Quantifying phenomenological aspects of religious and spiritual experiences (RSEs) is a revolutionary methodology for religion and science. Skillful quantification: (i) mitigates documented problems associated with research relying solely on RSE narratives; (ii) is capable of distinguishing RSEs based on demographic variables (e.g. gender, age, religion) and medical populations (e.g. localized stroke or Parkinson’s Disease), thereby constraining neurocognitive models; (iii) permits generation of stabler typologies of RSEs; (iv) is a key tool in studying RSEs across cultures; and (v) opens up new lines of inquiryin the cognitive science of religion.
In the proposed project, the Enhanced Phenomenology of Consciousness Inventory (EPCI) will be used to build a database of RSE narratives along with quantitative profiles and other information. Trained third-party raters will use the EPCI to produce quantitative profiles of existing RSE narratives. Piloting has been completed and some key results published in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. The first two years of the project (focus of this funding request) will establish public data-collection procedures on an innovative "instant feedback" survey system, run initial analyses, train a doctoral student, and produce publications. Subsequently, data collection will continue automatically for many years, building a powerful research database of RSEs.
These methods will produce what amounts to a "theory of instrumentation" for the scientific study of RSEs. While RSE narratives remain essential for helping researchers grasp the cognitive content of RSEs, quantitative profiling opens up new avenues of research with almost unlimited potential, and without the need for expensive and often impractical neurological scanning equipment (the other quantitative approach in use). This potential has already been confirmed in piloting, and the proposed project will explore this potential more fully.