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Sacred or neural?: The potential of neuroscience to explain religious experience
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology, Studies in Faith and Ideologies, Philosophy of Religion. (Science and Religion)
2007 (English)Book (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Are religious experiences, experiences of God or Ultimate Reality are religious experiences merely a product of the human nervous system? In other words, are religious experiences sacred or merely neural? The starting point for this philosophical analysis has been that today, neuroscientists place different explanations at our disposal concerning what religious experiences are and what causes these experiences. For instance, some neuroscientists explain religious experiences in terms of consequences of a damaged, malfunctioning or mentally deranged brain. Others explain them in terms of existential crises. Again other neuroscientists maintain that religious experiences are correlated with the brain as do all human experiences. As the title reveals, the purpose of Sacred or Neural is to investigate the potential of contemporary neuroscientists to explain religious experiences. Therefore, the author particularly analyses and evaluates the research performed on religious experiences of the Canadian neuropsychologist Michael Persinger and the American neurologist Andrew Newberg and his fellow researcher, the late Eugene d’Aquili. The main question asked is in what way and to what extent can neuroscientists explain religious experience? To answer this question, the author establishes specific criteria for when an experience can be considered to be a religious one, she suggests models for how religious experiences can be explained interdisciplinary and presents erroneous and accurate ways of reduction. Her conclusion is that neuroscientists can explain religious experiences in a methodologically restricted way and to a methodologically limited extent. However, also philosophical and theological explanations are limited by their methods. To put it differently, as soon as we explain something, we have to reduce this something in some manner or to some extent, regardless academic discipline. Religious experiences are not sacred OR neural, but sacred AND neural. Hence there is a quest for interdisciplinarity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht , 2007. , 240 p.
, Religion, Theologie und Naturwissenschaft , 9
Keyword [en]
Neuroscience, neurotheology, Persinger, d'Aquili, Newberg, neuroimaging technology, epilepsy, meditation, explanatory models, reductionism, religious experience, science and theology
National Category
Religious Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-76502ISBN: 978-3-525-56980-1ISBN: 3-525-56980-7OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-76502DiVA: diva2:104414
The book has been launched at the AAR 2006 Nov. 2006Available from: 2006-11-27 Created: 2006-11-27Bibliographically approved

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