The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience

The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience
Course Trailer
A New Perspective on Ancient Questions
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....

31 min
Why Do We Have a Spiritual Brain?
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....

29 min
Brain Function and Religion
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....

31 min
How Does Science Study Religion?
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....

34 min
Believers and Atheists
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....

29 min
Spiritual Development
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....

31 min
The Myth-Making Brain
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....

30 min
The Brain and Religious Rituals
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....

32 min
The Biology of Spiritual Practices
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....

32 min
Religion and Health
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....

32 min
Religion and Mental Health
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....

30 min
Religion and Brain Dysfunction
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....

31 min
Transmitters to God
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....

29 min
Stimulated States and Religious Experiences
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....

32 min
Near-Death Experiences and the Brain
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....

30 min
The Believing Brain
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....

29 min
The Brain's Influence on Religious Ideas
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....

32 min
Revelation, Salvation, and the Brain
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....

32 min
The Brain's Influence on Religious Behavior
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....

29 min
How the Brain Changes God
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....

28 min
How God Changes the Brain
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....

31 min
Why God Won't Go Away
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....

29 min
The Mystical Mind
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....

31 min
Reality and Beyond
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....

34 min
Andrew Newberg

Ever since I can remember, I've been interested in questions related to religion and God.

ALMA MATER

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

INSTITUTION

Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

About Andrew Newberg

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 completed his residency in Internal Medicine at the Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia, and he completed a fellowship in Nuclear Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Nuclear Medicine. Dr. Newberg has actively pursued neuroimaging research projects, including studies of aging and dementia, epilepsy, and other neurological and psychiatric disorders. He has been particularly involved in the study of religious and spiritual experiences and the relationship among the brain, religion, and health. Dr. Newberg's research has included analyzing brain scans of people in prayer, meditation, rituals, and various trance states. His research also has included understanding the physiological correlates of acupuncture therapy, massage, and other types of alternative therapies. Dr. Newberg has taught medical students, undergraduate and graduate students, and medical residents about stress management, spirituality and health, and the neurophysiology of religious experience. In 2010, he was named Teacher of the Year for the University of Pennsylvania's Biological Basis of Behavior Program. Dr. Newberg has published numerous articles and chapters on brain function, brain imaging, and the study of religious and spiritual experiences. He is the author of Principles of Neurotheology, a culmination of ideas based on his research over the past 10 years. He is a coauthor of the best-selling books How God Changes Your Brain and Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. His most recent book, Words Can Change Your Brain, was published in June 2012. Dr. Newberg is also a coauthor of Born to Believe: God, Science, and the Origin of Ordinary and Extraordinary Beliefs and The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience, both of which explore the relationship between neuroscience and spiritual experience. The latter book received the 2000 award for Outstanding Books in Theology and the Natural Sciences presented by the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. Dr. Newberg has presented his work at scientific and religious meetings around the world and has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, CNN, and ABC's World News Tonight. His research also has appeared in Newsweek; TIME; The New York Times; Los Angeles Times; Scientific American; O, The Oprah Magazine; and Reader's Digest.

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