Religious Trauma Syndrome Neuroimaging Study

The Global Center for Religious Research is an academic publishing and research institute with the mission of conducting empirical studies to advance the scientific understanding religion, most especially in the fields of anthropology, sociology, philosophy, historiography, and psychology. 

We are currently building a team of medical doctors, psychiatrists, and neuroimaging researchers to study the effects of “religious trauma” on individuals previously affected by religious institutional abuse. Neuroimaging techniques hold the promise that they may one day aid in the clinical assessment of individual psychiatric patients, particularly for those who suffer from conditions like complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). It has been suggested, though not verified, that there exists something similar to C-PTSD in the form of what has been popularly dubbed “Religious Trauma Syndrome.” In partnership with faculty from the Anschutz Medical Campus in Denver, CO and members of the Global Center for Religious Research, our experiment will be the first of its kind to explore whether there are any neurological indicators (e.g. differences or similarities) between those who suffer from C-PTSD and those who have been psychologically-assessed to qualify as suffering from “religious trauma.” As such, the Global Center for Religious Research is respectfully requesting  that academics, the public, and those afflicted with religious trauma support this critical neuroscientific research, which will be used to help victims recover from traumatic past experiences.

The Problem

Neuroimaging techniques play an incredible role in understanding complex psychiatric disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers across the globe have used its insights to enhance our understanding of how external traumas can affect individuals’ physical and psychological well-being.

What is more, a theory has been put forth that a similar disorder occurs in patients who previously suffered from abuse by institutional forms of religion, popularly labeled “Religious Trauma Syndrome.” Individuals victimized by extreme religious groups endure issues such as child abuse, rape, molestation, and many other violent experiences. However, no experiments have been put forth to validate the existence of the syndrome or to enhance our medical understanding of how best to treat these individuals. For now, patients with signs of religious trauma are left without answers or an understanding of their experiences. 

Our Solution

That is why the Global Center for Religious Research aims to create a team of researchers that will explore the neurological indicators of those who qualify as suffering from “religious trauma.” If successful, our research will be the first study to explore religious trauma and how it relates to similar symptoms and treatments in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Our study will explore the neural correlates of stress-induced analgesia, or the inability to feel pain, in individuals with religious trauma experiences. We will then compare those results to patients suffering from PTSD using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and symptom provocation, examining the effects of trauma-related cues on pain perception in both sets of individuals. The comparison will demonstrate the chemical and psychological effect of religion-related trauma on patients.

The neuroimaging will inform us on the behaviors of different parts of the brain as a result of religious trauma symptoms, allowing us to clinically assess individuals with related traumatic experiences. After the study, our researchers will publish their findings that can then educate doctors and psychologists on how best to treat individuals with Religious Trauma Syndrome and its relation to PTSD.

For this project, we are collaborating with faculty from The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus where we have access to skilled neuroimaging researchers and fMRI machines. The research will be published in our not-for-profit peer-reviewed academic journal, SHERM.
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