The Science of Glossolalia

After this week’s Alpha Day Away and some discussions that came up this past week because of the upcoming event, I decided to re-post on old blog post from last year about the science of glossolalia or “speaking in tongues.”  Speaking, praying and singing in tongues is probably one of the most talked about subjects whenever the infilling of the Holy Spirit is mentioned, so it is always refreshing when we can find extra-biblical evidence to support what we contend is a very biblical activity.  This post was originally written on March 4th, 2012 at

While prepping this week’s sermon, (March 11, 2012)  I was once again inundated with research that just can’t reasonably fit into a Sunday morning.  Now, our church is extremely patient with me, I’m afraid that my sermons never stay within the politically correct 30-minute “pocket sermon,” and for that I am very grateful – thanks everyone!  So it should be somewhat encouraging to them that there are things that I leave out of the message, although I am very tempted at times just to make it into a sequel, but so far I’ve held back.

This week’s sermon treating the Kingdom of God within us, as opposed to in our city which we talked about last Sunday, opens the door to the discussion of God’s very real power and omnipotence through the expression of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  I am one that believes that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is often a second experience after salvation, although it does not always have to be.  But this is not a discussion of that, there is a previous post on that, what I would like to share here is the large amount of scientific research that has been done on the gift of “glossoloalia,” or speaking in tongues.  I was frankly quite surprised by the large amount of research that has been done.  I know full well that there are many people who oppose the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues which seems to get a lot of people riled up.  However, there are some interesting studies that have been done and which deserve some of our attention.  I will list them below with links for anyone who would like to do more reading on the subject, some of the research require purchasing the paper, but the summaries alone are informative.

1.  The Influence of the Charismatic Movement on Local Church Life: A Comparative Study Among Anglican Rural, Urban and Suburban Churches; “This study employs multiple regression analysis to examine the influence of the charismatic movement on three samples of Anglican churches: 1,553 churches in villages and rural communities, 983 churches in urban communities, and 584 churches in suburban communities. The data demonstrate that the charismatic movement has taken root among Anglicans most securely in urban environments and least securely in rural environments. In all three environments the charismatic movement is associated with positive signs of church growth.

2. Are Charismatic Clergy more satisfied with their ministry?  A study among male parochial clergy in the Church of England by Leslie Francis “A sample of 1,276 male stipendiary parochial clergy working in the Church of England completed the Revised Ministerial Job Satisfaction Scale and an index of charismatic involvement, together with the short-form Revised Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. After controlling for age and personality, charismatic clergy record higher levels of job satisfaction in comparison with clergy not influenced by the charismatic movement.”

3. Personality and Glossolalia: A Study Among Male Evangelical Clergy by Leslie Francis   “A sample of 991 male clergy affiliated with the Evangelical Alliance in the United Kingdom completed the short-form Revised Eysenck Personality Questionnaire, together with a question regarding the practice of glossolalia. The data demonstrated that glossolalia was correlated positively with extraversion, correlated negatively with neuroticism, and unrelated to psychoticism.  Glossolalia was associated with stable extraversion, and contrary to some theories, completely unrelated to psychopathology.”

4.  Psychological type profile of Lead Elders within the Newfrontiers network of churches in the United Kingdom by Leslie Francis, “The study shows that Newfrontiers Lead Elders display slight preferences for extraversion over introversion, for sensing over intuition, and for thinking over feeling, and a strong preference for judging over perceiving. These findings contrast with the profile of Church of England clergymen who prefer introversion over extraversion, intuition over sensing, and feeling over thinking, but who also display a less pronounced preference for judging over perceiving.”  Psychological type profile of Lead Elders within the Newfrontiers network of churches in the United Kingdom

5.  Psychological type preferences of male British Assemblies of God Bible College students: tough-minded or tender-hearted? by Leslie Francis “The finding that the current sample of male British Assemblies of God bible college students prefers thinking suggests that thinking types within the Christian churches may find their preferences better nurtured and utilized among denominations like the British Assemblies of God. Put another way, the finding suggests that those attracted to the Pentecostal and charismatic movement have a disposition to utilise thinking for making decisions and organising their lives. This preference for thinking highlights a number of points of potential strength in the British Assemblies of God. Members of this denomination with well-developed thinking preferences may exercise skill in using logical judgement, for example, in the area of discerning and interpreting spiritual gifts. Likewise, thinking types within the British Assemblies of God may be able to apply objective criteria impersonally to problem-solving when dealing with moral issues. They may have the tough-minded and self-disciplined attitude which enables them to act with integrity in the face of temptation.”  Psychological type preferences of male British Assemblies of God Bible College students: tough-minded or tender-hearted?

6. Features associated with speaking in tongues (Glossolalia) by Brian Grady. “Glossolalia was reported by those who practised it to be a frequent, usually daily occurrence, more likely to happen out of religious settings than in them. It was reported to be more likely while driving, relaxing or engaged in domestic activities (thus in relatively private settings), than in explicitly religious contexts or activities. Typically the emotions reported are  positive, calm ones, or sometimes “no particular” emotions.  Glossolalia was described as a spiritually helpful part of daily life, and as a (powerful) form of prayer. This “profile” of glossolalia is surprising, challenging the general view of glossolalia which is well encapsulated by the control group. There is no reason to suppose that the informants were atypical of white, British, Pentecostal Christians, but clearly information from a larger number of informants from a wider range of charismatic and Pentecostal groups would be important.  Those had not practised glossolalia saw it differently. These differences were more pronounced among those who had not even witnessed glossolalia (the controls). The non-glossolalics believed that glossolalia occurs less than daily, and that it normally occurs in religious settings and while engaged in religious activities, that it is accompanied by high-arousal, usually positive emotions (ecstasy and the like), and that its salient social meanings and functions are in promoting unity among church members…. A possible implication is that there are two forms of glossolalia, the public and the private. Private glossolalia may be practised by adept “speakers” – so there is hypothetical developmental sequence, in which “speaking” in public is mastered first. It is features of public glossolalia which are observable to others, and it is features of public glossolalia which may appear in forms of psychopathology.”  Features associated with speaking in tongues

7. The measurement of regional cerebral blood flow during glossolalia: A preliminary SPECT study by Andrew Newberg “It is interesting that the frontal lobes showed decreased perfusion during glossolalia, but this is consistent with the subjects’ description of a lack of intentional control over the performance of glossolalia… We have previously argued, and found, decreased activity in the SPL (superior parietal lobe) during meditation in which there is a described loss of the sense of self.  However, glossolalia was not associated with a loss of the sense of self and there were no  significant decreases in the SPL…  That there were changes in several brain structures suggests that there is complex brain activity during this unusual practice.”  The Measurement of regional blood flow during glossolalia: A prelim SPECT study and NY Times

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