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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  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 192-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 192-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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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 disappointing Had my hopes dashed on this one. I've waded through it but its been difficult as it is so obviously biased towards Christian Spiritual experiences. Example: It seems Far Eastern Spiritual perspectives or unique Native American perspectives are entirely missing. Planning to send it back, because i know I'll never listen to it again.
Date published: 2019-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent choice Very thorough and well executed. Informative and easy to understand. The author is most knowledgeable on the subject. Overall, well worth the time and money.
Date published: 2019-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Well Presented I had been reluctant to purchase this course because of less than stellar reviews by some but I'm so glad that I ignored them. The material was presented very well and I plan to listen to the series again. The material was better than I thought and was in sync with other material I had read about the brain.
Date published: 2019-02-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Topics The subjects discussed are important, and thoughtful people should reflect on them. This class encourages that reflection. The professor presented the information objectively, and well.
Date published: 2018-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very well presented There is fascinating material, and it raises a good many questions for further reading and investigation.
Date published: 2018-08-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting and intriguing, albeit tedious I'm on lecture 19 out of 24 of the audio download and have thus far thoroughly enjoyed the topic, presentation and information. As an average, curious and informed believer, I find the course to be very interesting. The information is well structured and each lecture builds on the previous ones in a clear, even somewhat elementary way; for me, that is good. Repetitive info doesn't bother me; it keeps me on track. I'm very interested in human behavior, neroscience and religious/spiritual concepts, so the blend of all 3 made for an interesting topic. As for the solidity of the science, research and results, Dr. Newburg's findings were complete enough for what I was seeking, which is a deeper understanding and knowledge of how the brain handles these concepts. I was especially intrigued by the research on the subjects talking in tongues and the findings that the self-orientation areas of brain activity slowed/stopped while some other force/activity took over - possibly implying that there could be a spiritual realm involved. As for Dr. Newburg's presentation, I found his presentation engaging and energetic; I could hear the level of interest in his voice. I will admit that at times, as I was driving while listening, even when I was interested, the lectures became a bit monotone and I would start to dose off. The 30 minute length was perfect; any longer and I would have zoned out. I would recommend for anyone that has some level of belief or intrigue. If you are a scientist or atheist that has a point to prove, you should seek another target. This guy isn't out to convert anyone - just provide food for thought.
Date published: 2018-08-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Spiritual Brain:Science and Religious Experience Before purchasing this series, you should watch the following lectures: How to Think like a Scientist (Dr. M. Shermer) and A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills (Dr.S. Novella) Both these course should be required viewing before you watch this series. However, if you are trying to confirm you mythical beliefs biases, with the aid of science, based on trials, in some cases of only one (1) person, from a "Medical Expert".MD. then this course will help you to to do just that.
Date published: 2018-06-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not up to par Lecturer sounds like a whiney Woody Allen and course feels slow and patronizing. Not up to the standards of the other courses I have purchased here.
Date published: 2018-04-28
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