01: The kind and degree of religious and spiritual experiences people seek out may be related to the level of the chemical serotonin in their brains, according to a new Swedish study. The study, conducted by Lars Farde of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and published in the November issue of the American Journal of Psychology, finds that receptivity to certain religious and spiritual practices may be linked to the density of one of 15 serotonin receptors in the brain.
Science & Religion News (March) cites the study as suggesting that those with a low density of serotonin receptors (related to anxiety and depression levels) tended to be more open to spiritual experiences.
Farde adds that “Whereas the higher levels go more with people who believe what they see with their eyes and are not so open to God or other aspects of religion.” The study was conducted by having test subjects (all men) undergo brain scans and answer a battery of questions on spiritual concerns. Farde says that the study’s findings do not explain a person’s belief system, but they can indicate why a person may be more inclined to a charismatic church as opposed to one with more order and tranquillity.
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02: Contrary to popular media interpretations, there has been no religious boom among young people in Japan in the 1980s and their relations with traditional Buddhist sects and Shinto shrines has weakened.
That is the main finding of surveys conducted from 1992 to 2001 and analyzed by Nobutaka Inoue in a recent publication from Tokyo’s Kokugakuin University, entitled Japanese College Students’ Attitudes Toward Religion. Some young people have been attracted to new religions (which often have created groups specifically meant for them), but also to New Age types of spiritual seeking outside of any commitment to an organized religious group.
While about half of Japanese college students tend to think that humans will continue to need religion, no matter how much science develops, the level of firm belief in a specific religious faith is very low. The Aum Shinrikyo incident has made it still lower: it appears that the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway by that apocalyptic group had a huge effect in worsening the image of religion in general (which was not very good among young Japanese before the event); 55.5 percent of Japanese college students said that their images of religion became “much worse” after the incident. It is interesting also to notice that most students don’t trust religious figures (Shinto priests, Buddhist monks, Christian ministers).
Interestingly, similar research conducted around the same time in Korea showed a significantly higher level of trust toward religious leaders there. Asked which religious figure they might wish to seek advice from, 21.4 percent of those interviewed in 2001 chose a Christian minister or nun, while only 11.8 percent would turn to a Buddhist monk and a meager 5.8 percent to a Shinto priest (i.e. less than a fortune teller, a category which gets 11.5 percent).
The fact that only a small percentage of respondents express a firm personal faith does not imply a lack of interest in religion. 50 to 60 percent believe in gods, Buddhas and/or spirits (spirits ranking highest from the three categories, and Buddhas lowest). As with young people in other parts of the world, a significant percentage is also attracted toward ideas conveyed by a religious subculture (interest for paranormal, occult, spiritual worlds, etc.).
Their information on those topics don’t rely on religious figures, but on knowledge derived from the popular media. Moreover, at least half of Japanese students still have an interest or participate in religious folk customs (largely transmitted by the family and local community)
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religioscope.com)