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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

The biological bases for seeking faith

Jaak Panksepp was the Estonian neuroscientist and psychobiologist known for his work in the area of emotions. In his work “Affective neuroscience of the emotional BrainMind: evolutionary perspectives and implications for understanding depression,” he identified the seven primary-process (basic) emotional systems: seeking, rage, fear, lust, care, grief, and play, all concentrated in ancient subcortical regions of all mammalian brains.


I am particularly intrigued by the SEEKING emotional primary-process, as an educator and in terms of leadership in religious systems. For one thing, there is the curious connection between the SEEKING/desire system and the RAGE/anger system. I wonder what implications this may have for ministry in religious systems. Then again, it may explain a lot.


I particularly appreciate the insight (not overtly treated here) that the basic SEEKING emotion in the “lower” biological evolutionary brain translates to “meaning making” and “searching” (existential-religious meaning) in the human cortext. Particularly interesting is the idea that when the seeking of basic survival resources (food, etc.) is satisfied, the SEEKING emotion remains active for the human and a “search for meaning” is active (think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).


A pragmatic insight is that it is the SEARCHING that satisfies us, not the finding (or acquiring). It hints at how easy our culture is to being manipulated into materialism—the search for the “new and improved” is never satisfied. It helps understand how powerful is peoples’ “search for meaning” and why it cannot be satisfied—often resulting in serial religious affiliations (moving from church to church, moving from one faith to another, endlessly consuming religious books, etc.). What implications might this have for how we provide religious experiences, pastoral guidance, formation, and educational programming to our parishioners?


Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to its teaching and learning blogs.


Dr. G. & Friends