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Experimental Modelling of Revelatory Experiences and Possession States with Suggestion, fMRI and EEG

Detail Summary
Date 31 January 2020
Time 16:00 -17:00
Roeterseilandcampus - building G
Room REC GS.09
Organised by Host: Michiel van Elk
ABC Colloquium
Roeterseilandcampus - building G

Room REC GS.09

Nieuwe Achtergracht 129-B
1018 WS Amsterdam


Revelatory experiences – understood as communication attributed to divine or other supernatural agents via human intermediaries – are fundamental to the foundation and development of religions, whether through prophecy, oracles, or possession.  Religious accounts suggest that such messages involve the attribution and experience of direct supernatural control over motor function (e.g. movements producing speech or writing) or thought, imagery, and perception. In this talk I will present fMRI and EEG experiments modelling revelatory experiences and possession states with suggestions in highly hypnotically responsive individuals, outlining how the experiments are conducted as well as the insights provided into how it is possible for people to have experiences of control by supernatural agents. This leads to discussion of current qualitative and neuroimaging research in spiritualist mediums combing sociology of religion, anthropology, ancient history and cognitive neuroscience at Kings; and the relevance of research on non-pathological alterations of self-experience to understand mental health and illness across societies and periods of history.


Biographical Information

I am a Consultant Neuropsychiatrist and Senior Lecturer in Social Behaviour and Neurodevelopment at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, Kings College London.  I am Chair of the Cultural and Social Neuroscience Research Group at the IOPPN, which investigates the interaction of culture, cognition, and brain in the formation of experience and behaviour.  This is an area that I have started pursuing since my dual qualifications, first in Theology and Religious Studies from Cambridge University, and later in medicine from Guys and Saint Thomas’ Medical School. I am also Chair of the Maudsley Philosophy Group, which holds interdisciplinary seminars and conferences to investigate conceptual aspects of psychiatry.