Tuesday, September 19, 2006


In an interview with Steve Paulson at Salon.com, self-described "neurotheologist" Andrew Newberg discusses what happens in the brain during prayer, meditation and mystical visions. Understanding the brain, Newberg argues, does not answer all questions on the nature of religious experience. Newberg's new book is Why We Believe What We Believe.

Hat tip: Kevin Wells of First Movers.


Anonymous FP said...

I am both intrigued and troubled by the article.

1) I'm intrigued because I think this type of study could confirm some classic observations about the connections between religious faith and human flourishing.

2) But I think it may also be used to set up some sort of pseudo-scientific measure of the validity or utility of religious experience. i.e., saying to a conscientious objector "you're brain regions didn't light up right! so you can't be sincere.)

3) Moreover, it participates in a general cultural trend toward reductionism. Consider this quote:

"I often get asked, could we just develop a drug that makes people spiritual? Well, that already exists. If you look at shamanic cultures throughout the world, many use different substances that don't diminish their experiences at all. It doesn't become just a drug-induced state that affects their physiology. It's their way of opening up their brain as a window into the spiritual realm."

It's easy to see how that kind of reasoning could lead into a popular misconception of religion as opiate of the people....much as sloppy sociobiology is sometimes invoked by promiscuous men who claim to be programmed for unfaithfulness.

9/21/2006 2:03 PM  

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