The Psychology Behind Worship: Why Humans Believe in Religion and Spirituality
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The Psychology Behind Worship: Why Humans Believe in Religion and Spirituality


Worshipping God has been a part of human existence for centuries. What makes humans believe in religion and spirituality? With not much evidence of its existence, humans still have quite an expensive faith for centuries. What is the psychological interpretation of it?

Evolution of Worshipping

Humans are believed to be the only species on earth to have religious and spiritual beliefs. In ancient times, humans fear the arrival of disasters like natural calamities of floods and earthquakes and the outbreak of pathogens. Feeling helpless without having any control over their lives, people started worshipping their ancestors who were able to survive this. With time, this worship shifted to nature. Elements like water, soil, air, sun, fire, etc got prominence.

Humans started believing in the God of water who will solve their problem of drought-like situations. In a way, it can be said that to have natural changes according to their need, making the Gods happy became the path. Followed by this, stories originated which were passed on from one generation to another, narrating this instils deeper religious beliefs in the process of upbringing. 

Read More: Religion: Cherubims of wellbeing or Cerberus of illness?

Neuroscience Behind Religion and Spirituality

Some studies have shown that brain wiring which makes a person religious can be inherited. That is, if a person is religious like his family, both nature as well as nurture have contributed to this trait. When neuro-imaging experiments were conducted while exhibiting religious and spiritual behaviours, the brain area which gets affected, “periaqueductal grey” is activated which is also responsible for the perception and experience of fear, pain and altruistic behaviour.

Other research proved that with consistent and prolonged spiritual behaviours, new brain circuits are formulated, making it “neurologically real”. The parietal lobe of the brain, associated with a sense of self gets deactivated, signifying how self-centredness can be reduced with spiritual behaviour. Along with this, the frontal lobe of the brain gets deactivated too which is responsible for wilful activeness. This can be interpreted as a relaxed state of mind without being too conscious of the surroundings.

Read More: The psychological & physiological health benefits of spiritual practices

So Why do we want to Worship God?

People have their individualised perceptions as to why they believe in God. Various psychologist and philanthropist have spent their life researching this to find an accurate answer. But this answer has always been a blend of various elements.

  • Fear: We, as humans, incorporate fear of something going wrong. Having no sense of control increases this fear. Religion and spirituality appear to be a safer space from inadvertent crises, where God is made powerful enough to solve the problems that we can’t solve by ourselves. 
  • Hope: There are times when a situation appears to be hopeless without any possibility of getting better. To have a ray of hope in such crises can help a lot with emotional regulation. People believe that no matter how bad a situation is, God will somehow help us and bring us out of it, since we are his children, who admire and worship him.
  • Altruism: Putting others before you are quality of altruism. Altruism has been a crucial element in the evolution of the human species. We need each other at both micro and macro levels. A human infant cannot survive if a mother does not get support from others. Religion often preaches to help others without thinking of oneself. So religion catalyses the concept of altruism which is necessary to sustain a psycho-social structure. 
  • To find purpose and answer: People tend to find a sense of purpose in their lives. Having a long-term vision of their life helps them to feel content in their way of living. Like a man feels happy when he has a goal to receive salvation after death, and he lives his life doing charity to achieve it. Humans generally have infinite questions about their existence, about us and the world we live in. Mostly, religions tend to have their explanation of this with their mythologies, which followers believe with full faith.
  • Self-maintenance: Most religions have a structure that its followers maintain. This forms the basis of living. Their beliefs, values, identity, and way of living are often associated with how their religion taught them. So for the maintenance of smooth psycho-social functioning in a society system, religion plays a significant role through its unsaid norms.
  • Self-transcendence: It is the most superior form of need that a man can fulfil for himself. To have a cause that is more important than his existence itself. Most of the people who achieve self-transcendence have their path followed by religion or spirituality. With utmost faith in its principles, people tend to believe in them as their identity. Many spiritual leaders and religious scriptures act as sources of guidance to achieve self-transcendence.
  • Psychological theories on religion: Diverse literature on psychological theories on religion helps to find the most suitable answer. Two of the most prominent psychologists of their time are said to be the pioneers in this field. Their opposing beliefs show how there is a multi-dimensional approach without an objective answer.

Sigmund Freud, stated religion is an illusion. He classifies it as a form of necrosis, a mental disorder. He wrote books like “The Future of an Illusion” and “Civilization and Its Discontents”. He describes religion as people’s collective perception to justify their desire and way of living.

Carl Jung, on the other hand, opposed Freud’s theory of religion. He describes religion as a “psychological reality”. According to him, spirituality and religion are fundamental to a person’s identity. In opposition to Freud. Carl emphasises that religion is not the cause of necrosis but occurs in the absence of it.

Read More: The Psychology of Mental Peace

Moreover, spirituality and religion have always been at the crux of a man’s peace and security irrespective of what religion is followed. Through neuroimaging evidence, the benefits of reformed brain wiring by spiritual behaviour cannot be neglected. With various such different opinions, the concept that a human needs God to have faith for their secured existence is unquestionable.

References +
  • Clarke, P.B., Byrne, P. (1993). Psychological Theories of Religion. in: Religion Defined and Explained. Palgrave MacMillan, London. – Google Search. (n.d.).
  • Clarke, P. B., & Byrne, P. (1993). Psychological theories of religion. In Palgrave Macmillan UK eBooks (pp. 173–203).
  • Beard, F. (n.d.). THE PSYCHOLOGY OF WORSHIP. Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Chung, D. (2018). Evolutionary origin of religions and religious evolution: Religious Neurosociology. Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, 08(09), 485–511.
  • Sayadmansour, A. (2014). Neurotheology: The relationship between brain and religion. PubMed Central (PMC).

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