Mormon News, November 28–December 2

In News

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON GOD

University of Utah researchers hoping to understand how the brain reacts to religious experiences discovered that Mormon minds react to spiritual stimuli the same way others might respond to love, gambling, sex, drugs, and music. During a series of experiments, nineteen active Mormons were presented with various church-related materials and asked to identify when they “felt the spirit.” According to fMRI scans, strong spiritual reactions were associated with activity in the nucleus acumbens—the part of the brain responsible for processing reward responses. Scans also showed increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain activated by tasks involving judgement and moral reasoning. Neuroradiologist and senior author of the study Jeff Anderson notes that “religious experience is perhaps the most influential part of how people make decisions that affect all of us, for good and for ill. Understanding what happens in the brain to contribute to those decisions is really important.”Kate Kelly, John Dehlin

BYU-I APPOINTS FIRST FEMALE STUDENT LIFE VICE PRESIDENT

In a letter to staff and faculty, BYU-Idaho President Clark Gilbert announced that Amy R. LaBaugh would fill the position of Student Life vice president following the retirement of Kevin Miyasaki. LaBaugh is the first female to hold this position at the school. Prior to her appointment, LaBaugh spent the last fifteen years years working at the university, most recently as the Student Development Managing Director and in the Academic Advising department. President Gilbert believes “Amy’s background and personal leadership prepare her particularly well for this time and season as we look at issues and opportunities facing our students.”

NEW LAWSUIT AGAINST MORMON PSYCHOLOGIST INVOLVED IN C.I.A. TORTURE

A lawsuit filed by former detainees in secret C.I.A. prisons hopes to hold two psychologists responsible for creating interrogation methods now identified as torture. One of the psychologists, Bruce Jessen, felt compelled to resign as an LDS bishop after his congregation discovered his role in developing “enhanced interrogation” techniques such as waterboarding and extended physical abuse. The lawsuit further revealed that plaintiff Gul Rahman died of hypothermia while being interrogated by Jessen and his team. Should the detainees win their lawsuit, it will be the first time a civilian court recognizes individuals as responsible for post 9/11 counterterrorism policies. The case also represents the first opportunity for the incoming Trump administration express an opinion on torture, since the future president could order the case’s dismissal on national security grounds.

NEW UTAH COUNTY RESOURCE CENTER FOR LGBT FAMILIES

Provo’s historic William D. Alexander House will soon be the home of Encircle, Utah County’s first resource center for LGBT families and youth. Founder and life-long Mormon Stephanie Larsen hopes the resource center will help families “rally around the LGBT child. If we can get families to have better conversations and be more supportive then they take that back to their neighborhoods and to their faith communities.” Larsen began planning Encircle after meeting with LGBT advocates one year ago, just after the LDS Church adopted a policy barring the children of gay couples from church membership until age 18 and labeling their married parents as “apostates.” In making plans for a resource center, Larsen noticed a change in how Mormons approach LGBT issues. “I think the policy has made people really personally think, ‘How do I feel?’ It’s brought up the discussion and made us ask: What would Christ do?” Larsen plans to open Encircle next year with a small staff including a social worker and a BYU-trained marriage and family therapist.

-news update by Steph Lauritzen