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Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience.

The first type of study is associated with names like M.A. Persinger [1], V.S. Ramachandran [2], and the team of A. Newberg, E. D’Aquili, and V. Rause [3]. For several years these authors have been pursuing the neural links of religious experiences. To this end, they have explored – with the help of sophisticated methods of ‘brain imaging’ – the brain areas, which are involved in the most intense religious experiences, such as mystical ecstasy, or states of deep prayer. Another method of searching for those links has been to verify the degree of connection between episodes of brain damage and the loss of ‘religious faculties’. Broadly speaking, this research has located areas in the brain associated with religious activity, or that become ‘activated’ through Oviedo/European Journal of Science and Theology 2 (2006), 1, 47-54 50 religious concentration. These discoveries have been interpreted in various ways. Some authors claim that religious feelings and perceptions, like any others, can be reduced to their neurological circuitry, and explained away as mere human episodes. Others, for example, the school of Newberg and D’Aquili, maintain that their results show a ‘neuronal capacity of human auto-transcendence’; a real base for religious experience, even if it is open to question whether the transcendental thoughts experienced are, in the final analysis, simply a product of the mind or an experience of, and answer to, divine revelation. These outcomes manifest the deep ambiguity of the neurological enterprise, which can be subjected to both a naturalistic and a transcendental interpretation. The second line of research has more to do with cognitive and evolutionary psychology. Some authors in the forefront of the field are: Th. Lawson with his associate R.N. McCauley [4], P. Boyer [5], I. Pyysiäinen [6, 7], S. Guthrie [8], H. Whitehouse [9]. Their aim is to find and expose the mental structures underlying religious knowledge, how they developed, and how they are related to the basic structures of human thinking. Often the axiomatic departure point is the representation of a ‘modular mind’, evolved in a primitive context of Palaeolithic hunters and gatherers, and specialized in different but vital tasks. Their research program includes empirical enquiries and experimentation with children and adults, to ascertain their ways of evaluating the plausibility of some stories including counterfactual – supernatural – elements.