Sunday, August 08, 2004

Neuroscience and Church

A very interesting article on the intersection of neuroscience and church architecture:
Why is it that the arches and open spaces of a cathedral inspire faith, yet so does the comfort and familiarity of a small country chapel?

The connection between design and devotion is under study by a group of clerics, neuroscientists and architects who are trying to understand how the mind reacts to the sensations of entering a house of worship. The result, they hope, will be better designs that enhance the meeting of the sacred and earthly.

* * *
The Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, an institute affiliate based in San Diego, also is building on the work of psychiatrist Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania. His experiments with Franciscan nuns and Buddhist monks deep in meditation showed him that they could attain states in which they felt united with a greater spirit or force.

* * *

When the setting is a synagogue or a cathedral, the way it looks or sounds can enhance or diminish the worship experience.

Columbus architect Nolan Bingham told the meeting how tears had welled in the eyes of a Jewish woman as she walked into a house of prayer outside her own tradition, the city's landmark North Christian Church. Built by Eero Saarinen, better known for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, it conveys "sacred space" as few other places can, with a roof that appears to float on air and a spire that soars 192 feet.

When Bingham asked why she was crying, the woman could not explain it, he said.

"That's what I want to know," Bingham said. "There is not an easy answer for that. How do you find that thing?"
An Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. One is reminded of Tocqueville's observation that "[i]n no country in the world has the principle of association been more successfully used or applied to a greater multitude of objects than in America."


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