The topic of “Neurotheology” has garnered increasing attention in the academic, religious, scientific, and popular worlds. However, there have been no attempts at exploring more specifically how Jewish religious thought and experience may intersect with neurotheology. The Rabbi’s Brain engages this groundbreaking area. Topics included relate to a neurotheological approach to the foundational beliefs that arise from the Torah and associated scriptures, Jewish learning, an exploration of the different elements of Judaism (i.e. reform, conservative, and orthodox), an exploration of specifically Jewish practices (i.e. Davening, Sabbath, Kosher), and a review of Jewish mysticism. The Rabbi’s Brain engages these topics in an easy to read style and integrates the scientific, religious, philosophical, and theological aspects of the emerging field of neurotheology. By reviewing the concepts in a stepwise, simple, yet thorough discussion, readers regardless of their background will be able to understand the complexities and breadth of neurotheology from the Jewish perspective. More broadly, issues will include a review of the neurosciences and neuroscientific techniques; religious and spiritual experiences; theological development and analysis; liturgy and ritual; epistemology, philosophy, and ethics; and social implications, all from the Jewish perspective.
Religion is often cast in opposition to science. Yet both are deeply rooted in the inner workings of the human brain. With the advent of the modern cognitive neurosciences, the scientific study of religious and spiritual phenomena has become far more sophisticated and wide-ranging. What might brain scans of people in prayer, in meditation, or under the influence of psychoactive substances, for instance, show us about religious and spiritual beliefs? Are religious and spiritual phenomena reducible to brain processes? Or might there be aspects of religion and spirituality that, at least for now, appear to transcend scientific claims?
In this book, Andrew Newberg explores the latest findings of neurotheology, the multidisciplinary field linking neuroscience with religious and spiritual phenomena. He investigates some of the most controversial—and potentially transformative—implications of a neurotheological approach for the truth claims of religion and our understanding of minds and brains. Andrew leads readers on a tour through key intersections of neuroscience and theology, including the potential evolutionary basis of religion; the psychology of religion, including mental-health and brain pathology; the neuroscience of myths, rituals, and mystical experiences; how studies of altered states of consciousness shed new light on the mind-brain relationship; what neurotheology can tell us about free will; and the limitations of what science can say about our religious and spiritual experience of reality. When brain science and religious experience are considered together in an integrated approach, Andrew shows, we might come closer to a fuller understanding of the deepest questions.
Praise for the Book
“A tour de force on this emerging field. This book provides a superb review of the science to date, and shows the many directions neurotheology may go in the future. This book raises profound implications for neuroscience, medicine, theology, and philosophy. Fascinating and clearly written and accessible for everyone. Truly mind-blowing.”
— Harold Koenig, Duke University Medical Center
“This book offers the promise that ‘neurotheology’ can help move us beyond the conflict between science and religion toward the truth, or at least to a more unified and universal perspective on the interface between spirituality and the brain. Neurotheology covers many potential points of contact between science and religion, acknowledges the existence of complexity and the dangers of simple reductionism, and presents clear information on the capabilities and limitations of various forms of neurological assessment.
— John Peteet, Harvard Medical School
“In Neurotheology, Andrew Newberg discusses the possibility of a fruitful dialogue between neuroscience and religion and that this sort of investigation may have profound impact in how we see spirituality, ourselves, and life. A world expert in neuroimaging study of spiritual experiences, Newberg proposes a non-dogmatic approach to the scientific study of spirituality, and successfully advocates for fruitful exchanges between science and religion.”
— Alexander Moreira-Almeida, Federal University of Juiz de Fora
In this original and groundbreaking book, Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman turn their attention to the pinnacle of the human experience: enlightenment. Through his brain- scan studies on Brazilian psychic mediums, Sufi mystics, Buddhist meditators, Franciscan nuns, Pentecostals, and participants in secular spirituality rituals, Andrew has discovered the specific neurological mechanisms associated with the enlightenment experience—and how we might activate those circuits in our own brains.
In his survey of more than one thousand people who have experienced enlightenment, Andrew has also discovered that in the aftermath they have had profound, positive life changes. Enlightenment offers us the possibility to become permanently less stress-prone, to break bad habits, to improve our collaboration and creativity skills, and to lead happier, more satisfying lives. Relaying the story of his own transformational experience as well as including the stories of others who try to describe an event that is truly indescribable, Andrew brings us a new paradigm for deep and lasting change.
Praise for the Book
“I love every book I have read from Andy Newberg and Mark Waldman and this book is their best yet. How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain is a book you just can’t put down. It will show you how enlightenment is real with clear underpinnings in the brain. From looking at the brains of Brazilian psychic mediums, Sufi mystics, Buddhist monks, Franciscan nuns and Pentecostals this books takes you on a fascinating ride and shines a light on wisdom and insight. If you want to know more about the deeply human and spiritual parts of your brain, read this book.”
— Daniel G. Amen, M.D., founder, Amen Clinics, author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life
"An incredible book! Newberg and Waldman’s “Spectrum of Human Awareness” is especially brilliant, providing the reader with a “how-to” map to shift between different states of human consciousness. They have dozens of experiential exercises to help you gain greater emotional control as you tap into the creative wisdom of your mind. Read it, apply it, and be enlightened!"
— John Assaraf, chairman & CEO of NeuroGym, author of The New York Times bestseller The Answer
"This extraordinary book shows you how to tap into mental powers you never knew you had, and release your full potential for living a great life."
— Brian Trac, author of Maximum Achievement
"Humans were experiencing enlightenment millennia before fMRI brain scanners were invented. Yet, modern imaging techniques unquestionably add to the fascination of the correlations between consciousness and brain function. Newberg and Waldman's book brings these findings up to date. How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain is a feast for anyone interested in the neurophysiology of the spiritual quest."
— Larry Dossey, M.D., author of One Mind: How Our Individual Mind Is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters
How are philosophical and theological concepts conceived in the mind? Why are certain topics of greater importance to philosophers and theologians? Why do people think about these issues in the first place? These are the questions that are explored in the ground breaking book The Metaphysical Mind.
Philosophy and theology usually considers various fundamental concepts such as those related to being, reality, causality, logic, or phenomenology. But the philosophical approach to these topics often leaves out one of the most important things—the human brain. After all, it is the brain that is actually thinking about these ideas in the first place. The Metaphysical Mind explores the relationship between the brain and philosophical thought and helps us to understand how the brain enables and restricts our ability to think about these metaphysical concepts.
One of the major developments of contemporary thought has been the field of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics considers the environmental, linguistic, and cultural factors that influence a given philosopher in order to determine how particular ideas or texts may have been shaped. However, no one has ever examined philosophical and theological thought specifically from the hermeneutical perspective of the neurobiological and genetic substrate that underlies such thinking. This “neuroscientific hermeneutic” or “neurohermeneutic” refers specifically to the functions of the brain and how they are related to various thought processes which have been at the cornerstone of philosophical and theological thought throughout history. Additionally, this neurohermeneutic helps to better interpret how and why such thoughts develop. Neurohermeneutics is based upon a synthesis of information from multiple fields including anthropology, neurophysiology, cognitive neuroscience, genetics, theology, and philosophy.
Many of the major milestones in the history of philosophical and theological thought from pre-Socratic thinkers to the present day can be considered from the perspective of the functioning of the human mind and its multimodal interaction with the social, cultural, intellectual, and physical environment. In particular, the development of some of the most dramatic concepts in philosophy and theology can be considered in relation to certain brain functions and how those functions enable human beings to interpret meaning in the world. Similarly, contemplative/meditative traditions can be considered to be associated with certain brain functions in order to explore how such experiences are perceived and interpreted.
This book will also consider the issue of the experience of reality from a neurophysiological perspective. This leads to fascinating conclusions regarding the nature and degrees of reality and how the brain experiences that reality. Although not all philosophical and theological concepts will be examined, many of the major movements will be considered in order to extrapolate to the notion that a neurobiological hermeneutic may provide a basis and fundamental bias for all philosophical thinking—a “metaphilosophy” (or “metatheology” in the specific context of religion). Ultimately, this approach might even lead to a “megaphilosophy” containing universal concepts that could be conceived of from any philosophical or theological perspective.
The result of this analysis leads to a description of the "metaphysical mind" which is necessarily driven to pursue philosophical and theological questions, but also shapes how the answers to such questions arise. Thus, the brain itself is “designed” to function in a philosophical or metaphysical manner. This revolutionary approach to philosophical and theological thought will provide readers something to think about for the millennium to come.
In groundbreaking research, Andrew, working with Mark Robert Waldman, has discovered a valuable strategy called “Compassionate Communication.” In 12 clear steps, it allows us to create a special bond with whomever we are speaking, a bond that aligns our brains to work together as one. In this unique state—free from conflict and distrust—we can communicate more effectively, listen more deeply, collaborate without effort, and succeed more quickly at any task.
Using data collected from MBA students, couples in therapy, and caregivers, Andrew and Mark have seen again and again that Compassionate Communication repositions a difficult conversation for a satisfying conclusion. Whether you are negotiating with your boss or your employees, arguing with your spouse, or coping with your kids, Compassionate Communication is a simple and unbeatable way to achieve a win-win dialogue to help you reach your goals.
“Neurotheology” has garnered substantial attention in recent years. Several books have been written addressing the relationship between the brain and religious experience and numerous scholarly articles have been published on the topic, some in the popular press. The scientific and religious communities have been very interested in obtaining more information regarding neurotheology, how to approach this topic, and how science and religion can be integrated in some manner that preserves both.
If neurotheology is to be considered a viable field going forward, it requires a set of clear principles that can be generally agreed upon and supported by both the theological or religious perspective and the scientific one. Andrew sets out the necessary principles, which can be used as a foundation for future neurotheological discourse. Laying the groundwork for a new synthesis of scientific and theological dialogue, this book proposes that neurotheology, a term fraught with potential problems, is a highly useful and important voice in the greater study of religious and theological ideas and their intersection with science.
Based on new evidence culled from their brain-scan studies on memory patients and meditators, their web-based survey of people's religious and spiritual experiences, and their analyses of adult drawings of God, Andrew and therapist Mark Robert Waldman, and their research team, have concluded that active and positive spiritual belief changes the human brain for the better. What's more, actual faith isn't always necessary: atheists who meditate on positive imagery can obtain similar neurological benefits. Written in an accessible style—with illustrations highlighting how spiritual experiences affect the mind—How God Changes Your Brain offers the following breakthrough discoveries:
• Not only do prayer and spiritual practice reduce stress and anxiety, but just 12 minutes of meditation per day may slow down the aging process.
• Contemplating a loving God rather than a punitive God reduces anxiety, depression, and stress, and increases feelings of security, compassion, and love.
• Fundamentalism, in and of itself, is benign and can be personally beneficial, but the anger and prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain.
• Intense prayer and meditation permanently change numerous structures and functions in the brain—altering your values and the way you perceive reality.
How God Changes Your Brain is both a revelatory work of modern science and a practical guide for readers to enhance their physical and emotional health and to avoid mental decline. Andrew and Mark explain the eight best ways to "exercise" your brain and guide readers through specific routines derived from a wide variety of Eastern and Western spiritual practices that improve personal awareness and empathy. They explain why yawning heightens consciousness and relaxation, and they teach "Compassionate Communication," a new mediation technique that builds intimacy with family and friends in less than 15 minutes of practice.
Where do our beliefs come from, and why do we hold on to some of them even if there is evidence to the contrary? Why, for example, do we continue to be fascinated by God, religion, haunted houses, UFOs, conspiracy theories, and miracle cures, even when science can dispute many of these claims? Is it because we are uneducated, or are our brains designed to interpret and seek out such possibilities in the world? Simply put: Why do we believe what we believe?
In Why We Believe What We Believe, Andrew focuses on the underlying mechanisms that govern our spiritual, social, and individual beliefs, arguing that we are biologically driven to find meaning and wholeness throughout our lives. In fact, our brains have the capacity to create and maintain a system of beliefs that can take us far beyond our survival-oriented needs. These belief systems not only shape our morals and ethics, but they can be harnessed to heal our bodies and minds, enhance our intimate relationships, and deepen our spiritual connections with others. However, they can also be used to manipulate and control, for we are also born with a biological propensity to impose our belief systems on others. This innate power of our beliefs to heal or injure, to foster happiness or disease, or generate societal friction or peace is the underlying theme of this book.
Based upon his neurological research (including new studies with Franciscan nuns, atheists, and evangelicals speaking in tongues), Andrew correlates a wide range of human beliefs with specific perceptual, social, and biological factors. He argues that some beliefs can enhance our physical and emotional well-being while others can function destructively, not only upon one’s self, but upon society as well. Although our beliefs are rooted in the biology of the brain, Andrew emphasizes that they are equally shaped by parents, peers, and society. In the end, a better understanding of beliefs can foster a more compassionate perspective on people who hold other beliefs and point the direction toward a more positive life and society.
What can account for the amazing staying power of religion? Why, exactly, won’t God go away?
Most secular thinkers believe that religion is an entirely psychological invention—born out of confusion and fear—to help us cope with the struggles of living and comfort us in the face of the terrible certainty that we will die. But Andrew and Eugene d’Aquili offer a new explanation, at once profoundly simple and scientifically precise: the religious impulse is rooted in the biology of the human brain.
Andrew and Eugene base this revolutionary conclusion on a long-term investigation of brain function and behavior as well as studies they conducted using high-tech imaging techniques to peer into the brains of meditating Buddhists and Franciscan nuns at prayer. What they discovered was that intensely focused spiritual contemplation triggers an alteration in the activity of the brain that leads one to perceive transcendent religious experiences as solid, tangible reality. In other words, the sensation that Buddhists call “oneness with the universe” and the Franciscans attribute to the palpable presence of God is not a delusion, or subjective psychology, or simple wishful thinking. The inescapable conclusion is that God seems to be hard-wired into the human brain.
In Why God Won’t Go Away, Andrew and Eugene document their pioneering explorations in the field of neurotheology, an emerging discipline dedicated to understanding the complex relationship between spirituality and the brain. Sadly, Eugene died in August of 1998, leaving Andrew to continue their groundbreaking research and to contemplate such essential questions as whether humans are biologically compelled to make myths, what is the evolutionary connection between religious ecstasy and sexual orgasm, can research on near-death experiences tell us anything about the realness of spiritual phenomena, how does ritual create its own neurological environment, and have we found a common biological origin of all religions?
And finally, there is the compelling and overarching question: Is religion merely a product of biology—a neurological illusion—or does the very fact that our brains function in such a curious way argue that God is not only real, but reachable? In simpler terms: Is God created by, or the Creator of, the brain?
These questions and more resonate at the heart of Why God Won’t Go Away. Challenging in its presentation of cutting-edge brain science, yet accessible and engaging, Why God Won’t Go Away brims with illuminating insights into the nature of consciousness, the mystifying mechanics of perception, the neurological basis of human emotions, and the miraculous manner in which the brain tells us what is real.
Resting on a firm foundation of solid empirical data, this nevertheless is a book about mystery. As Andrew followed the trail of empirical data, laboring to understand the deepest implications of his research, he found himself led to a place where intellectual analysis wasn’t sufficient, where objective reality didn’t seem so solid, and where the borderline between the world of science and the realm of the spirit is not such a clear one after all.
Why God Won’t Go Away bridges faith and reason, mysticism and empirical data. As Andrew takes us on an exploration of the awe-inspiring organ inside our skulls, we find echoes of the infinite buried within its convoluted folds, and we ponder a compelling and surprising explanation for the transcendent tenacity of God.
How does the mind experience the sacred? What biological mechanisms are involved in mystical states and trances? Is there a neurological basis for patterns in comparative religions? Does religion have an evolutionary function?
This pioneering work by Andrew and Eugene d’Aquili explores the neurophysiology of religious experience. Mapping the basic functions of the brain, the authors focus on structures most relevant to human experience, emotion, and cognition. On this basis, they plot how the brain is involved in mystical experiences. Successive chapters employ this understanding to explore myth-making, ritual and liturgy, meditation, near-death experiences, and theology itself. Original, daring, and widely acclaimed, the authors’ research bears exciting implications for philosophy, science, theology, and the future of religion itself.