The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience

Course No. 1682
Professor Andrew Newberg,
Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
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Course No. 1682
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Course Overview

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.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    A New Perspective on Ancient Questions
    For many, science and religion address two fundamentally distinct realms of human experience, but scientists and theologians are increasingly discovering that these realms intersect. Learn how neuroscience is tackling some of life’s biggest questions while shedding new light on humanity’s most ancient and enduring beliefs and practices. x
  • 2
    Why Do We Have a Spiritual Brain?
    We humans possess highly evolved brains that enable us to create sophisticated systems of religious beliefs and practices. Examine the theories that seek to explain the development of this astounding organ, showing how and why we have such a powerful inclination to search for a spiritual realm. x
  • 3
    Brain Function and Religion
    The brain is structured in several sections, governs a variety of systems and functions, and is the central processing unit of the human body. Delve into the inner workings of this elusive organ by means of modern neuroscience to determine how various brain processes may be involved in religious and spiritual experiences. x
  • 4
    How Does Science Study Religion?
    Pursuing knowledge by means of science requires a disciplined methodology. This methodology is based in experimental approaches to its subject. Dissect the various ways in which science attempts to investigate religious phenomena, allowing you to better understand these spiritual experiences in an effort to determine their ultimate nature and makeup. x
  • 5
    Believers and Atheists
    Religion has been a fundamental part of human culture for many millennia. If the human brain is hard-wired for religious activity, then why do some people’s brains reject the notion of the divine altogether? Analyze the current neuroscientific evidence for the differences between the brains of believers and nonbelievers. x
  • 6
    Spiritual Development
    Human brains are capable of producing complex spiritual thoughts and states. At what age does this capacity begin? How does this capacity change throughout a lifetime? Trace the development of the brain from infancy into adulthood and see how this physiological transformation corresponds to progressive stages of religious belief. x
  • 7
    The Myth-Making Brain
    From the first campfires of our ancient ancestors, storytelling has been an essential part of our human experience. Stories communicate important ideas meant to illuminate and inspire us. Harness the power of myth to appreciate how it is used by your brain to make sense of an often puzzling universe. x
  • 8
    The Brain and Religious Rituals
    Habitual activity is the key to internalizing behavior, and religious ritual is a clear example of this phenomenon. Observe how the rhythm of repetitive routine changes your neural network by imprinting the precepts of religious worldviews in transformative and visceral ways. x
  • 9
    The Biology of Spiritual Practices
    Two of the most common forms of religious behavior are prayer and meditation. Although these practices seem to be a pathway to another, more spiritual realm, learn how they can also be measured by the physiological changes that the practitioners exhibit, not only while engaged in them but long afterward. x
  • 10
    Religion and Health
    Do prayer and meditation increase your physical well-being? Can regular church attendance contribute to an increased life span? Consider the emerging evidence that shows that increased involvement in a religious lifestyle may offer many additional health benefits. x
  • 11
    Religion and Mental Health
    Explore the complex relationship between religious conviction and disorders like anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, and determine what role, if any, religion should play in medical therapy. x
  • 12
    Religion and Brain Dysfunction
    Some scientists have linked religious conversion with a physical pathology, while others have associated intense spiritual practices, such as speaking in tongues, with brain dysfunction, but are these perspectives too reductionist to be accurate? Test these experiences to determine whether they speak to mental disorders or to supernormal brain functioning. x
  • 13
    Transmitters to God
    Messages of the mind are relayed through brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Uncover the mental connections involved in humanity’s religious experiences and follow the hidden pathways through which human beings may be connecting with the divine. x
  • 14
    Stimulated States and Religious Experiences
    Changes in brain activity that occur from natural or internal conditions seem to track closely with artificial methods produced by electrical or chemical stimulation. Grasp how stimulated states give us insight into the nature and meaning of spiritual experiences. x
  • 15
    Near-Death Experiences and the Brain
    Even at the point of death, our cerebral circuitry is quite active. In fact, the neural activity of these extreme states contributes to phenomena that some claim as evidence of life beyond death. Come to appreciate how neuroscience is broadening our perspective on the riveting reports associated with near-death experiences. x
  • 16
    The Believing Brain
    Your brain works hard to interpret your experiences, making sense of your world through creating and adopting belief systems about it. In a manner of speaking, your brain is essentially a belief-generating machine. Master the mechanics by which your brain constructs your beliefs—including those that may prove demonstrably false. x
  • 17
    The Brain’s Influence on Religious Ideas
    Whether you are thinking about the here and now or about the abstract notion of a spiritual realm, your thoughts are governed by the nature and capabilities of your brain. Ponder the ways that the structure and function of your brain shape and limit your religious and theological conceptions. x
  • 18
    Revelation, Salvation, and the Brain
    Your experiences are processed by your brain to determine both their immediate importance and their connection to your life as a whole. While many experiences are dismissed as largely insignificant, others have the ability to profoundly transform us. Test two widely experienced religious experiences with the tools of modern neuroscience. x
  • 19
    The Brain’s Influence on Religious Behavior
    Ethical behavior is close to the heart of all religious traditions. Find how neuroscience is shedding new light on the processes that make possible religiously motivated behavior such as altruism, empathy, and forgiveness. x
  • 20
    How the Brain Changes God
    Given the fact that your brain interprets experience to construct a picture of reality, how does this shape your concept of God? Size up the various ways we tend to envision God as our brains work to formulate ideas of divinity, ranging from the overly humanized to the esoterically abstract. x
  • 21
    How God Changes the Brain
    Your brain is constantly changing in response to your shifting thoughts and experiences. This ongoing neural transformation recreates your brain to adjust to everything from your routine activity to thoughts and experiences of extreme enlightenment. Consider the ways in which these spiritual practices and religious beliefs actually modify your brain. x
  • 22
    Why God Won’t Go Away
    Despite the prophesied death of God and demise of religion, both are alive and well over a decade into the 21st century. Moreover, they are gaining ground in many spheres of modern life. Discover how the two most basic functions of the brain allow for religion’s ongoing durability. x
  • 23
    The Mystical Mind
    Religion and spirituality can be said to be very important aspects of human life, but what about people who take it much further? Transcend the religious ego to experience mystical frames of reference in which distinctions between the self and other, as well as the past, present, and future, simply disappear. x
  • 24
    Reality and Beyond
    Having explored how our brains construct and interpret reality, we have yet to address why we assume our mental constructions are correct. Test the boundaries of your worldview and probe the possibility that spiritual experiences may speak to an underlying reality that is hidden from us in our everyday lives. x

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Your professor

Andrew Newberg

About Your Professor

Andrew Newberg
Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
Dr. Andrew Newberg is the Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He is also a Professor in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University, and he teaches undergraduate courses at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Newberg received his medical degree in 1993 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He...
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Reviews

The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience is rated 3.2 out of 5 by 78.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Biased and unscientific. This is the first course I have not finished, out of 25. I wanted to like it, because Dr. Newberg and I went to the same medical school, grew up in the same area, and probably had the same religious background as children. But I kept feeling that i was hearing propaganda more than science and perhaps the efforts of a man trying to reconcile his love for medicine with his emotional attachment to the religion of his family. 1. the data were not presented scientifically. to say that "frontal lobe activity was increased." is not at all rigorous and he did not really point out the parts of the scans that showed this, how much variation there is in the scans from person to person, (standard error of measurement) or how specific the increase was compared to other changes such as eating, having a bowel movement, being frightened, sleeping, taking a valium, etc. Were the data pooled between the praying brains and then statistically compared with the brains before prayer? compared to the brains of atheists doing mathematics? Details such as these are what separate science from casual observation and determine causal connections as opposed to non-specific or chance associations. 2. he repeatedly refers to himself as a scientist and occasionally as a neuroscientist. he is not trained as a neuroscientist, but rather as an Internist with some additional nuclear medicine training. his work is largely published in lay press where it is not subject to rigorous review. 3. Much of the data he chose was chosen to fit his pro-faith perspective. he did not mention the study that showed post-surgical patients who were prayed for did WORSE than controls. 4. he did not mention the centuries of antagonism for science and persecution of scientists displayed by the church. 5. he did not mention the magical thinking and unreality encouraged by belief in god and holy texts that COMMONLY causes patients to be non-compliant. nor the deaths inflicted on children by parents who feel that medical care demonstrates lack of faith. nor the preventable needless deaths of patients who refuse blood transfusion, because of a passage in the bible that really has nothing to do with transfusion. 6. he neglected to point out the scientifically shown associations between religiosity and low IQ, lower education, lower socioeconomic status, lower earning, more crime, more divorce, domestic violence and ethnocentric violence. why faith has persisted well into the era past the enlightenment is interesting and provocative. i think the speculation about the evolutionary advantages of faith-created clans is on the mark--that this selected strongly in prehistory for people prone to join clans and act on faith was only mentioned in passing. As a final point, let me say that "faith" is antithetical to science. " faith" means the belief in something that is not proved (or even supported by data). Science is the complete devotion to finding conclusions that are only supported by careful, controlled observation
Date published: 2014-03-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Ideas on a New Concept to Me I liked these courses. Actually I'm surprised that this type of research is being done, and I'm surprised that the Great Courses offered it. I'd heard of the imaging of meditating nuns before and was interested in getting more information about it. I was also intrigued by the topic of the 22nd lecture "Why God Won't Go Away". I'm glad that I got these lectures and listened to them, even if they weren't quite what I expected and I was actually disappointed by lecture 22. I think that I'll like these lectures the second time I listen to them after I've had a chance to think about and maybe do a little research into the topic of Neurotheology. The first half of this series was fascinating. You often hear of the benefits of being "Religious" like we live longer, have better marriages, raise better coping kids etc. I say we because I consider myself a believer. In fact I'm an LDS believer (Mormon) and he actually gave some examples of mormon males living longer and healthier lives which I found surprising. He wasn't ever saying that someone should be religious, in fact he said that during a presentation a minister was upset with him because he said that people would try to be believers to get the benefits and not because of theological reasons. Dr. Newberg specifically says that he doesn't think that can or should happen, but what he seems to be saying is that there appears to be proof that being religious does give benefits and here's what we've found. Like others I found his presentation somewhat annoying. I listen to the lectures on an iPhone and he would have such long pauses that I found myself reaching for the phone to see why it was stopped and then he would start. I got to where I would expect these, but even then I'd find myself starting to reach sometimes. Also, Dr. Newberg knows his research is going to be found controversial and he spends a lot of time telling us how he addresses these concerns. To much time in my opinion, but then I like to get on to the interesting stuff. He also seems to be very Christian oriented in his examples, and then biased towards Catholicism to me. I'd have liked to have seen some more examples from other traditions. I think this mainly happened during the rituals, and the numbers. Of course it's hard to find a lot of rituals in Protestantism. Finally the last half of this series seemed to be more about neurotheology than anything else. He mentions nuerotheology a couple of times, and he's written a book about it, and this is the first time I've ever heard of it. It sounds like it's a description of how and why the mind believes. That is the part I found least interesting, but then again it brought up the most questions that I want to think about and research, and then listen to the series again. I don't know that it was not interesting but I wasn't prepared for it and it caught me by surprise. Then again it may just be that I'm feeling like the Dr. Newberg has tricked me into needing to do home work which is something I don't like to do! Overall a very good course. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2014-02-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very frustrating I was interested enough in the subject of these lectures that I ordered the course in spite of less than stellar reviews. Unfortunately I must say that I found the presentation extremely distracting, as Dr. Newberg uses the word "actually" at least once, and often more than once, in almost every sentence. "Incredible" runs a close second. I stuck it out until almost the end because some of the content was interesting, but finally couldn't take any more and fast forwarded through the last few lectures.
Date published: 2014-02-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from the Spiritual Brain: Science and the Religious Exp You get the feeling watching this course that the science is years away from giving meaningful input on this subject. It's not that the course is worthless. It's just that the meaningful insights are few enough that it's not worth the time spent waiting. It's the first Great Course that I quit on before coming to the end (after 18 0f the 24 lectures)
Date published: 2013-12-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Much speculation On the outside, this course seems to promise a neuro-scientific look at spirituality, and does present some good research. However, this professor tends to overemphasise anecdotal evidence and veers away from good science on too many occasions.
Date published: 2013-11-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from only the second course i've ever had to return great idea, this course. I was really looking forward to it. But the presentation is sort of like a guy talking to his junior high school buddies about deep issues. The content wasn't all that sophisticated. IT doesn't have to be high brow to be sophisticated - just look at Hazen's lectures; first rate info, superbly presented. This just failed to really give me any useful or provocative information. I kept finishing each lecture thinking, well, maybe next lecture he'll get into something really remarkable. Never happened. Meandering presentation. Disappointing.
Date published: 2013-09-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from When the Truth is not known, get what you can When approaching a topic that is the pretext for so many conflicts it is not surprising this course has had such polar reviews. Dr. Newberg has done, arguably, some of the most groundbreaking work in the domain of neurotheology. He is not presenting a pro or con position about theology, or even on the phenomenon of spirituality, he is only presenting some of the current evidence; there is not much to "cherry-pick" if there aren't many cherries between the radical fundamentalism and flaming atheism. Dr. Newberg is presenting what could be considered an agnostic position, perhaps to the dismay of many who need to take sides. The fact is that we don't really know, and perhaps never will. I think it is very good presentation of the current data, as is; see for yourself!
Date published: 2013-08-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Challenging Subject, Challenged course This is a very difficult subject, balanced precariously between science and philosophy. The science was interesting. As a philosopher, I thought the reasoning was not as rigorous as I would like. I think the course shows how little progress even our best thinkers and researchers have made on this topic. But if you are interested in this topic, I would recommend this course as a possible starting point.
Date published: 2013-07-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Curve-Fitting The professor appears to begin with the conclusion that the brain is not only inherently biased to adopt spiritual belief tendencies or beliefs in religions and a God, but is actually wired from birth to embrace these postulations. The course then goes-on to cherry-pick data from fMRI and other types of controlled brain scanning experiments to pinpoint precise areas, or regions, where the God beliefs are concentrated in the brain. In fact, the brain is a network of interconnected regions and different areas of the brain of different people are typically not consistent in how they might "light-up," or connect, under certain conditions. For me, this was not an unbiased examination of innate spiritualism that might exist in the human brain. On the other hand, if you want some finite conclusion as to the premise that the brain is, in fact, a warehouse of innate spiritualism and a belief in a God then this is the course for you.
Date published: 2013-06-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from More Philosophy than Science In brief: Not intellectually rigorous. He took his own few studies and ran to broad conclusions. In full: I've listened to 8 GCs so far, and this is easily the worst one. A previous reviewer wanted it to be more anti-religious. I am more pro-religious, but my complaint is that it was not very scientifically rigorous. It extrapolated way too much from, and gave disproportionate time to, his own studies. Those studies didn't even use techniques I had heard of in my 4 years of studying Neuroscience. Only halfway through the lectures did he get to any fMRI studies. At best, he communicated good findings poorly. At worst, the findings weren't great and he did what he could with them. BUT NEVER SHOULD YOU HEAR THIS IN ANY INTELLECTUALLY HONEST PRESENTATION: 'The study's findings were very controversial, but let us consider its implications' [and never return to that first half of my statement]
Date published: 2013-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Difficult subject handled beautifully! This course is about the current research being done in a much neglected hot button area. It is not presented as having a definitive answer about the existence of God. For anyone who has had a mystical or religious experience this course will prove invaluable. You are not alone. You will find quotations and information on many experiences, some of which will undoubtedly sound familiar to you. This course in not judgmental, and the science studies are well done. It deserves a much better rating than it has averaged!
Date published: 2013-05-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing This is the first time I have been disappointed by one of the Great Courses. The content is repetitiously padded and lacking in rigor, replete with vague generalities that are not supported. The professor seems to have a very strong bias toward WANTING there to be substance in his material, but, thankfully, he doesn't quite cross the line into claiming what isn't there. Finally, his delivery is awkward and annoying--if I could edit the word "actually" from his lectures, they would be 20% shorter. Sadly, this course is not up to your usual excellent quality.
Date published: 2013-05-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Answers & Questions This course was informative, thought-provoking and relevant to the times we live in. For those who seek to understand why human spirituality exists across cultures and time periods, this course may help. It answered many questions for me, and also raised some new questions in my mind. An excellent overview of a complex subject!
Date published: 2013-05-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beginning a Conversation I found this course to be an introduction into the science of Neurotheology. As Dr. Newburg admits- this is new territory. The first few lectures are slow and what appears to be his attempt to gently introduce the idea of studying such a thing in the first place. He is very humble and considerate to the various belief systems. I found myself wanting more data to his science. So much of the course was just introducing the student to the idea of studying spirituality and religion in the brain rather the a vast resource of studies providing tangible or concrete evidence of any sort. For the most part it just raised a bunch of questions. There was some meat on the bone however. He laid out nicely the regions of the brain responsible for different perceptions, emotions, etc. Also he delt with the effects of hormones, chemicals, neurotrasnmitters, and drugs and how they bring about various sensations, emotions, and hullucinations in the brain. He touched on the power of belief and also drew an analogy to the placebo effect for which I wish he spent more time. The second half of the course is a faster pace and quite fascinating. I highly reccomend this course for the curious, ever seeking individual. I hope this science continues to be funded and utilized. A holistic approach is needed in the medical arena, and doctor's should be aware of their patients spiruality in order to appropriately assit the patient in the recovery process. He speaks to this matter in latter lectures. Patience and an open mind will go a long way in learning from this course.
Date published: 2013-05-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from So disappointing For the first time I was unable to finish the lecture series and seriously considered asking for my money back. Aright already, is the brain genetically structured to imagine a God, or structured by to God to communicate with him/her? I mean how many times can you restate this unanswerable, theological question and still insist you are approaching everything scientifically. Enough!
Date published: 2013-04-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Brain - Spiritual? The course presents a physical description of the physical organ called brain. There is little spiritual description or the brain. This course seemed very mechanistic - which may be what some are looking for.
Date published: 2013-04-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Boring! Had to force myself to sit through entire course, only to find one lecture interesting.
Date published: 2013-03-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from An Extreme Letdown I am a religious person. So, a course titled The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience had a special appeal to me. I had enjoyed and benefitted from the few lectures in Professor Wang's Neuroscience course that considered religion and spirituality. I couldn't resist the lure of a full course on these topics, but what a letdown this has been. I try always to start with the positives. Professor Newberg is an earnest man who is well intended. He wants to show a relationship between the science of the brain and religion and spirituality. And he does, mostly in the early lectures, cite some useful research. But he runs out of steam quickly, and the rest of the course is beset by one weakness after the other. First, the course over-promises and under-delivers. There's no proof here of a "spiritual brain." There are lecture titles of "The Believing Brain," "How the Brain Changes God," "How God Changes the Brain," etc. Yet, instead of scientific proof for such ambitious statements, the good professor relies mostly on assertion, speculation, anecdote, hypothesis, and, at best, correlational data of dubious evidentiary strength. The wide gap between the professor's ambition and his achievement is significant, and, unfortunately, as a scientist, he seems unaware of these problems in his teaching. For example, he uses data correlating church going with various signs of good health. Now, I happen to be a supporter of regular worship and its benefits. But the professor was trained in the difference between causality and correlational results. Is the church going responsible for the improved health, or are the church goers healthier than others? His presentation of the "research" makes no causal claim, and yet he acts as if it does. Second, it's very unclear, even after several attempts at defining religion and spirituality, what the professor really means by these terms. He seems satisfied that religious sounds and symbols can be just as impactful if used with or without religious meaning. His understanding of religion seems cramped really to the meditative side. And the primary "negative" seems only related to having a problem with God or perhaps being unhealthily zealous. But what about the ethical imperatives of a religious life? They might make one uncomfortable and even make "one's brain hurt." But, as core as they are to being religious, they're ignored here. So, are duty to God's expectations of us, avoidance of sin, etc. I'm not sure how such behavior and activity are related to brain function because the professor didn't discuss them. Professor Newberg did show some effects on the brain of activity related mostly to meditation practice. I appreciate that. But many other activities (including some that are not religious and others that are more physical or material rather than spiritual) stimulate similar positive reactions in the brain. So, is it a spiritual brain we have, or is it a brain that responds well to a variety of activities, including certain spiritual as well as certain non-spiritual ways of being? Don't get me wrong. As a religious person, I share the professor's hypothesis. But, other than showing that the brain responds in supportive ways to certain religious and spiritual activity, the professor does not come close to fulfilling the promise he lays out for the course. I don't like being so negative in a review, especially when I was rooting for the professor to do well. I'd love to see a reprise from Professor Newberg after he gathers together the research he so often called for in these lectures. This is a course that could one day mean a lot to interested learners. I hope this professor will respond constructively to the criticisms in these reviews and be the professor to teach that course.
Date published: 2013-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from well researched, delivered without fabulations, Congratulations professor on a great presentation, that for me was well researched, delivered with precision and created such mental stimulation that I must now find answers to hundreds of questions. This is from a strong atheist, (harsh word) who considers himself to be religious and very spiritual.
Date published: 2013-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent It is the best subject for me. I was so happy to meet dr. Newberg. I would like to tell him that I have searching for this subject since I was in second grade of school. I knew that God's liant is in side of my mind and help me and judged my action, but I could not have the proof of it. Enlightenment or revelation is happened because of human being like you. Thanks! It is more then science. To the Great courses, you are the great!
Date published: 2013-02-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very disappointing I have had many courses from the Teaching Company and have been extremely satisfied with most of them. However, this course was very disappointing. I attempted to watch the entire course but made it only through lecture 15 when I could not take it any longer. There is little science in this course even though the lecturer tells you constantly that he is a “scientist.” The brain images show activities in brain regions that would show activity under many other conditions. Nothing new or revealing is presented. Most of the lectures are wordy speculations on religion and spirituality. One of the “scientific” explanations offered for most people’s ability to experience religion and spirituality is that “If there is a god, then the human brain would be designed to comprehend god.” I returned this course because it is not what I have been used to getting from the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2013-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Subject There is no doubt that the greatest challenge to any researcher would be to study and quantify a subject which most researchers would dismiss as unpopular, unfounded, and not worth their time. As such, I applaud Dr. Newberg's willingness to research the brain and the religious/spiritual experience. The material is well organized and presented in such a way that the reader clearly understands the data. The objective of any course is to inform and enrich the student. As a nonscientist, I had no problem doing both. If you are taking this course as a way to prove or disprove your personal belief system, then it is not for you. This course is a strict scientific approach to the subject, not a confirmation. I found it fascinating and refreshing.
Date published: 2013-01-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Inadequate Science In the first lecture it was apparent that the professor uses poor experimental technique and draws unwarranted conclusions from his "data". This is not worth listening to. I gave up partway through lecture 2.
Date published: 2013-01-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Dr. Newberg is amazing. Unfortunately ... I've read all of Dr. Newberg's books and was astounded that I would actually be able to view his lectures on a topic that I have been interested in for years. No doubt, Dr. Newberg is a primary researcher and pure expert in his field; unfortunately, these lectures are distressingly wordy and lack the depth of neuroscience expected from viewers of this caliber of course and lecturer. I find it impossible to blame Dr. Newberg for this challenging presentation and expect that his producers had a lot of input as regards the content and level of neuro-literacy. Professor Newberg probably intended the course for an audience new to the topic. If not, I'm disappointed that the content wasn't richer. Anyone new to this topic might enjoy the novelty of the approach toward religuous belief and spirituality.
Date published: 2013-01-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing Let me begin by saying, I have enjoyed Great Course offerings on many topics and this is the first to disappoint. Professor Newberg's voice is difficult to listen to. I tried adjusting the treble, base, etc. on my TV to make it more palatable but couldn't find a good setting. Another issue: Prof Newberg spends far too long 'defining terms', discussing scientific methodology, and setting up future lectures. I wanted to tell him to move on and better integrate his material. After 6 episodes, I gave up. I particularly recommend: The Story of Human Language Great Music The Age of Rembrandt Great Tours: Greece and Turkey
Date published: 2012-12-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Scholar Not Limited to a Materialistic Worldview As with Sam Harris who believes that spirituality can make you " "happy, peaceful and even wise" Andrew Newberg takes this one step further explaining "why" this is the case. This course is complementary and should be viewed along with his other courses. Only now are we beginning some serious examination with neuroscience and religion / spirituality and Andrew Newberg demonstrates how combersome the project is and makes no sweeping statements. One note of caution: You may feel threatened! If you are looking for "proof" of God, or proof that God does not exist, you are going to be disappointed. That is not what Andrew Newberg or good science is about. If you are willing to learn how beliefs seem to affect the brain and approach this as evidence, and that this evidence demonstrates why positive beliefs are healthy for the brain, then this is a good introduction. Enjoy!
Date published: 2012-12-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Big disappointment! This course would have been much-improved if the presentor had confined himself to perhaps six lectures on the neuroscience of spritual experience. Commentary on the religious and spiritual implications of the neuroscientific findings he reviews would be better left to someone trained in theology, philosophy, and the history of ideas. As it is, I found the course to be a hopeless muddle of what is probably very good neuroscience and a great deal of vaguely spiritual speculation and misinformation.
Date published: 2012-12-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very Disappointing As a physician and someone who is exploring religion and spirituality, I had high hopes for this course which promised to explore the neuroscience of religion. Therefore, I was very disappointed at the lack of scientific content of the course. The initial few lectures provided some scientific discourse through experiments and imaging regarding the activity of the brain while engaged in religious activities. And that was pretty much it as far as science is concerned.Rarely have I encountered lectures where there was so little actual content - just a lot of wordy speculation. I finally got so aggravated that I didn't even finish the last few lectures when I realized I couldn't even cite one legitimate fact after the lecture "Revelation, Salvation, and the Brain". This is not a course I would recommend to anyone.
Date published: 2012-12-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very disappointed I had high hopes for this course but, alas, such hopes were dashed. To begin, the lecturer is quite poor - he is excruciatingly slow with his delivery and, at least for me, did not project a passion for the material that drew me in and made me WANT to watch the next lecture rather than simply making me feel obligated to do so - due to spending money on the course. . Concerning the content - the course did actually start off rather strongly (looking at and discussing brain scans of those in deep meditation etc. and learning about how different areas of the brain might "govern" spiritual experiences.. However, it quickly devolved into a series of self-evident statements about the relationship between the brain and spirituality. I've thoroughly enjoyed a variety of TTC courses and replay many due to the excellence of their content; sadly this remains the only course I couldn't complete and that I finally returned.
Date published: 2012-12-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Strange mixture Strange mixture of scientific terminology and religious delusions. Some interesting experiments described, though.
Date published: 2012-12-05
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