Health

The Center for Mind and Culture invests in the scientific study of human wellbeing. Learning from existing research, we understand physical and emotional healing as a transaction occurring in the mind-culture nexus. Several of our projects are devoted to understanding the healing process, and some to trying to find solutions to pressing human health problems.

Healing Causation Project

Healing Causation Project

The Centers Healing Causation Project aims to move beyond the hundreds of correlational studies identifying the health effects of dietary, spiritual, and social practices to identify the causal, biochemical mechanisms that produce physical and emotional healing. Past partners in this project have been Dr. Katherine Verdolini Abbott and Dr. Nicole Li, funded in part by an NIH subcontract through the University of Pittsburgh. Currently, we are pursuing the computer simulation of healing processes with partners at Boston University and the Virginia Modeling, Analysis & Simulation Center.

 
Neuroscience and Cognition in Parkinson's Disease Project

Neuroscience and Cognition in Parkinson’s Disease Project

This project, funded primarily by the John Templeton Foundation, and operating in partnership with the Boston VA Research Institute and Boston VA Healthcare, investigates the effect of Parkinson’s Disease on cognition and emotion. This particular disease attacks dopamine-transmitting neurons, which participate in circuits dedicated to evaluating sensory inputs, attaching value to them in relation to the needs and interests of the human organism doing the valuing. The wonderful people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and participating in our research are helping us see more deeply than ever into the mind-culture nexus.

Key Personnel

Research Partners

 
Sex Differences Project

Sex Differences Project (SDP)

CMAC’s Sex Differences Project explores issues of gender and sex diversity – including transgender, intersex, third sex, and others – in contemporary society and throughout history, across cultures and religions. CMAC is using surveys and neuroimaging to generate two comprehensive annotated bibliographies – one relevant to the biology of sex differences and one relevant to the links between sex, gender, and religion – as well as producing and analyzing datasets covering the genetic and social controversies surrounding the social construction of gender and sexual norms. This project received funding from a 2016-2017 Regional Development Grant from the American Academy of Religion and from Boston University to help support the Sex on the Margins conference in February 2017. Years active: 2014–Present.

Stories of Intersex and Faith: a sub-project of the Sex Differences Project
A sub-project of the Sex Differences Project, Stories of Intersex and Faith, aims to change the way people understand sex differences in a society that is deeply divided on this very topic. In sharing the stories of intersex people, CMAC’s goals are threefold: to end the isolation intersex persons face in America today; to stop non-medically necessary surgeries on intersex infants and children; and to start better conversations about sex, gender, and sexual diversity in faith communities and elsewhere.

Unlike any other documentary on the topic, CMAC’s will seek out, acknowledge, and begin to address the way that religious beliefs (conscious and unconscious) contribute to perpetuating those problems, in addition to depicting the way that cultural fears about sex differences fuel traumatizing surgeries on young children. Stories of intersex people of faith have the power to disarm those caught in the culture wars, so CMAC’s work has the potential to overcome current impasses to a productive conversation.

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Sleep and Dreams Project

Sleep and Dreams Project

In the far past of our species right up to the present day, dreams and nightmares have been associated with profound meaning. Some dreams seem to convey religious revelations while others express our deepest moral feelings and thoughts. Some people have also cultivated the ability to dream in lucid ways so as to explore the worlds they believe dreaming opens up to them. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of dreams if you haven’t personally experienced their force. In this project, the Center investigates the intricate connections between dreams and nightmares, on the one hand, and the construction of human life meanings, on the other. We employ a wide range of techniques from individual dream narratives to longitudinal dream journals, and from sleep studies to life histories. We aim to tease out the ways dreams and waking life are entangled, which will shed light on big questions such as the evolutionary origins of religion and morality, and the formation of life-guiding conviction and political commitments.

 
Virtual Reality for Nightmare Disorder Project

Virtual Reality for Nightmare Disorder Project

The Virtual Reality for Nightmare Disorder Project is an effort to create a virtual reality enabled treatment for the DSM-V diagnosis of Nightmare Disorder. Computer engineers at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) have created a customized software that researchers run through the Occulus Rift VR system to guide participants in a treatment session that allows them to confront and manipulate nightmare imagery.

The goal of this treatment is to activate the prefrontal cortex – where imagery control happens – to allow a greater command of disturbing mental images and to mitigate the overactive amygdala to maintain proper fear regulatory responses. The project hopes to better identify the causes of this disorder and thereby better ameliorate its effects. Years active: 2017–Present.

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