Time magazine has an interesting article on the neuroscience of spiritual experience and why religious belief has been linked to better health.
It’s not the most gripping article in the world and starts with some annoying experience = brain area phrenology but it does gives a good overview of some of the main research areas.
Probably the most interesting aspect is where it tackles the link between religious belief and health in light of other belief based health benefits such as the placebo effect or beliefs about illness itself.
The section on the effects of prayer also has this fascinating snippet about early experimental psychologist Francis Galton:
As long ago as 1872, Francis Galton, the man behind eugenics and fingerprinting, reckoned that monarchs should live longer than the rest of us, since millions of people pray for the health of their King or Queen every day. His research showed just the opposite ‚Äî no surprise, perhaps, given the rich diet and extensive leisure that royal families enjoy.
Studies on the curative properties of prayer have a long and interesting history, with one of the most striking moments also linked to a psychologist and an (in)famous study – discussed in a 2002 Wired article.
Link to Time article ‘The Biology of Belief’.