Catholic theology says that all people — including children — are considered spiritual. And now neurological evidence shows that inherent brain biology and neuron connections formed during childhood may greatly influence how people develop spiritually.
The research says that even though spirituality may start out as biology and develop through learning, these connections inevitably work together over a lifetime to create the whole person.
“The child’s spirituality cannot be dissected from the cognitive, emotional, moral or behavioral,” said Dr. Judith Hughes, a former psychiatry professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
All these factors contribute to spiritual development in order to get a complete picture, but currently the information isn’t shared across disciplines, said Dr. Daniel Siegel, a psychiatry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine.
Understanding children’s spiritual development is much like the story of the blind men describing an elephant, said Siegel. Even agreeing on basic definitions for words like “mind” is difficult because each of scientific discipline has a clear idea of what reality is, Siegel said.
“The anthropologist might understand the tail, and the neuroscientists might be convinced of the trunk,” he said. Siegel said that pinning the tail on what he called “the entire elephant of human existence” couldn’t be attributed to just genetics or environment but the interplay of both.