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SACRED or NEURAL?: Neuroscientific Explanations of Religious Experience: A Philosophical Evaluation
Uppsala University, Humanistisk-samhällsvetenskapliga vetenskapsområdet, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology, Ethics and Philosophy of Religion.
2004 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Neuroscientists place different explanations at our disposal of what religious experiences are. 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 similar to all human experiences. Can neuroscientists contribute in answering the question whether religious experiences are sacred or neural? Can they provide the answer to the questions whether God exists and somehow, by way of our brain, communicates with us or whether human beings are, to describe it with Lewis Caroll’s famous words “nothing but a pack of neurons” and God is merely a product of neural activity? This thesis is a critical philosophical investigation of a selection of neuroscientific research on religious experience performed by Michael Persinger and Andrew Newberg and Eugene d’Aquili. The purpose of the research project is to clarify which religious experiences neuroscientists are able to measure by way of today’s neuroscientific methods, to analyze and to critically evaluate Persinger’s and Newberg and d’Aquili’s research performed on religious experiences and to find a possible way to develop tenable explanatory models for religious experience. The problem and the core question of this research project is: In what way and to what extent can neuroscientists explain religious experience? It was shown that neuroscientists can explain religious experiences in a methodologically restricted way and to a methodologically limited extent. However, neuroscientists may or may not agree. Newberg and d’Aquili do. Persinger, however, does not. Rather, he believes that he explained religious experience to an exhaustive extent. In the authors view, Newberg and d’Aquili could extend their exploratory model by adding to it the expertise of, for example, sociologists, theologians, philosophers of religion, ethicist and psychologists. The author argues that such model could be fruitful to broaden the understanding of religious experiences, even if the religious experiences that can currently be studied by neuroscience are limited. Even if only selections of the studies performed on religious experiences by two neuroscientific research teams is considered, the result of the study may be regarded as a basis for analyzing and evaluating the statements claimed in similar research.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Etik och Religionsfilosofi , 2004. , 280 p.
Keyword [en]
Philosophy of religion, Neuroscience, Neurotheology, Persinger, d'Aquili, Newberg, neuroimaging technology, epilepsy, meditation, explanatory models, reductionism, religious experience, science and theology
Keyword [sv]
Religionsfilosofi
National Category
Religious Studies
Research subject
Philosophy of Religion
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-4718OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-4718DiVA: diva2:165572
Public defence
2004-12-10, IX, University Building, Uppsala, 10:15
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2004-11-18 Created: 2004-11-18Bibliographically approved

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