*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on PsychCentral.
In a new survey of thousands of people who reported a personal encounter with “ultimate reality” or God, a majority say the experience led to lasting positive changes in their psychological health, life satisfaction, purpose and meaning even decades after the initial encounter.
The study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, is the first to systematically and rigorously compare reports of spontaneous God encounter experiences, including those catalyzed by psychedelic substances, such as magic mushrooms or ayahuasca.
Their findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
“Experiences that people describe as encounters with God or a representative of God have been reported for thousands of years, and they likely form the basis of many of the world’s religions,” says lead researcher Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“And although modern Western medicine doesn’t typically consider ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ experiences as one of the tools in the arsenal against sickness, our findings suggest that these encounters often lead to improvements in mental health.”
The historic and widespread anecdotal evidence for their benefits led to the research team’s latest effort to research the value, and possible downsides, of such encounters, Griffiths says.
The researchers looked at data from 4,285 people worldwide who responded to online advertisements to complete one of two 50-minute online surveys about God encounter experiences. Of the total participants, 809 were those who responded to the non-drug survey, whereas 3,476 responded to the psychedelics survey.
The surveys asked participants to recall their single most memorable encounter experience with the “God of their understanding,” a “higher power,” “ultimate reality” or “an aspect or representative of God, such as an angel.” They also asked how respondents felt about their experience and whether and how it changed their lives.
For future research, Griffiths said his team would like to investigate what factors predispose someone to having such a memorable encounter, and they would like to see what happens in the brain during the experience.
“Continuing to explore these experiences may provide new insights into religious and spiritual beliefs that have been integral to shaping human culture since time immemorial,” says Griffiths.