by Leah Fontaine
In chapter 9 of The Encultured Brain, Rachel S. Brezis talks about her study looking at religious relationships in autistic youth raised in a Jewish family. She begins her chapter by discussing why her study is important and unique from those around it by pointing out that she is looking at neurological diversity rather than cultural diversity. She soon brings up a paper by Jesse M. Bering on the Theory of Mind, our capability to empathize and understand those around us. A leading theme in autistic research has been that all those on the spectrum lack this Theory of Mind. However, Brezis’s study refutes this and uses religion as her basis for understanding if someone possessed the theory.
Brezis includes a section talking about autism where she details the three main themes when patients are being diagnosed. The first centers around social interaction and any inability when dealing with it. The second is any disruption in language or communication. The third has to do with the need for a routine and therefore an inability to both handle and perform spontaneously. The also brings up one of the leading discoveries in autism research suggests a lack of connectivity throughout the brain as a whole. After looking into several other theories about autism, she does take a step back to remind that the emic perspective of autistic people shouldn’t be silenced in this research. This emic theme continues throughout the rest of her chapter.
Throughout the rest of the chapter, Brezis details and describes her study, but does so in a much more scientific way that in a religious studies way. Her perspective on religion only goes as far as the Abrahamic religions which is a problem in many western studies. She defines her criteria for religion which is helpful in understanding what she is looking for, but it doesn’t mitigate the fact that she doesn’t acknowledge that she is only using the word religion or religious as being god centric. However, she finds that at least two of the autistic young adults that she studies have some form of personal connection with God. She uses this to show that some people with autism do have the ability to have a self and reflect on it despite Bering’s theory that they couldn’t. Brezis only studied those who were high functioning however, and there was little discussion on how wide of a spectrum autism covers.
This chapter was an interesting read and I agree with Brezis’s assertion that this research should be continued, but there were many flaws and components left out of the study that leave gaping holes of understanding. She neglects to give any comparison to how autistic individuals relationships and understanding differ from those in their community. In a religion such a Judaism that doesn’t inforces practice over belief, the rates of how deep others in the community feel on religion should have been included in this study as it was one of the reason for picking it. While I think what Brezis finds is important and should be further looked into, I don’t believe her study has much weight because of the missing components.
- What elements did you think were missing from this study either from a scientific perspective or a cultural one?
- In what ways do you think this could further understanding in autism research and categorization of disabilities?