Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist and professor of religious studies in Pennsylvania, is leading an ongoing online survey of “spiritual experiences”. In his book, What God Does To Your Brain Newberg reports that the main finding so far is that people don’t have a unified, single sort of spiritual experience. People use all sorts of different words to describe spiritual experiences that they’ve had. There aren’t any substantive words used by a majority of respondents – not even the words “spiritual” and “experience”, words that were introduced by the researchers.
Particularly noteworthy is the fact that only 18 percent of respondents to the survey use the word “God” to describe their spiritual experiences. Many politicians have argued that “God” isn’t a word that belongs to just one set of religious groups. They’ve claimed that “God” is a unifying word that everyone can agree upon as a central part of their religious beliefs. So, in their view, the national motto “In God we trust” isn’t a violation of the separation of church and state because “God” is a religiously neutral, universally-agreed upon term.
Newberg’s survey suggests that, to the contrary, the concept of “God” is peripheral to the actual experience of the religious realm for most people… if it’s related at all.