“Behavioral addiction is the primary driver behind religiopolitical radicalization”
– Ahmed Khan
Neuroscience of religiosity
Religiopolitical radicalization from its earliest stages is a neurochemical phenomenon driven by (religion) behavioral addiction.
In 2004, American molecular geneticist Dean Hamer, director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda concluded after comparing more than 2,000 DNA samples that the human capacity to believe in religion is linked to brain chemicals. Hamer’s findings suggest religiosity is achieved through the brain’s electrical impulses.
With his team of community based professionals, Alcyone Technology Founder and CEO Ahmed Khan pioneered Canada’s first radicalization prevention program in 2006. Sayyid’s program consisted of three components:
a.) a twelve step psycho-social intervention,
b.) proliferation of a relevant counter-narrative,
c.) and neurobiological support.
According to Khan, global radicalization prevention programs require all three of these components to succeed. In his view, any radicalization prevention program which does not include a neurobiological support system in addition to its psycho-social intervention and counter-narrative program for its candidates cannot be accepted as being legitimate nor actually effective in preventing religiopolitical radicalization.
Khan founded Alcyone Technology and the ARD system to make his program and expertise available to organizations in North America, and around the globe.
According to a 2016 study published in the journal Social Neuroscience, religious and spiritual experiences are neurologically similar to the euphoria of love and of drug-taking, a team of neuroscientists has concluded.
The findings of this study validate Ahmed Khan’s successful approach to preventing radicalization from nearly a decade earlier.
The team, led by a University of Utah neuroradiologist Jeffrey Anderson, found that in a group of 19 young volunteers, the same reward-based neural systems associated with drug-taking were activated when the individuals were “feeling the spirit”. Specifically, the nucleus accumbens was repeatedly activated, an area of the brain that is key to the circuit of reward and reinforcement. The frontal attentional, linked to attention, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortical loci, associated with decision-making were also activated. Those with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortical loci have been shown to exhibit antisocial behaviour and have their moral judgement impaired.
The nucleus accumbens, and the reward system in general, are associated with addiction and the addictive triggers that tell the brain love and drug-taking are pleasurable and should be repeated.
Behavioral addiction: Addicted to religion
Religion addiction is the primary driver of religiopolitical radicalization. Religion addiction can be described as when the outward forms and other aspects of religion become life disabling. It is the ill-fitting grasp of the role of religion and God in one’s life and is a disability that can lead to isolation from others because one thinks God is constantly demanding, vengeful and punishing. Others who do not practice religion the same way are believed to be contaminating to the addicted person, and this belief fights the drive to what are considered historic descriptions of authentic religion. When combined with extremist religiopolitical narratives, religion addiction almost always leads to various forms of radicalization. Religion addiction does not produce anything of personal or social value and in fact is often dangerous and destructive.
Religion activates the reward circuits in our brains in a similar way to love, sex, gambling, drugs, junk food and music. These findings have been published in the journal Social Neuroscience.
Numerous studies now show religion has a neurological connection and is linked to the nucleus accumbens also referred to as the ‘reward centre’ which also controls feelings of addiction. Religious tendencies involve genes relating to the brain’s dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters. Religiosity is linked to dopamine activity in the prefrontal lobes. Changes in brain chemistry, specifically in dopamine levels, can also make people lose their dependence on destructive forms of religious stimuli for dopamine production similar to how addicts can recover from addictions.
A study of people with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) showed individuals with PD tend to lose interest in religion. Brain scans show this lack of interest coincides with changes in the prefrontal cortex.
Dopamine, like other neurotransmitters, moves between nerve cells in the brain to convey certain “messages.” It is released by one nerve cell and taken in by the receptors on the next nerve cell, some of which are D2. Unused dopamine is collected in “transporters” that return it to the sending cell.
Overload of dopamine gives the user of high levels of dopamine producing stimulants the “high.” But this dopamine overload also overwhelms the D2 receptors on the receiving cells, and those cells eventually react by reducing the number of D2 receptors. Drug researchers hypothesize that it is this change that creates a craving for cocaine: once the receptor level drops, more dopamine is needed for the user even to feel “normal” (NIDA. “Drugs, Brains, and Behaviour: The Science of Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1 Jul. 2014).
Researchers have found the reduction in dopamine type-2 receptors is not specific to substance addiction alone. Numerous studies have demonstrated religion can also increase dopamine levels and subsequently cause a reduction in the D2 receptors thereby forcing the religion addict to continuously seek out new forms of exciting religion and religiopolitical stimuli.
As the user of religiopolitical stimuli becomes accustomed to lesser extreme or thrilling forms of religion, their brain chemistry causes them to seek other more exciting and extreme forms of religiopolitical stimuli driving thereby radicalization.
‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’
Virtually every radicalized subject studied globally were found to have a common browsing history and social media pattern which drove their radicalization process. This commenced with lectures from a certain strain of clergy – significantly limiting outlets for socially acceptable pleasure producing behaviour like listening to music and fashion – to a gradual escalation in consumption of extremist religiopolitical stimuli climaxing with habituated viewing of killings, explosions and beheadings via the social media.
This is generally why so many radicalized individuals in the West tend to be new converts who are exposed to extremist ideology. Essentially, such individuals seek out alternative outlets for dopamine within their newly adapted paradigm which significantly limits their pleasure providing outlets, pushing individuals with a need for large amounts of dopamine to turn to dopamine stimulating extremist religiopolitical stimuli until they become addicts.
According to Khan, this drives their socially inexplicable, rapid ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ like transformation.
Alcyone Technology’s innovative approach through its comprehensive ARD system of neurobiological support, accompanied with a psycho-social intervention and counter-narrative messaging has helped prevent radicalization since 2006.
Ahmed Khan founded Alcyone Technology and the ARD system to make his program and expertise available to organizations in North America, and around the globe.
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