The accelerating popularity of Charismatic Christianity has brought with it a host of new sensibilities and ritual practices. Glossolalia, or ‘speaking in tongues,’ stands out among these as a particularly dramatic innovation. Typically staid churchgoers, once touched by the Holy Spirit, begin to utter strings of syllables that some claim to be the ‘language of angels.’ Recent neuroimaging studies have highlighted differences in the brains of subjects performing glossolalia in comparison to those same subjects singing a Church hymn. An investigation of the neural correlates of glossolalia highlights the importance of studying the bodily dimensions of ritual practice. But an informed analysis does not reduce social and behavioral complexities to physiological changes; rather, juxtaposing the correlates of human action from a variety of perspectives, in this case—the social, the bodily, and the behavioral—suggests productive new approaches to the study of ritual. Having received the attentions of numerous scholars during the 20th and 21st centuries, glossolalia provides an excellent test case for this correlational approach to human action.
Studies in the History of Religions: Modern Science and the Construction of Religious Meaning, 2012, p. 57-80
Glossolalia; Ritual; Neural Correlates
Main Research Area:
Numen Book Series. Studies in the History of Religions