Cover image for The mystical mind : probing the biology of religious experience
The mystical mind : probing the biology of religious experience
D'Aquili, Eugene G., 1940-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Minneapolis [Minn.] : Fortress Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
ix, 228 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
Format :


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BL625 .D29 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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How does the mind experience the sacred? What biological mechanisms are involved in mystical states and trances? Is there a neurological basis for patterns in comparative religions? Does religion have an evolutionary function? This pathbreaking work by two leading medical researchers explores the neurophysiology of religious experience. Building on an explanation of the basic structure of the brain, the authors focus on parts most relevant to human experience, emotion, and cognition. On this basis, they plot how the brain is involved in mystical experiences. Successive chapters apply this scheme to mythmaking, ritual and liturgy, meditation, near-death experiences, and theology itself. Anchored in such research, the authors also sketch the implications of their work for philosophy, science, theology, and the future of religion.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

How does the brain generate and process mystical states? What are the neurological explanations for religious experiences? How does the mind create myth, religious ritual and liturgy? The late D'Aquili (Brain, Symbol, and Experience) and Newberg, a researcher in nuclear medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, explore these and other questions in their exhilarating study of religion and the science of mind. The authors contend that since the "mind and brain are responsible for all of our experiences, they are also the mediator for our experience of God." Using the insights of neurology and neuropsychology, they develop a "neurotheology" that serves to explain how the mind functions to create religious experience. In the first section, the authors map out the structure of the brain, focusing on the parts that are most significant for understanding human emotion and cognition. Here the authors contend that the mind and brain form a kind of "mystical union," and they examine the ways in which the mind/brain provides "our advanced methods of experiencing and interpreting the external world." The second section explores the relationships between myth, ritual, liturgy and the mystical mind. D'Aquili and Newberg assert that "all religious and spiritual phenomena, including the concept and experience of God (Absolute Unitary Being), are generated by the brain and central nervous system." The book's final section argues that "Absolute Unitary Being (Pure Consciousness or God) paradoxically and counterintuitively generates experience and the world (including the brain)." D'Aquili and Newberg make difficult scientific concepts understandable and accessible as they formulate this fresh approach to religion and science. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Theologies are numerous and varied. D'Aquili (deceased, Univ. of Pennsylvania) and Newberg (Univ. of Pennsylvania Medical School) are not professional theologians, but medical researchers writing from a psychological (or, especially, a psychiatric) standpoint. They address this question: "can neurotheology and our understanding of the mystical mind form the basis for a universal metatheology [i.e., comprehensive and all-inclusive theology]?" They are, in addition to being scientific scholars, ardent apostles of neurotheology, understood to mean they "will examine how the mind/brain functions in terms of humankind's relation to God or ultimate reality." This quotation aside, the writing, on the whole, is adequate, though encumbered necessarily by the technical vocabularies, especially when coming from the scientific side of the conversation. Ancillary features include chapter notes. Strongly recommended to readers who are looking for provocative, nontraditional approaches to the apprehension of reality. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and researchers. C. MacCormick; Wells College