Religion and the Brain: Where Science Meets Spirituality

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Duration 01:01:48

Thomas Jefferson University

Dr. Andrew Newberg is a neuroscientist and professor at Thomas Jefferson University who studies the relationship between brain function and various mental states. He is a pioneer in the neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences: a field known as “neurotheology.” His research includes taking brain scans of people in prayer, meditation, rituals, and trance states, in an attempt to better understand the nature of religious and spiritual practices and attitudes.


Have you ever wondered where in the brain we think about God? Whether God exists or not, religion and God change our brain in many fascinating ways. This talk, based on the best-selling book How God Changes Your Brain, reviews some of the most recent research on spiritual practices like meditation and prayer—a growing field called neurotheology. We will also review how the brain pictures God, feels about God, and thinks about God. We will consider both the positive and negative sides of religion—when religion makes people charitable and altruistic, versus a terrorist. Finally, we will discuss how we might foster the more compassionate side of religion and the brain. This information will provide fascinating ideas to reflect on and consider for everyone’s spiritual beliefs.



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Maggie Olmstead

Interesting, but vague

Lots of data presented, but I didn’t buy many of the conclusions, except where the conclusion was, “we don’t know” or “we don’t have enough data.” For example, the idea that we know that meditation changes the brain based on studying 20 or so individuals seems weak to me. I want to know who those people were? How were they chosen? What were their backgrounds?

I’m interested in hearing more about this; maybe if the lecture didn’t try to cover so much ground it would be more effective.

2 years ago
Michael Castengera

Neurotheology - An Exploration

I didn’t even know there was such a thing as the science of neurotheology – understanding the relationship between the brain and religion. It almost seems counterintuitive to think that what one believes, or doesn’t believe in, can have a physical effect on that most important part of your anatomy.

Of course we’re all familiar with meditation as a means of easing stress or improving concentration — affecting our emotional state. But the idea that it can have long term effects on your physical state is somewhat surprising but also interesting and intriguing. (I write that as I sit here listening to meditation music.)

Admittedly the presentation is somewhat pedantic at times and could use some more emotive connections for people but it is solid. This gives an added dimension to the practice of mindfulness mediation and provides an even stronger reason to pursue it – especially those of us concerned about our mental acuity and thinking abilities.

8 months ago
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