©Arlene R. Taylor PhD 

altTheology, religion, and spirituality are terms that are often used synonymously, although they really represent different concepts. Sometimes they overlap with each other and sometimes they do not. Sometimes they even seem to be mutually exclusive. One seminar participant defined them this way:

  • Theology is what you think in your head
  • Religion is what you do with your hands
  • Spirituality is what you perceive in your heart

Spirituality is a concept that can be described separately from affiliation with religion or dogma (although it could be helpful if the study of theology and/or affiliation with religion always enhanced one’s personal spirituality). Unfortunately, research has shown that the impact religion has on people depends very much on how those people view their God. If the individuals view their God as loving, compassionate, supportive, and forgiving, the people tend to have a positive view of themselves and of the world around them. If, on the other hand, they view their God as unforgiving, vengeful, and even disinterested or dispassionate, this perspective can have deleterious effects on both physical and mental health.

The research has shown that this latter perspective can activate portions of the brain that are involved in anger, fear, and stress responses. Not only can this ultimately damage portions of the brain and body, but also end up triggering animosity and even violence to individuals who ascribe to a different belief system. This may form the basis for the position that “My religion is right and your religion is wrong.” Atheists are prone to point out the inconsistency between subscription to a religion that is often supposed to encourage harmony and brotherhood among people and nations and the destructive behaviors and actions that often are perpetuated on other (starting as far back as the crusades and reaching as far forward as some of the current wars and controversies in today’s world).

According to studies by Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman, co-authors of a book entitled How God Changes Your Brain, Americans are becoming less religious but more spiritual as they embrace images of a universe that is scientific yet mystical. Studies at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Spirituality and the Mind regarding the effects of different spiritual practices (e.g., meditation and prayer) have shown interesting results. For example, individuals who regularly engaged in these spiritual practices exhibited significant improvements in memory, cognition, and compassion. At the same time they reported a reduction in anxiety, depression, irritability, and stress. These benefits were demonstrated even when prayer and meditation were performed in a non-theological context. The authors concluded that meditation and other spiritual practices permanently strengthen neural functioning in specific parts of the brain. In turn, this can help to lower anxiety, enhance social awareness and empathy, and improve cognitive functioning.

Albert Einstein, when he described the similarities between spiritual and scientific epiphanies, reportedly pointed out similarities, stating that human brains seem to have a similar need: to perceive the overwhelming awe and beauty of the universe and to realize a deep sense of connectedness to the world. Spirituality can help evoke this sense of awe, this inspirational meaning in one’s life.

An individual's personal spiritual journey may be impacted by a whole host of factors including his or her brain’s innate energy advantage. Following are examples to stimulate your thinking.

altPrioritizing Division

altEnvisioning Division


Individuals who have an energy advantage in this cerebral division tend to be:

  • Systematic in a cautious pursuit of personal spirituality (e.g., may be more comfortable with the concept than with practical application)
  • Somewhat goal-oriented in their approach
  • Intellectual, analytical, and hierarchical
  • Drawn toward doctrinal study and reading as a vehicle to achieve spirituality
  • Interesting in being able to provide proofs for their selected theology


Individuals who have an energy advantage in this cerebral division tend to be:

  • Intuitive, conjectural, and open-minded in their approach to concepts and practical applications related to personal spirituality
  • Oriented toward change and innovation and may mean to continue spiritual activities but the routine or schedule may get them down
  • Drawn toward the new, the unusual, the non-traditional, and the unorthodox
  • In tune with nature, the stars, electromagnetic energy, and etc.
  • Interested in different types of meditation styles


altMaintaining Division

altHarmonizing Division


Individuals who have an energy advantage in this cerebral division tend to be:

  • Conservative in relation to spirituality
  • Somewhat timorous in approaching concepts of spirituality and oriented to conforming to rules-regulation
  • Interested in how to do it right
  • Drawn toward traditional routines, rituals, memorization, reading, and the status quo as vehicles with which to approach spirituality
  • Organized and habitual in their approach to whatever activities have been built into their schedules


Individuals who have an energy advantage in this cerebral division tend to be:

  • Relational and experience-oriented in their approach to spirituality
  • Openly expressive of their emotions and feelings or connection with others and nature
  • Drawn toward connecting, encouraging, and meeting with others
  • Interested in using vehicles such as music, praise, drama, dance, and nature to enhance their spirituality
  • Desirous of a spiritual connection with something bigger outside of themselves (e.g., a Higher Power as they perceive one)