SEEKING God’s Presence

The Dopaminergic-Defense Hypothesis


  • John Hunter University of KwaZulu-Natal



psychological stress, dopamine, SEEKING system, mania, religious experience, reward


There is evidence that dopaminergic excitation contributes to certain religious experiences however, a natural mechanism by which hyperdopaminergia may be elicited in normative Christian contexts remains elusive. Panksepp’s dopamine-mediated “SEEKING system” offers a plausible endogenous defense against psychological stress, and is activated by rewarding stimuli, so it was hypothesized that significant psychological stress followed by social reward would prompt SEEKING arousal in most healthy individuals. Through a review of 121 data sources describing a prevalent “personal development” seminar – using deductive thematic analysis – it was found that participants endure significant psychological stress for days before it is replaced with love/acceptance/affirmation and that most participants experience a powerful affective state, with effects consistent with SEEKING arousal. Because contemplating one’s sinfulness may elicit acute psychological stress, and Christian salvation may provide a sense of love/acceptance/affirmation, a natural mechanism for stimulating SEEKING arousal, and inducing a religious experience, in a Christian context is conceived.


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How to Cite

Hunter, J. (2022). SEEKING God’s Presence: The Dopaminergic-Defense Hypothesis. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 8(1), 32–68.