This is your brain on religion

Saachi Datta is combining her passion for religion and science on her path to becoming a physician.

“Science and religion are just trying to explain the world,” Saachi Datta says. “People need different devices to live, grapple with bigger questions, and try to explain the phenomena of existence.”

Saachi Datta
Saachi Datta. (Image: Omnia)

Datta, wants to be a physician. Her religious studies and biology majors prepare her for that, while also deepening lifelong passions. Recently, she co-authored a peer-reviewed article that combined her interests and found that in patients with neurodegenerative diseases, positive religious coping behaviors correlate with better health outcomes than those experienced by patients with coping behaviors negatively influenced by religion (e.g. holding a punitive view of religion) as well as those with nonreligious coping behaviors.

“I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world, and one of my favorite feelings is like a magical tingling of excitement as I walk into an ancient temple or church,” Datta says. “It’s something I’ve never been able to explain, but at Penn I’ve been able to gain in-depth knowledge about the history and traditions of ancient cultures. Majoring in religious studies was never even a question.

“But then I've also always been fascinated with science and the human body,” she continues. “I think it's the most intricate machine out there. Every single class I've taken has expanded my knowledge and this made me even more interested.”

Religion and science often seem opposed in cultural and political debates, but Datta knows that learning about cultures other than her own and respecting the role of religion and spirituality in people’s lives will allow her to be a more empathetic, effective caregiver. And, she explains, the idea that religion and science are in opposition to each other is a relatively new concept.

This story is by Lauren Rebecca Thacker. Read more at Omnia.