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This Is Your Brain on Evangelicalism

NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty's Princeton lecture last week revealed a woman highly ambivalent about evangelical spirituality.

In 1995, NPR religion reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty was interviewing members of Saddleback Church for a Los Angeles Times Magazine article on why some churches grow and others don't. She talked with a woman named Kathy Younge about her spiritual journey. Younge was suffering from recurrent melanoma, but she didn't believe God was trying to kill her; she believed he was giving her a transcendent purpose. As Hagerty and Younge were talking, the journalist says, the air grew thick, moist, and warm, as if someone was breathing on them. She felt enveloped in a circle of light.

This is the story Hagerty opened with at a Princeton University Center for the Study of Religion lecture last week. She was there to discuss her most recent book, Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality (which CT magazine reviewed this May). I was surprised to hear her validate evangelical faith so openly given that, as a regular attendee of the center's lectures, I'm accustomed to hearing that faith's adherents talked about as if they were part of a carnival sideshow.

The experience presented Hagerty with a crisis. She says she was "spooked" and shut down the discussion quickly, but on the drive back to LA, she began asking herself questions: What happened? Was it a delusion? A chemical reaction? God?

The veteran journalist set out to answer some of these questions for herself, others like her, and her NPR listeners—most of whom, she said, aren't members of the Southern Baptist ...

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