This project uses neuroscience to investigate the aesthetic capacity of sacred architecture to produce spiritual cognitive outcomes.
Almost every society since prehistory has entrusted hallowed buildings with recording, teaching, and advancing spiritual information and realities. The fact that this has usually resulted in beautiful structures is well documented: long ago, we learned that we are naturally receptive to and fall in love with what we find beautiful, thus facilitating the pedagogic needs and endurance of faith traditions. The corollary grounding this project is clear: there may be no easier way to experience spiritual reality than by entering 'Domus Dei,' the house of God (to cite Christian scriptures, although this principle applies to all religions).
Yet, we have a poor understanding of why or how this happens. On the one hand, theological aesthetics and related scholarship have advanced reasons for the success of such aesthetic practices. However, because they offer no empirical evidence, their arguments cannot survive serious scientific scrutiny nor significantly advance our understanding of how religious buildings facilitate access to spiritual reality. On the other hand, the few scientific works looking at the effect of sensory stimulation in eliciting responses have largely ignored architecture.
Our research addresses this void by investigating (1) brain and physiological correlates of internal states elicited by two significant buildings - one religious and one secular - on people of faith and (2) what architectural features may cause such responses. By producing scientifically robust data/results, this first-of-its-kind project will (a) lay the groundwork for a new field of study: Experimental Theological Aesthetics, and (b) contribute to architecture's evidence-based design -- a movement that uses science to better understand, teach, plan, construct, and assess the built environment's impact on the human mind, heart, and spirit.