices could be studied similarly. In doing so, we open a relatively untouched field of study, yet one that directly marks the lives of the nearly 600 million charismatic evangelicals spread throughout the globe, people engaged with these kinds of prayer practices.