I would like to thank ISSR for inviting me to write a little about my latest book titled: Neurotheology: How Science Can Enlighten Us About Spirituality. I am very excited about this book from Columbia Press as it helps to circumscribe the current state of the field of neurotheology. Of course, part of the hope of this book is to help establish neurotheology as a field by reviewing the current scholarship, both scientific and spiritual, and help demonstrate how an interdisciplinary approach might help us address some of the great questions that have challenged humanity since our origins. First, I think mapping some of the territory is an important thing to do here. This is a blog piece after all, an invitation to look further and deeper.
To me, the fundamental question is: How do we know what reality is and how can we be certain that our brain provides a reasonable representation of reality? But there are many additional questions that arise such as: how can we determine why some people are devoutly religious while others are complete atheists? Can we determine the beneficial and detrimental effects of religion on the health and well-being of individuals, societies, and all of humanity? How can we explain the tenacity of religion in virtually every culture and age? Can we determine what religious experiences are “normal” and which “abnormal”? Can we better determine the profound impact of spiritual and mystical experiences on a person’s life? Is there a new path we might take that can provide novel insights into the nature of our world and the nature of reality?
As someone involved in the field of neurotheology for the past 20 years, I feel like we are at the beginning of a journey to understand ourselves and to utilise the two primary forces that have shaped human history: science and technology, on one hand; and religion and spirituality, on the other.
The problem with religion and science, as so many people have pointed out, is that they seem generally oppositional to each other. One is empirical, the other doctrinal. One is objective, the other subjective. Of course, the oppositional relationship between religion and science seems validated in many circumstances such as in the battle between evolution vs creationism.
Although there sometimes seems to be little room for mutual interaction, these two forces do not necessarily have to be oppositional. In ancient times, they were intimately intertwined. And it would seem that the human brain is an outstanding meeting place in which to seek common ground. In this book I argue that there may be a useful way in which science and religion might come together, at least in small ways, that might lay the foundation for greater cooperation in the future.
I will argue that neurotheology might just be such an approach. After all, no matter how one looks at it, the brain is essential for both science and religion. And this just might be the intersection we need to more fully understand our world and our place within it. Perhaps by combining science and religion in the field of neurotheology, we can better develop science. Scientific studies in neurotheology challenge current methods and techniques for evaluating the brain, the mind, and consciousness. In fact, neurotheology has at its foundation, the important goal of helping to better understand and define concepts such as these. The methods and techniques that are required for neurotheology might push scientific discovery to its limits. Neurotheology can also contribute to our understanding of religion and spirituality as well. We might understand how and why the human brain labels something as religious or spiritual. In the book, I touch on many topics central to neurotheology including definitions, methodology, neurophysiology of religious and spiritual practices, religion and health, free will, and neurophenomenology. Each of these topics could represent books in and of themselves, but my hope is to provide readers with ideas and concepts that they can utilize in their own domains and their own exploration of the “big” questions.
And as I optimistically state:
“Neurotheology might (emphasis on “might”) even be able to do something that few other fields can. It might be able to provide a path, through a combination of scientific and the spiritual means, that can help people find meaning, purpose, and wisdom in their own lives.”
I hope each of you will consider looking through this book and I would greatly appreciate feedback, both positive and negative. We all have a lot to think about and learn. And the more we can bring different voices into the discussion, especially from a diversity of fields, the more robust this area of scholarship can become. I think everyone has an opportunity to help develop this field and there are so many directions each one of us can take this work. Here is hoping that the future is wide open.
Andrew’s book, Neurotheology, How Science Can Enlighten Us About Spirituality, can be purchased here: