Does God exist? Do we have a soul? Is it possible to make contact with a spiritual realm? How should we respond to the divine? Will life continue beyond death?
Whether you are a deeply religious person, a spiritual seeker, or one who has come to doubt or disbelieve in a spiritual power, you have probably pondered these questions and at least begun to answer them for yourself. In fact, archaeological and historical records show that even the earliest humans were aware of a spiritual realm and developed religious practices as a result.
One of humanity’s most awesome forces, the spread and practice of religion has exerted a profoundly outsized effect on individuals and entire civilizations, altering the course of history. The religious impulse is so powerfully pervasive that neuroscience has posed a provocative question: Are our brains wired to worship?
In The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience, award-winning scholar and practicing neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg, Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, offers you 24 riveting lectures that explore the new and exciting field of neurotheology, a discipline aimed at understanding the connections between our brains and different kinds of religious phenomena. Using an academic, experimental approach into what he calls “objective measures of spirituality,” Dr. Newberg attempts to explain what others have previously only guessed at: the neuroscientific basis for why religion and spirituality have played such a prominent role in human life.
Spirituality through a Scientific Lens
How do religious experiences originate? What is their meaning? And why does religion play such a huge role in human experience? In this captivating course, you will peer directly into the seat of all human thought and action as you experience a leading researcher delve into the relationship between brain function and spirituality.
Dr. Newberg grounds The Spiritual Brain in the context of the brain’s neurophysiological structure and religious development from infancy through late adulthood. You’ll discover how the brain and spirituality appear to develop in parallel throughout a person’s life span, tracking through different stages of religious awareness. You’ll also learn
- how the various parts and systems of the human brain work together to create and sustain different beliefs about the world;
- the ways in which religious beliefs and practices have measurable, biological effects on the individuals who hold and engage in them; and
- why the increasing neuroscientific data help us to better understand how God, religion, and spirituality may be inextricably intertwined with ongoing brain development.
Now, after millennia of human devotion to the divine, neuroscience is beginning to disclose the relationship between religion and the brain by providing answers to questions that have long eluded us. Or have they? Could this modern discipline actually be reinforcing some of our most cherished beliefs?
New Insights into That Old Time Religion
A leading researcher in neurotheology, Dr. Newberg offers you innovative approaches to ancient beliefs and practices. Using brain imaging and other cutting-edge physiological studies, he helps you to better understand how the brain controls or responds to religious and spiritual beliefs and behavior. For example, you’ll examine MRI studies showing that long-term practitioners of spiritual practices like meditation have thicker and more active frontal lobes than those who do not practice meditation.
One obvious question that arises: Did their brains naturally develop these attributes, making them more inclined to practice meditation? Or did their brains change over time as a result of practicing meditation? Follow Dr. Newberg as he continually devises new experimental methods designed to answer these apparent scientific stalemates.
You’ll also take a look at “snapshots” he has taken of the brains of cloistered Franciscan nuns engaged in prayer. You will then see what his analysis showed about the neurological changes that took place during prayer, as well as long after.
For many people, religious practice relates to a specific tradition, but that is not always the case. In The Spiritual Brain, you’ll observe what Dr. Newberg’s groundbreaking research tells us about the role the brain plays in mystical states. You’ll study firsthand accounts showing
- how speaking in tongues may represent a supernormal functioning of certain areas of an otherwise whole and healthy human brain;
- why near-death experiences and other reports of disembodied consciousness might be more than the activity of a brain on the verge of physical extinction; and
- what the widespread experiences of divine revelation and spiritual salvation have to do with the brain’s continued progression toward advanced states of development.
With every intriguing answer these experiments produce, many more questions are raised as a result, and with this course you have the advantage of Dr. Newberg’s expertise to accompany your quest for their answers every step of the way.
Inside the Body of the Believing Brain
Throughout The Spiritual Brain, Dr. Newberg examines not only the neural activity of the religious brain, but also the effects of various religious beliefs and practices on human mental and physical health. There are literally hundreds of studies that show that religion has a measurable effect on health. What’s more, specific religious beliefs also have specific health advantages. You will see that
- church attendance is associated with decreased heart disease, blood pressure, emphysema, cirrhosis, and suicide;
- Mormon males may have decreased rates of cancer and mortality;
- elderly Christians and Jews are less likely to die in the 30 days before important holidays; and
- Seventh-Day Adventists live longer than the average population.
If this connection exists, these same studies then raise the question of potentially detrimental effects of religious belief and practice, such as in cases of dangerous cultic activity. Dr. Newberg evaluates fascinating research involving both believers and atheists showing the ways in which your beliefs actually determine how you rationalize—as well as mistake—the world around you.
Your brain is a belief-generating machine that has evolved to realize your beliefs through your behaviors. Join Dr. Newberg as he shares some game-changing discoveries coming out of the field of modern neuroscience, and perhaps on your thrilling voyage through these fascinating discoveries, you may reconsider some of your own beliefs along the way.