ISSUE #010 - Jan 09, 2019

Biological Essentialism and the New Sciences of Religion

Kenneth Rose

Graduate Theological Union

Excerpted from

 Yoga, Meditation, and Mysticism:

Contemplative Universals and Meditative Landmarks

Reprinted with Permission of Publisher.

© Kenneth Rose, 2016, 2018, Yoga, Meditation, and Mysticism: Contemplative Universals and Meditative Landmarks, Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

 

Preface: Setting the Scene for Tarka Readers

In Yoga, Meditation, and Mysticism: Contemplative Universals and Meditative Landmarks, I compare the yoga system of Patañjali, the meditative system of Buddhaghosa, and the mystical theology of Catholic mystical theologian Augustin-François Poulain in order to show that each of these culturally quite different descriptions of mystical and yogic development is an expression of what I call “the common yogic-mystical itinerary.” Not only is the capacity for experiencing this typical pattern of contemplative development rooted in the deep structure of the mind and in humanity’s genetic heritage, but, as research in genetics, contemplative neuroscience, neurotheology, and the cognitive science of religion makes evident, this itinerary has been set down like an iron rail in our brains, which are genetically coded for transcendence.

Much of my book analyses the Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosa, the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, and Des grâces d’oraison of Augustin-François Poulain in order to demonstrate that disciplined meditative activity passes through a series of “meditative landmarks” that, though irreducibly distinctive in each of three traditions named above, nevertheless express a set of five invariant “contemplative universals” of the “the common yogic/mystical itinerary.”

Although controversial in the academic study of religion and mysticism, my move toward contemplative universals is strongly supported by recent advances in neurobiology, genetics, the evolutionary cognitive science of religion (ECSR), and contemplative neuroscience, which taken together uncover patterns rooted in our common neuroanatomy, biochemistry, genetics, and cognitive capacities, thus indicating that the path of spiritual awakening and spiritual advancement is the same for Buddhists, Christians, Daoists, Jews, Hindus, religious independents (SBNR’s), and so forth, even though the doctrinal expressions of this universal spirituality vary in different cultural and religious backgrounds. I explore some of the evidence of this new biological essentialism in the study of religion in a chapter in my book, where I call this turning away from language and culture—typical concerns in academic religious studies—to neuroscience, genetic approaches to religion, and the cognitive science of religion, “the neurobiological turn” in religious studies.

I have divided the chapter into two parts, which will appear in two issues of Tarka. In the first selection, I survey recent developments in genetics, the cognitive science of religion, contemplative neuroscience, and neurotheology. In the second selection, I assess the significance of these findings for academic and contemplative approaches to global religious experience.

 

I (First Selection)

The God Helmet: Triumph of Reductionism or Dawn of Spiritual Neurobiology?

 In an odd twist that could not have been predicted at the onset of the rise of the antiessentialist, constructivist approach to the study of mysticism in the 1970s is the current return of essentialism in religious studies with the strong sanction of science. The long dominance of antiessentialist, constructivist approaches to mysticism is being forcefully challenged by the rise of what I call “biological essentialism.” Typical of this new essentialism in religious and spiritual areas once considered off limits to science is the provocative experiment of Michael Persinger, who famously devised a helmet that produces the sense of an invisible presence in up to eighty percent of subjects when their right temporal lobes are stimulated with magnetic fields.1 “Persinger thinks,” writes religion scholar Ross Aden “that this experience is the model for the impression of spirits, ghosts, aliens, and perhaps God.”2 This leads Persinger to conclude, according to Aden, that “in whatever way believers understand their experience . . . it is the result of a brief, focused electrical incident in the brain.”3 No stronger rejection of the constructivist reduction of mystical experiences to culture and dogma than this can be offered, even after allowing for contextual differences, or what Aden calls “cultural factors as well as the setting,”4 in individual instances of religious experience.

Yet this forceful repudiation of particularist, inclusivist, empiricist, and constructivist interpretations of religious experience, may be a pyrrhic victory for the essentialist, nomothetic and comparative study of mysticism, since it buys victory over constructivism at the apparent cost of the surrender of the specifically spiritual, or nonmaterialistic, aspect of religious experience.5 This new biological essentialism appears to undercut the conviction that there is a spiritual, or immaterial, dimension of being by showing that religious experience can be accounted for in terms of brain processes. This is a high a price to pay, I would say, although the scientific confirmation of the essentialist approach to the study of mystical consciousness is welcome.

Yet, this argument can immediately be flipped on its head, since the scientific confirmation that the brain is intimately involved in producing religious experience decisively undercuts claims that religious experience is merely a culturally shaped mental projection, or just a product of the imagination, or dismissible as the product of an abnormal or diseased brain. My own solution to the threat of biological essentialism canceling out the mystical essentialism outlined in the last chapter while also negating constructivism is the familiar but still important observation that the mind is not the brain, and that, therefore, the mind is only partially expressed through the brain. Stimulating the brain to produce religious experiences, as in Persinger’s God Helmet experiment, only maps out possible locations and processes in the brain that filter the spiritual, or immaterial aspect, of being, as Jeffrey J. Kripal argues.6 Because a filter merely changes the character of light, as with a stained glass window, rather than generating the light itself, Kripal’s filter thesis suggests that religious experiences are something more than only psychological features of physical brain states. In fact, a deeper implication of Persinger’s experiment, which appears at first glance seems to confirm the reduction of the spiritual to the biological, is the view that the brain is a tool evolved by a prior, non-biological dimension of being to express itself in the physical register of being. Thus, the God Helmet can also be taken as a sign both of the end of the era of reductionism and of the dawn of a spiritual, or contemplative, neuroscience. Instead of explaining away religious experience as merely psychological or as only an illusion produced by the brain, the new neuroscience of religious experience shows that human beings are biologically predisposed to experience an immaterial realm of pure consciousness.7 It turns out that, just as we have evolved material senses to negotiate a realm of physical objects, so we also have evolved brains that register a subtle, immaterial realm of being.

Yet, a claim such as this, especially in an academic monograph on religious experience, runs afoul of what Victoria Nelson and Kripal see as “the greatest taboo among serious intellectuals,”8 which is “the heresy of challenging a materialist worldview”9 In response to the idea that immaterialism is an intellectual heresy to be avoided by the serious and responsible academic and scientist, I would point out that, as the history of the rise and fall of orthodoxies and their corresponding heresies in the history of religions makes clear, the word heresy has no objective significance, since the term is only a way of discrediting people with whom one disagrees religiously. It is an oft-repeated maxim of mine as a teacher of religious studies that one person’s heretic is another person’s saint. This is no less true in the history of science than in religion, since there are multiple and contrary views of what counts as science. Thus, the scientific orthodoxy of today, as aggressively defended by figures like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, is, simultaneously, ever more open to the study of consciousness and meditation, as seen in the work of Herbert Benson, Andrew Newberg, Eugene d’Aquili, Richard Davidson, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and many others. It seems that the study of consciousness and meditation almost inevitably lead to a less materialistic and even nonmaterialistic view of the world. This, in turn, seems to be leading to a softer, less aggressively materialistic variant of science.

 

The New Sciences of Religion

 This current unlinking of science and materialism and the rehabilitation of immaterialism is opening the way for a reawakening of the quest for contemplative universals as pursued in the old “science of religion”10 (an expression that at the turn of the twentieth century was a synonym for comparative religion).11 Because the search for generality has marked science from its origins in the major cultural hearths of the world,12 any genuine science of religion, whether new or old, must be a quest, above all, for the universal features of religiosity and spirituality wherever they appear. A genuine science of religion will not suppress nor be indifferent to the incalculable diversity of the world’s many religious and contemplative traditions. It will, on the contrary, delight in this diversity as providing the field in which its provisional generalities, or universals, can be formulated, tested, refined, and abandoned or reformulated. A nomothetic quest for generality in the study of religion, then, is not the abandonment of idiographic studies of individual religious complexes, but forms a complementary and necessary branch of religious studies.

Foundational to this new biological essentialism is the view that “there is a universal human nature,” which is grounded in “evolved psychological mechanisms” rather than in “cultural behaviors,” as Ilkka Pyysiäinen forthrightly declares.13 Insight into this universal human nature is emerging not through the sort of cultural studies currently dominant in religious studies, but through genetic, cognitive, evolutionary, neurobiological, and contemplative research. Undoubtedly this claim will surprise particularist, constructivist and hyper-empirical religious-studies scholars. Yet, as the following brief sketch should convey, the new sciences of religion have returned to the generalizing concerns of the nineteenth century’s science of religion. I offer the following examples not as a comprehensive overview of these emerging fields, but merely to suggest the potential of the emerging biological essentialism to aid in the development of a reinvigorated humanistic study of religion, one that will stand on the triple foundations of biological research in the areas of the cognitive science of religion, contemplative neuroscience, and neurotheology, disciplined yogic and contemplative experience, and the vast array of philological, philosophical, cultural, exegetical, interpretive, and ethnographic skills available to the traditionally trained religion-studies scholar. To the first of these three foundations, I will now briefly turn, while the second is at the heart of the second part of this book. For discussion of the third of these foundations, the reader is directed to the many standard methodological texts in the classic areas of academic religious studies.

 

A New Science of Religion: The Evolutionary Cognitive Science of Religion

 In current academic religious studies, the most established of these new sciences of religion is a discipline that was first called the cognitive science of religion (CSR), but has more recently taken to calling itself the evolutionary cognitive science of religion  (ECSR)14 Moving in the opposite direction of constructivism and cultural studies in religious studies, the turn by a small group of religion scholars to evolutionary and cognitive studies was, according to Francesca Cho and Richard King Squier, a “reactivating [of] the paradigm of universal theorizing about religion” through the envisioning of “the putative structures that evolution has imparted to human thought.”15 ECSR commenced, according to Steven Engler and Mark Quentin Gardiner, in 1990 with E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley’s Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture, although an argument can be made that it had its real beginning as early as 1980 with the work of Stewart Guthrie.16 Of the numerous suggestions made in Lawson and McCauley’s book, their identification of religion as commerce with “culturally postulated superhuman beings” came to be seen as “the defining characteristic of religion in subsequent cognitivist work.”17 As used by Justin L. Barrett, for example, the word religion can be defined as designating “a shared system of beliefs and actions concerning superhuman agency.”18 This conception, developed rigorously and most famously by Pascal Boyer,19 has evolved into a mechanistic, phenomenologically innocent20 model of human religiosity as traceable to a postulated cognitive capacity for “hyperactive agency detection” and its expression in behavior through “hyperactive agent-detection devices” (or HADD)21

At its simplest, this model accounts for religion by positing the overuse or misuse of a cognitive capacity in human beings for detecting agency.22 That is, we seem to have installed within us an Agency Detection Device (ADD), or, more simply, an agent detector.23 According to this cognitivist and evolutionary model, we human beings have bettered our chances of survival by quickly assuming that sudden movements or other changes in the environment are signs of an approaching predator. Whether we are right or wrong in attributing agency to what might merely be the trembling of leaves in a breeze is less important than the fact that, by reacting appropriately to a predatory agent that may turn out to be imaginary, we may survive still one more day and thereby have another chance to pass along our genes.

Yet this ordinary, and in itself nonreligious,24 cognitive capacity within humans, can go

seriously awry, according to ECSR, when, despite, increasing empirical knowledge of the actual material character of the world and of natural causation, people continue to attribute large-scale phenomena like the existence of the world and small-scale phenomena like changes in people’s fortunes for the better or worse to the activity of superhuman agents such as deities, ghosts, spirits, angels, demons, and the like. As fictional add-ons to other, empirically available agents, such as other human beings and various predators, our built-in agent detectors hyperactively conjure up the various religious agents that appear in human religions. These nonordinary agents are accounted for by ECSR as expressions of hyperactive agent detectors functioning unchecked within people./a>25 Despite even extensive scientific education, people’s hypersensitive agent detectors keep going off and alarm them to the presence of the putative hidden actors behind the scenes who are believed to be responsible for unexpected events, or miracles, and who create the world and reveal religious rituals and religious teachings.

Ilkka Pyysiäinen, a cognitive-science of religion theorist whose views are less adversarial to the insider’s sense of the reality of these agents, holds that religious ideas about supernatural agents can be explained as references to agents whose actions or character are “counter-intuitive” in one or more memorable ways to humanity’s shared “folk” or “intuitive” (i.e., scientifically unpurged) psychological, biological, theoretical, and ontological expectations (at least as construed from the outsider standpoint of a convinced naturalist and materialist26). These religious representations violate to some degree the boundaries of usually separate ontologicaldomains, such as impersonal natural phenomena and living persons27 (e.g., “benevolent rocks or weeping statues”2828). For example, the folk intuitive ontology in which agents always have bodies is violated in the case of deities,2929 who counterintuitively are bodiless, although in other respects deities conform to intuitive expectations about agents, such as having desires and beliefs.30

 

A New Science of Religion: Contemplative Neuroscience

 In striking contrast to the days of James and even Stace, we now live in a time of rapidly expanding and breathtakingly creative and daring developments in the neuroscience and neurobiology of meditation, which are being expanded and systematized in the emerging fields of contemplative neuroscience, or affective neuroscience,31 and neurotheology. A pioneer in the medical and scientific study of meditation is Herbert Benson, whose 1975 bestseller, The Relaxation Response, offered one of the first positive biological accounts of the physical correlates of the practice of meditation. This iconic book was the first in a long series of medical bestsellers focusing on the body-mind connection and the formerly mostly unexplored health benefits of meditation, which was just beginning in the middle 1970s to venture toward mainstream respectability. The lasting contribution of Benson’s research was his discovery that a simple meditation technique can induce a “physiological state of quietude”32 that is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response. Benson showed that meditation induces a decreased rate of metabolism, or hypometabolism, thus inducing a restful state. This is accompanied by decreases in heart rate, breathing rate, and previously elevated blood pressure, all of which contribute to decreased risk of hypertension and stroke (the conditions that led Benson to explore meditation as a remedy).33

Although Benson’s work must be credited with creating a platform for the mainstreaming of serious clinical and experimental research about meditation, the antecedents of contemplative neuroscience can be traced back to a new-paradigm-generating study by Arthur Deikman, whose 1963 article “Experimental Meditation,”34 is taken by Richard Davidson as inaugurating contemplative neuroscience,35 and to the work of three graduate-student friends, Richard Davidson, Daniel Goleman, and Jon Kabat-Zinn,36 whose later careers would produce research and clinical programs that can be seen as completing the mainstreaming of meditation begun by Benson. Also significant for the development of contemplative neuroscience is the path-breaking work in the emerging field of neurophenomenology of Francisco J. Varela as extended by Evan Thompson.37

Other recent discoveries that lend at least indirect support to contemplative neuroscience is the discovery of the so-called God gene by geneticist Dean Hamer, which is as at least as sensational a concept as Persinger’s God Helmet. Despite its popular style and the journalistic breeziness of its title, Dean Hamer’s The God Gene38 is a worthy successor to William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, and Hamer makes an important contribution to the scientific study of religious experience by showing that human beings have what he calls, “God genes” or a built-in “‘God module’ prewired in the brain.”39 More precisely, Hamer’s God gene is the VMAT2 gene, whose variations control serotonin and dopamine in order to produce altered states, which are characteristic of even lower-level meditative states. Because twin studies show that this gene is highly heritable, as measured in the Cloninger Self-Transcendence Scale, human beings seem to be genetically programmed for transcendent, contemplative experiences.

The relationship of meditative experience and genes is not a one-way street from genes to experience, as if causality here were only a bottom-up affair. Richard Davidson, along with researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, have discovered that meditation “reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes,” thereby increasing recovery from stress. It seems, then, that gene expression can be affected positively through meditative calming of the mind,40 which, as an instance of top-down causation, indicates that meditative experience has genetic correlates that are independent of the cultural forces of the meditator’s environment. Contrary, then, to all merely cultural and idiographic explanations of mysticism, neurobiology points toward a biological core that correlates with the phenomenological core of mysticism. As Hamer cogently and colorfully asserts: “Spirituality has a biological mechanism akin to birdsong, albeit a far more complex and nuanced one.”41

Neuroscientist Patrick McNamara lends support to the idea that religiosity has a neurobiological and neurochemical basis when, after a discussion of Walter Pahnke’s famous research on the mystical effects of LSD in The Neuroscience of Religious Experience, he tentatively concludes that “entheogens produce religious experiences by activating the same brain circuit that normally handles religious experiences.”42 As mapped by McNamara, this

circuit links “the orbital and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the ascending serotoninergic systems, the mesocortical DA [dopaminergic] system, the amygdala/hippocampus, and the right anterior temporal lobes.”43 McNamara see this circuit as composed of “the most important regions of the brain for studies of religious experience.”44 Given these developments in the neurobiology of religion and spirituality, academic religious studies has the opportunity to take what I like to think of as the neurobiological turn instead of continuing on with only textual, culturalist, and nomothetic studies of mysticism.

 

A New Science of Religion: Neurotheology

An influential and often-cited finding in the neuroscience of meditation 45 comes from the research of Andrew Newberg and his first collaborator, Eugene d’Aquili, and later collaborators (Newberg, not without hesitation, calls this approach “neurotheology,”46 an expression that would better be replaced, in my view, by the less sectarian expression “contemplative neuroscience”). Using SPECT scans to measure cerebral blood flow of meditators from various traditions, they have provided compelling, if not conclusive,47 evidence, that the cultivation of meditative states produces similar neuroanatomically observable changes in the posterior superior parietal lobe of the brain.48 Ordinarily, the thalamus continuously transmits auditory and visual information to this lobe, which then generates a sense of the body’s orientation in space and its relationship to other objects, or between self and other. But through the application of certain meditative techniques, the neural impulses from the left prefrontal cortex increase, with the result that neural activity in parts of the thalamus also increase, thereby suppressing neural impulses to the posterior superior parietal lobe. Then, in a well-corroborated result, the sense of the boundary between self and other dissolves for the meditator.4949 This process of deafferentation of, or decrease in, neural activity in the posterior superior parietal lobe occasions the rise of a nondual, unitive state of awareness that Newberg and d’Aquili call “absolute unitary being,”50 or an “enhanced non-cognitive state.”51 This finding is a stunning neurobiological verification of what Stace saw, on the basis only of literary studies—for he himself disclaimed having had mystical experiences52—as the introvertive mystical experience of “transsubjectivity” in which a mystic senses that “the boundary walls of the separate self fade away.”53

It is not hard at this point to conclude, on the basis of this signature neuroanatomical and neurophysiological process, that the brain has, as Newberg thinks, “universal functions” including religious functions, which could serve as a universal hermeneutic in all religious traditions.54 While theologians and other religious intellectuals have habitually looked to texts for the data upon which to base their interpretations and systematic reflections, and while they have often drawn upon religious experience for these purposes, it has never previously been part of theological, religious, and metaphysical systematics to draw upon the sciences of the brain and its operations. But, given this secure neuroanatomical finding, these fields now have the opportunity to take the revolutionary step of making a religious and spiritual fact rooted in the anatomy and physiology of the brain an ingredient in their speculations and interpretations. In his own attempt at making good on the theological element of neurotheology, Newberg has suggested this principle (among numerous others): “Every brain structure and function must be considered to be useful in understanding theological and philosophical concepts.”5555

It goes without saying that such neurobiological processes are shared among human beings, thus giving support to universalizing approaches to religious experience after decades of constructivist focusing on the cultural divergences that attend this or that individual mystical experience. As noted by Jensine Andresen and Robert K. C. Forman: “indeed, perhaps the domain of the religious reflects pan-human correlations at a deeper level than conceptuality— electrical activity in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, the stimulation of hormone flows, and the ceasing of random thought generation all may be seen as cross-cultural technologies of spiritual experience.”56

 

1 Ross Aden, Religion Today: A Critical Thinking Approach to Religious Studies

 (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013), 186. John Hick summarized this conclusion, “it seems, then, that the stimulation of the temporal lobe can produce in some people a sense of divine presence,” The New Frontier of Science and Religion: Religious Experience, Neuroscience and the Transcendent (Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2010; reissue of 2006 ed.), 63. For a more popular but balanced account of Persinger’s work, see Horgan, Rational Mysticism (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003), 91-105. Pehr Granqvist notes that the findings of Persinger’s studies, although replicated by Persinger himself multiple times, have failed to be replicated by other researchers, “Religion as a By-Product or Evolved Psychology: The Case of Attachment and Implications for Brain and Religion Research,” in Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion. Vol. 2. The Neurology of Religious Experience, ed. Patrick McNamara, ed. (Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 2006), 125.

2 Aden, Religion Today, 186. A view “cautiously” accepted, according to Todd Tremlin, by Ilkka Pyysiäinen, Todd Tremlin, Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 125.

3 Aden, Religion Today, 186.

4 Or what Aden call “cultural factors as well as the setting,” Religion Today, 186.

5 Justin L. Barrett notes that this defense of the naturalness of religious beliefs in god or God from the standpoint of the cognitive science of religion may seem to some theists “like a brutal and effective attack on theism,” Why Would Anyone Believe in God (Walnut Creek, CA, USA: Altamira Press, 2004), 123.

6 Kripal, Authors of the Impossible (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), Kindle edition, 268.

7 Aden, Religion Today, 188.

8 Kripal, Authors of the Impossible, 268.

9 Victoria Nelson, The Secret Life of Puppets (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 16; quoted in Kripal, Authors of the Impossible, 268.

10 Inaugurated perhaps by F. Max Müller’s lectures and writings on “the Science of Religion,” beginning with his surmise that “the Science of Religion” might be modeled on “the Science of Language,” Chips from a German Workshop: Essays on The Science of Religion, Vol. 1 (London: Longmans, Green, 1867), xv. This humanistic approach to developing a science of religion is to be distinguished from an experimental science of religion. As McNamara notes, The Neuroscience of Religious Experience, 81,William James was a pioneer of the latter approach, although the meager resources of the neuroscience of his day hampered the development of a robust neuroscience of religion until the 1970s, when the first lines of research that have now branched out into the many disciplines of contemplative neuroscience were first charted. See also Andrew W. Newberg, Principles of Neurotheology (Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2010), 11.

11 Instances of this conflation of the two expressions can be seen in Eric J. Sharpe, Comparative Religion: A History, 2nd ed. (La Salle, IL, USA: Open Court, 1986), xi-xiii, 22.

12 “Generality is a feature of scientific knowledge,” Michael Stausberg, “There is Life in the Old Dog Yet: An Introduction to Contemporary Theories of Religion,” in Michael Stausberg, Contemporary Theories of Religion: A Critical Companion (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 1. Here Stausberg draws upon Alan Chalmers, Science and Its Fabrication (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990).

13 Ilkka Pyysiäinen, How Religion Works: Toward a New Cognitive Science of Religion (Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill, 2001), vii.

14 Léon P. Turner notes that Edward Slingerland and Joseph Bulbulia have recently begun to call CSR “the evolutionary cognitive science of religion,” or ECSR, “Introduction,” in Fraser Watts and Léon P. Turner, eds. Evolution, Religion, and Cognitive Science (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 1.

15 Francesca Cho and Richard King Squier, “Religion as a Complex and Dynamic System,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81, no. 2 (June 2013): 386, accessed October 16, 2015, doi: 10.1093/jaarel/lft016. They refer in this context to Stausberg, Contemporary Theories of Religion, as “a review of current theories of religion, the majority of which utilize or relate to cognitive science.”

16 Steven Engler and Mark Quentin Gardiner, “Religion as Superhuman Agency: On E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley, Rethinking Religion (1990),” in Stausberg, Contemporary Theories, 22. Turner, “Introduction,” in Watts and Turner, Evolution, Religion, and Cognitive Science, 4, points out that “some of the basic premises of CSR were presented by Stewart Guthrie” in his 1980 essay, “A Cognitive Theory of Religion” (Current Anthropology 21, no. 2: 181-203), ideas that he later developed in Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).

17 Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley, Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 123, quoted in Engler and Gardiner, “Religion as Superhuman Agency,” in Stausberg, Contemporary Theories, 23.

18 Justin L. Barrett, “Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 4, no. 1 (Jan 2000): 29.

19 Pascal Boyer, “Evolution of the Modern Mind and the Origins of Culture: Religious Concepts as a Limiting Case,” in Peter Carruthers and Andrew Chamberlain, eds. Evolution and the Human Mind: Modularity, Language and Meta-Cognition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000): 93-112.

20 For example, see Ilkka Pyysiäinen, “Amazing Grace: Religion and the Evolution of the Human Mind,” in McNamara, Where God and Science Meet, 210.

21 Drawing upon the work of anthropologist Stewart Guthrie and E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley, J. L. Barrett developed the notion of the HADD in “Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion,” 29-34, and Why Would Anyone Believe in God? passim; cited in Steven Engler and Mark Quentin Gardiner, “Religion as Superhuman Agency: On E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley, Rethinking Religion (1990),” in Michael Stausberg, Contemporary Theories of Religion: A Critical Companion (London and New York: Routledge, 2009s, 23. Although the use of the word hyperactive seems more widespread in the literature, Barrett changed this (2004) to hypersensitive, which, conveniently, left HADD unchanged, but led to “some terminological confusion in the field,” Kelley James Clark and Justin L. Barrett, “Reidian Religious Epistemology and the Cognitive Science of Religion,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 79, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 640n.1.

22 Or what, Barrett, in summarizing Pascal Boyer’s “conceptual catalog of the supernatural,” characterizes as “minor aberrations of natural concepts,” “Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion,” 31.

23 Clark and Barrett, “Reidian Religious Epistemology and the Cognitive Science of Religion,” 640. That the ADD is not merely a conceptual construct of ECSR is Todd Tremlin’s claim, Minds and Gods, 124, based on research by Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux, that the ADD corresponds to a “‘dirty’ pathway” in the brain that feeds impulses from the sensory thalamus to the amygdala, which activates a “better safe than sorry” release of adrenaline, increased heartbeat, and a heightening of sensory perception that is sometimes not warranted by actual external events.

24 Lawson and McCauley choose to see the principles governing religious action and cognition as part of humanity’s general cognitive capacities rather than as instances of specifically religious cognitive capacities, E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley, Rethinking Religion,” 79, quoted in Engler and Gardiner, “Religion as Superhuman Agency,” 26. Pascal Boyer also holds a similar view, as does J. L. Barrett, “Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion,” 29, Why Would Anyone Believe in God, 119. See also Turner, “Introduction: Pluralism and Complexity in the Evolutionary Cognitive Science of Religion,” in Watts and Turner, Evolution, Religion, and Cognitive Science, 3; Stephen Pinker, “The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion,” in Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion, Vol. 1: “Evolution, Genes, and the Religious Brain,” ed. Patrick McNamara (Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 2006), 5-8, and Pehr Granqvist, “Religion as a By-Product or Evolved Psychology: The Case of Attachment and Implications for Brain and Religion Research,” in Where God and Science Meet, Vol. 2, 105, 138-140.

25 Engler and Gardiner, “Religion as Superhuman Agency,” 30; as noted in an earlier footnote, J. L. Barret developed the notion of hyperactive or hypersensitive agency detection in “Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion,” Trends in Cognitive Science 4 (2000), 29-34, and Why Would Anyone Believe in God, 31-44, 120.

26 As in the case of Stephen Pinker, “The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion,” in  McNamara, Where God and Science Meet, Vol. 1, 6-7.

27 Ilkka Pyysiäinen, How Religion Works: Toward a New Cognitive Science of Religion (Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill, 2001), 14-23.

28 Pyysiäinen, How Religion Works, 17.

29 Pyysiäinen, How Religion Works, 20. In developing this line of argument, Pyysiäinen acknowledges his reliance upon the ideas of Scott Atran, Dan Sperber, and Pascal Boyer, ibid., 19. Boyer writes, “Religious concepts are constrained by intuitive ontology in two different ways: [1] they include explicit violations of intuitive expectations, and [2] they tacitly activate a background of non-violated ‘default’ expectations,” “Evolution of the Modern Mind and the Origins of Culture: Religious Concepts as a Limiting Case,” in Peter Carruthers and Andrew Chamberlain, eds. Evolution and the Human Mind: Modularity, Language and Meta-Cognition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 100.

30 Pyysiäinen, How Religion Works, 21.

31 As developed by figures such as Arthur Deikman, Richard Davidson, Daniel Goleman, Francisco Varela, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and B. Alan Wallace, “Meng Wu Lecture: Richard Davidson, PhD,” Stanford University, October 2, 2012, accessed August 17, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKKg3CDczpA.

32 Herbert Benson, “Foreword: Twenty-fifth Anniversary Update, in Herbert Benson with Miriam Z. Klipper, The Relaxation Response, (New York: Harper-Collins, 2009; 2nd ed. 2000; 1st ed. 1975), Kindle edition, “Foreword.”

33 Benson, “Foreword: Twenty-fifth Anniversary Update,” in Benson, The Relaxation Response, Kindle edition, “Foreword.”

34 Arthur J. Deikman, “Experimental Meditation,” Journal of Nervous Mental Disorders

136 (April 1963): 329-43.

35 Richard Davidson, “Meng Wu Lecture.” Other early articles in what is now known as contemplative neuroscience include, according to Davidson, ibid.: Robert Keith Wallace, “Physiological Effects of Transcendental Meditation,” Science, March 27, 1970,: 1751-1754, accessed October 20, 2015, doi: 10.1126/science.167.3926.1751; J. P. Banquet, “Spectral Analysis of the EEG in Meditation,” Journal of Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology 35, no. 2 (August 1973): 143-151; Richard J. Davidson, Daniel J. Goleman, and Gary E, Schwartz, “Attentional and Affective Concomitants of Meditation: A Cross- Sectional Study,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 85 (1976): 235-238; Richard J. Davidson and Daniel J. Gorman, “The Role of Attention in Meditation and Hypnosis: A Psychobiological Perspective on Transformations of Consciousness,” The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 25, no. 4 (October 1977): 291-308; Daniel J. Goleman, “The Buddha on Meditation and States of Consciousness, Part I: The Teachings,” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 4, no. 2 (1972): 1-44; “The Buddha on Meditation and States of Consciousness, Part II: A Typology of Meditation Techniques” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 4 (1972):

151-210; Jon Kabat-Zinn, “An Outpatient Program in Behavioral Medicine for Chronic Pain Patients Based on the Practice of Mindfulness Meditation,” General Hospital Psychiatry, 4 (1982): 33-47, and Francisco J. Varela, “Neurophenomenology: A Methodological Remedy for the Hard Problem,” Journal for Consciousness Studies 3, no. 4 (1996): 330-49.

36 Richard Davidson, “Meng Wu Lecture.”

37 To be noted also is Donald D. Price and James J. Barrell’s sensitivity to first-person, experiential, introspective, and phenomenological accounts of conscious experience that has led them over the last four decades to develop a new multidisciplinary approach that blends the natural sciences, especially neuroscience, with what they name “experiential science.” They also note the materialistic outlook of current Western science, refute mind-brain identity theories, and look to phenomenologists such as Husserl, Marcel, and Merleau-Ponty to overcome the resistance in psychology in the twentieth century to “the idea that human meanings underpin psychological responses,” Inner Experience and Neuroscience: Merging Both Perspectives (Cambridge, NA, London: MIT Press, 2012), 2, 4, 9-14, 22.

38 Dean Hamer, The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into Our Genes (New York: Anchor), 2005.

39 Hamer, The God Gene, 211. The “God Gene” is the VMAT2 gene, whose variations control serotonin and dopamine to produce altered states. Twin studies show that this gene is highly heritable, as measured in the Cloninger Self-Transcendence Scale, ibid., viii, 9-10, 21-35, 72-78.

40 Perla Kaliman, María Jesús Álvarez-López, Marta Cosín-Tomás, Melissa A. Rosenkranz, Antoine Lutz, and Richard J. Davidson, “Rapid Changes in Histone Deacetylases and Inflammatory Gene Expression in Expert Meditators,” Psychoneuroendocrinology 40 (February 2014): 96-107, accessed October 20, 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.

2013.11.004; Belinda Weber, “Meditation Changes Gene Expression, Study Shows,” Medical

News Today, December 12, 2013, accessed October 19, 2014, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/269910.php.

41 Hamer, The God Gene, 8

42 Patrick McNamara, The Neuroscience of Religious Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 137-138.

43 McNamara, The Neuroscience of Religious Experience, 127.

44 McNamara, The Neuroscience of Religious Experience, 127.

45 Positive summaries of this research include, Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 235-237; Horgan, Rational Mysticism, 74-75; Hick, The New Frontier of Religion and Science, 62, 75; Aubele, Wenck, and Reynolds, Train Your Brain to Get Happy, 92, and numerous magazine and newspaper articles.

46 Newberg, Principles of Neurotheology, ix.

47 Nash and Newberg, “Toward A Unifying Taxonomy and Definition for Meditation,” 8, cite Hans-Otto Karnath, Susanne Ferber, and Marc Himmelbach, “Spatial Awareness is a Function of the Temporal Not the Posterior Parietal Lobe,” which suggests that the superior temporal lobe “may play a more important role in body spatial representation,” Nature 411 (2001): 950-953, accessed October 20, 2015. doi:10.1038/35082075. See also Andrew B. Newberg, “Religious and Spiritual Practices: A Neurochemical Perspective,” In Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion. Vol. 2. The Neurology of Religious Experience, 22-23. Edited by Patrick McNamara (Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 2006), 23.

48 Nash and Newberg, “Toward A Unifying Taxonomy and Definition for Meditation, 8; Andrew Newberg, Eugene d’Aquili, and Vince Rause, Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief 1st trade ed. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2002), 1-10; Eugene d’Aquili, Andrew B. Newberg, The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 110-113; Danny J.J. Wang, Hengyi Rao, Marc Korczykowski, Nancy Wintering, John Pluta, Dharma Singh Khalsa, Andrew B. Newberg, “Cerebral Blood Flow Changes Associated with Different Meditation Practices and Perceived Depth of Meditation,” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 191 (2011) 60–67, accessed October 20, 2015, doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.09.011; Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist pbk. ed. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2010), 16-17, 41-63; Patrick McNamara, Raymon Durso, Ariel Brown, and Erica Harris, “The Chemistry of Religiosity: Evidence from Patients with Parkinson’s Disease,” McNamara, Where God and Science Meet, Vol. 2, 2. These results have not gone unnoticed by theologians and religious-studies scholars, see, for example, Hick, The New Frontier of Religion and Science, 62, 75; Taves, Religious Experience Reconsidered, 21.

49 Nash and Newberg, “Toward A Unifying Taxonomy and Definition for Meditation, 8; Andrew B. Newberg, “Religious and Spiritual Practices: A Neurobiological Perspective,” in McNamara, Where God and Science Meet, Vol.  2, 22-23; Newberg, “Religious and Spiritual Practices,” 22.

50 Newberg and d’Aquili, The Mystical Mind, 13-14, 95, 110-114.

51 Equal, I think, to asamprajñāta-samādhi in the Yoga Sūtra and nirodha-samāpatti in the Visuddhimagga. These states are brought about by the cultivation of what Nash and Newberg call a “Null Domain” methods, which “purport to create an enhanced empty state that is devoid of phenomenological content—a non-cognitive/non-affective state,” Nash and Newberg, “Toward A Unifying Taxonomy and Definition for Meditation,” 6-7.

52 W. T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1987, repr. London: Macmillan Press, 1960), 19. In contrast to Stace, who could only argue for the reality of the mystical though comparative literary studies, we can now test the adequacy of this claim through the twin tools of dedicated meditation and neuroscience, thanks to stunning advances in neuroscience in the last forty years and the global rise of two generations of practitioners well- trained by traditional teachers in the classic contemplative traditions of Asia. Where Stace wrote as a philosopher sympathetic to and perhaps even sensitized to mysticism, Stace, Meditation and Philosophy, 21, but without consistent or profound mystical experiences of his own, the scholar of mysticism is today more likely than a half century ago to be a longtime and well-trained meditator. And, unlike in Stace’s day, the student of mysticism can today draw upon the rapidly expanding field of contemplative neuroscience in order to uncover and confirm the universality of various types of mystical and yogic experience, Newberg, d’Aquili, and Rause, Why God Won’t Go Away, 7, 140-141.

53 Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 147, 148, 152, 204.

54 Andrew W. Newberg, Principles of Neurotheology (Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2010) 64. Or what, according to Evan Thompson, neuroscientists call the “intrinsic activity” of the brain, which is generated by the brain and not outwardly determined, Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), Kindle edition, “Prologue: The Dalai Lama’s Conjecture.”

55 Newberg, Principles of Neurotheology, 89.

56 Jensine Andresen and Robert K. C. Forman, “Methodological Pluralism in the Study of Religion: How the Study of Consciousness and Mapping Spiritual Experiences can Reshape Religious Studies Methodology,” in Andresen and Forman, Cognitive Models and Spiritual Maps, 13.

Footnotes

  1. Ross Aden, Religion Today: A Critical Thinking Approach to Religious Studies, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013), 186. John Hick summarized this conclusion, “it seems, then, that the stimulation of the temporal lobe can produce in some people a sense of divine presence,” The New Frontier of Science and Religion: Religious Experience, Neuroscience and the Transcendent (Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2010; reissue of 2006 ed.), 63. For a more popular but balanced account of Persinger’s work, see Horgan, Rational Mysticism (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003), 91-105. Pehr Granqvist notes that the findings of Persinger’s studies, although replicated by Persinger himself multiple times, have failed to be replicated by other researchers, “Religion as a By-Product or Evolved Psychology: The Case of Attachment and Implications for Brain and Religion Research,” in Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion. Vol. 2. The Neurology of Religious Experience, ed. Patrick McNamara, ed. (Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 2006), 125.
  2. Aden, Religion Today, 186. A view “cautiously” accepted, according to Todd Tremlin, by Ilkka Pyysiäinen, Todd Tremlin, Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 125.
  3. Aden, Religion Today, 186.
  4. Or what Aden call “cultural factors as well as the setting,” Religion Today, 186.
  5. Justin L. Barrett notes that this defense of the naturalness of religious beliefs in god or God from the standpoint of the cognitive science of religion may seem to some theists “like a brutal and effective attack on theism,” Why Would Anyone Believe in God (Walnut Creek, CA, USA: Altamira Press, 2004), 123.
  6. Kripal, Authors of the Impossible (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), Kindle edition, 268.
  7. Aden, Religion Today, 188.
  8. Kripal, Authors of the Impossible, 268.
  9. Victoria Nelson, The Secret Life of Puppets (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 16; quoted in Kripal, Authors of the Impossible, 268.
  10. Inaugurated perhaps by F. Max Müller’s lectures and writings on “the Science of Religion,” beginning with his surmise that “the Science of Religion” might be modeled on “the Science of Language,” Chips from a German Workshop: Essays on The Science of Religion, Vol. 1 (London: Longmans, Green, 1867), xv. This humanistic approach to developing a science of religion is to be distinguished from an experimental science of religion. As McNamara notes, The Neuroscience of Religious Experience, 81,William James was a pioneer of the latter approach, although the meager resources of the neuroscience of his day hampered the development of a robust neuroscience of religion until the 1970s, when the first lines of research that have now branched out into the many disciplines of contemplative neuroscience were first charted. See also Andrew W. Newberg, Principles of Neurotheology (Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2010), 11.
  11. Instances of this conflation of the two expressions can be seen in Eric J. Sharpe, Comparative Religion: A History, 2nd ed. (La Salle, IL, USA: Open Court, 1986), xi-xiii, 22.
  12. “Generality is a feature of scientific knowledge,” Michael Stausberg, “There is Life in the Old Dog Yet: An Introduction to Contemporary Theories of Religion,” in Michael Stausberg, Contemporary Theories of Religion: A Critical Companion (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 1. Here Stausberg draws upon Alan Chalmers, Science and Its Fabrication (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990).
  13. Ilkka Pyysiäinen, How Religion Works: Toward a New Cognitive Science of Religion
    (Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill, 2001), vii.
  14. Léon P. Turner notes that Edward Slingerland and Joseph Bulbulia have recently begun to call CSR “the evolutionary cognitive science of religion,” or ECSR, “Introduction,” in Fraser Watts and Léon P. Turner, eds. Evolution, Religion, and Cognitive Science (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 1.
  15. Francesca Cho and Richard King Squier, “Religion as a Complex and Dynamic System,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81, no. 2 (June 2013): 386, accessed October 16, 2015, doi: 10.1093/jaarel/lft016. They refer in this context to Stausberg, Contemporary Theories of Religion, as “a review of current theories of religion, the majority of which utilize or relate to cognitive science.”
  16. Steven Engler and Mark Quentin Gardiner, “Religion as Superhuman Agency: On E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley, Rethinking Religion (1990),” in Stausberg, Contemporary Theories, 22. Turner, “Introduction,” in Watts and Turner, Evolution, Religion, and Cognitive Science, 4, points out that “some of the basic premises of CSR were presented by Stewart Guthrie” in his 1980 essay, “A Cognitive Theory of Religion” (Current Anthropology 21, no. 2: 181-203), ideas that he later developed in Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
  17. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley, Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 123, quoted in Engler and Gardiner, “Religion as Superhuman Agency,” in Stausberg, Contemporary Theories, 23.
  18. Justin L. Barrett, “Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion,” Trends in CognitiveSciences 4, no. 1 (Jan 2000): 29.
  19. Pascal Boyer, “Evolution of the Modern Mind and the Origins of Culture: Religious Concepts as a Limiting Case,” in Peter Carruthers and Andrew Chamberlain, eds. Evolution and the Human Mind: Modularity, Language and Meta-Cognition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000): 93-112.
  20. For example, see Ilkka Pyysiäinen, “Amazing Grace: Religion and the Evolution of the Human Mind,” in McNamara, Where God and Science Meet, 210.
  21. Drawing upon the work of anthropologist Stewart Guthrie and E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley, J. L. Barrett developed the notion of the HADD in “Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion,” 29-34, and Why Would Anyone Believe in God? passim; cited in Steven Engler and Mark Quentin Gardiner, “Religion as Superhuman Agency: On E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley, Rethinking Religion (1990),” in Michael Stausberg, Contemporary Theories of Religion: A Critical Companion (London and New York: Routledge, 2009s, 23. Although the use of the word hyperactive seems more widespread in the literature, Barrett changed this (2004) to hypersensitive, which, conveniently, left HADD unchanged, but led to “some terminological confusion in the field,” Kelley James Clark and Justin L. Barrett, “Reidian Religious Epistemology and the Cognitive Science of Religion,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 79, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 640n.1.
  22. Or what, Barrett, in summarizing Pascal Boyer’s “conceptual catalog of the supernatural,” characterizes as “minor aberrations of natural concepts,” “Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion,” 31.
  23. Clark and Barrett, “Reidian Religious Epistemology and the Cognitive Science of Religion,” 640. That the ADD is not merely a conceptual construct of ECSR is Todd Tremlin’s claim, Minds and Gods, 124, based on research by Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux, that the ADD corresponds to a “‘dirty’ pathway” in the brain that feeds impulses from the sensory thalamus to the amygdala, which activates a “better safe than sorry” release of adrenaline, increased heartbeat, and a heightening of sensory perception that is sometimes not warranted by actual external events.
  24. Lawson and McCauley choose to see the principles governing religious action and cognition as part of humanity’s general cognitive capacities rather than as instances of specifically religious cognitive capacities, E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley, Rethinking Religion,” 79, quoted in Engler and Gardiner, “Religion as Superhuman Agency,” 26. Pascal Boyer also holds a similar view, as does J. L. Barrett, “Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion,” 29, Why Would Anyone Believe in God, 119. See also Turner, “Introduction: Pluralism and Complexity in the Evolutionary Cognitive Science of Religion,” in Watts and Turner, Evolution, Religion, and Cognitive Science, 3; Stephen Pinker, “The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion,” in Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion, Vol. 1: “Evolution, Genes, and the Religious Brain,” ed. Patrick McNamara (Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 2006), 5-8, and Pehr Granqvist, “Religion as a By-Product or Evolved Psychology: The Case of Attachment and Implications for Brain and Religion Research,” in Where God and Science Meet, Vol. 2, 105, 138-140.
  25. Engler and Gardiner, “Religion as Superhuman Agency,” 30; as noted in an earlier footnote, J. L. Barret developed the notion of hyperactive or hypersensitive agency detection in “Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion,” Trends in Cognitive Science 4 (2000), 29-34, and Why Would Anyone Believe in God, 31-44, 120.
  26. As in the case of Stephen Pinker, “The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion,” in McNamara, Where God and Science Meet, Vol. 1, 6-7.
  27. Ilkka Pyysiäinen, How Religion Works: Toward a New Cognitive Science of Religion (Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill, 2001), 14-23.
  28. Pyysiäinen, How Religion Works, 17.
  29. Pyysiäinen, How Religion Works, 20. In developing this line of argument, Pyysiäinen acknowledges his reliance upon the ideas of Scott Atran, Dan Sperber, and Pascal Boyer, ibid., 19. Boyer writes, “Religious concepts are constrained by intuitive ontology in two different ways: [1] they include explicit violations of intuitive expectations, and [2] they tacitly activate a background of non-violated ‘default’ expectations,” “Evolution of the Modern Mind and the Origins of Culture: Religious Concepts as a Limiting Case,” in Peter Carruthers and Andrew Chamberlain, eds. Evolution and the Human Mind: Modularity, Language and Meta-Cognition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 100.
  30. Pyysiäinen, How Religion Works, 21.
  31. As developed by figures such as Arthur Deikman, Richard Davidson, Daniel Goleman, Francisco Varela, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and B. Alan Wallace, “Meng Wu Lecture: Richard Davidson, PhD,” Stanford University, October 2, 2012, accessed August 17, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKKg3CDczpA.
  32. Herbert Benson, “Foreword: Twenty-fifth Anniversary Update, in Herbert Benson with Miriam Z. Klipper, The Relaxation Response, (New York: Harper-Collins, 2009; 2nd ed. 2000; 1st ed. 1975), Kindle edition, “Foreword.”
  33. Benson, “Foreword: Twenty-fifth Anniversary Update,” in Benson, The Relaxation Response, Kindle edition, “Foreword.”
  34. Arthur J. Deikman, “Experimental Meditation,” Journal of Nervous Mental Disorders 136 (April 1963): 329-43.
  35. Richard Davidson, “Meng Wu Lecture.” Other early articles in what is now known as contemplative neuroscience include, according to Davidson, ibid.: Robert Keith Wallace, “Physiological Effects of Transcendental Meditation,” Science, March 27, 1970,: 1751-1754, accessed October 20, 2015, doi: 10.1126/science.167.3926.1751; J. P. Banquet, “Spectral Analysis of the EEG in Meditation,” Journal of Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology 35, no. 2 (August 1973): 143-151; Richard J. Davidson, Daniel J. Goleman, and Gary E, Schwartz, “Attentional and Affective Concomitants of Meditation: A Cross- Sectional Study,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 85 (1976): 235-238; Richard J. Davidson and Daniel J. Gorman, “The Role of Attention in Meditation and Hypnosis: A Psychobiological Perspective on Transformations of Consciousness,” The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 25, no. 4 (October 1977): 291-308; Daniel J. Goleman, “The Buddha on Meditation and States of Consciousness, Part I: The Teachings,” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 4, no. 2 (1972): 1-44; “The Buddha on Meditation and States of Consciousness, Part II: A Typology of Meditation Techniques” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 4 (1972): 151-210; Jon Kabat-Zinn, “An Outpatient Program in Behavioral Medicine for Chronic Pain Patients Based on the Practice of Mindfulness Meditation,” General Hospital Psychiatry, 4 (1982): 33-47, and Francisco J. Varela, “Neurophenomenology: A Methodological Remedy for the Hard Problem,” Journal for Consciousness Studies 3, no. 4 (1996): 330-49.
  36. Richard Davidson, “Meng Wu Lecture.”
  37. To be noted also is Donald D. Price and James J. Barrell’s sensitivity to first-person, experiential, introspective, and phenomenological accounts of conscious experience that has led them over the last four decades to develop a new multidisciplinary approach that blends the natural sciences, especially neuroscience, with what they name “experiential science.” They also note the materialistic outlook of current Western science, refute mind-brain identity theories, and look to phenomenologists such as Husserl, Marcel, and Merleau-Ponty to overcome the resistance in psychology in the twentieth century to “the idea that human meanings underpin psychological responses,” Inner Experience and Neuroscience: Merging Both Perspectives (Cambridge, NA, London: MIT Press, 2012), 2, 4, 9-14, 22.
  38. Dean Hamer, The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into Our Genes (New York: Anchor), 2005.
  39. Hamer, The God Gene, 211. The “God Gene” is the VMAT2 gene, whose variations control serotonin and dopamine to produce altered states. Twin studies show that this gene is highly heritable, as measured in the Cloninger Self-Transcendence Scale, ibid., viii, 9-10, 21-35, 72-78.
  40. Perla Kaliman, María Jesús Álvarez-López, Marta Cosín-Tomás, Melissa A. Rosenkranz, Antoine Lutz, and Richard J. Davidson, “Rapid Changes in Histone Deacetylases and Inflammatory Gene Expression in Expert Meditators,” Psychoneuroendocrinology 40 (February 2014): 96-107, accessed October 20, 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen. 2013.11.004; Belinda Weber, “Meditation Changes Gene Expression, Study Shows,” Medical News Today, December 12, 2013, accessed October 19, 2014, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/269910.php.
  41. Hamer, The God Gene, 8
  42. Patrick McNamara, The Neuroscience of Religious Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 137-138.
  43. McNamara, The Neuroscience of Religious Experience, 127.
  44. McNamara, The Neuroscience of Religious Experience, 127.
  45. Positive summaries of this research include, Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 235-237; Horgan, Rational Mysticism, 74-75; Hick, The New Frontier of Religion and Science, 62, 75; Aubele, Wenck, and Reynolds, Train Your Brain to Get Happy, 92, and numerous magazine and newspaper articles.
  46. Newberg, Principles of Neurotheology, ix.
  47. Nash and Newberg, “Toward A Unifying Taxonomy and Definition for Meditation,” 8, cite Hans-Otto Karnath, Susanne Ferber, and Marc Himmelbach, “Spatial Awareness is a Function of the Temporal Not the Posterior Parietal Lobe,” which suggests that the superior temporal lobe “may play a more important role in body spatial representation,” Nature 411 (2001): 950-953, accessed October 20, 2015. doi:10.1038/35082075. See also Andrew B. Newberg, “Religious and Spiritual Practices: A Neurochemical Perspective,” In Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion. Vol. 2. The Neurology of Religious Experience, 22-23. Edited by Patrick McNamara (Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 2006), 23.
  48. Nash and Newberg, “Toward A Unifying Taxonomy and Definition for Meditation, 8;
    Andrew Newberg, Eugene d’Aquili, and Vince Rause, Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief 1st trade ed. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2002), 1-10; Eugene d’Aquili, Andrew B. Newberg, The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 110-113; Danny J.J. Wang, Hengyi Rao, Marc Korczykowski, Nancy Wintering, John Pluta, Dharma Singh Khalsa, Andrew B. Newberg, “Cerebral Blood Flow Changes Associated with Different Meditation Practices and Perceived Depth of Meditation,” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 191 (2011) 60–67, accessed October 20, 2015, doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.09.011; Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist pbk. ed. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2010), 16-17, 41-63; Patrick McNamara, Raymon Durso, Ariel Brown, and Erica Harris, “The Chemistry of Religiosity: Evidence from Patients with Parkinson’s Disease,” McNamara, Where God and Science Meet, Vol. 2, 2. These results have not gone unnoticed by theologians and religious-studies scholars, see, for example, Hick, The New Frontier of Religion and Science, 62, 75; Taves, Religious Experience Reconsidered, 21.
  49. Nash and Newberg, “Toward A Unifying Taxonomy and Definition for Meditation, 8; Andrew B. Newberg, “Religious and Spiritual Practices: A Neurobiological Perspective,” in McNamara, Where God and Science Meet, Vol. 2, 22-23; Newberg, “Religious and Spiritual Practices,” 22.
  50. Newberg and d’Aquili, The Mystical Mind, 13-14, 95, 110-114.
  51. Equal, I think, to asamprajñāta-samādhi in the Yoga Sūtra and nirodha-samāpatti in the Visuddhimagga. These states are brought about by the cultivation of what Nash and Newberg call a “Null Domain” methods, which “purport to create an enhanced empty state that is devoid of phenomenological content—a non-cognitive/non-affective state,” Nash and Newberg, “Toward A Unifying Taxonomy and Definition for Meditation,” 6-7.
  52. W. T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1987, repr. London: Macmillan Press, 1960), 19. In contrast to Stace, who could only argue for the reality of the mystical though comparative literary studies, we can now test the adequacy of this claim through the twin tools of dedicated meditation and neuroscience, thanks to stunning advances in neuroscience in the last forty years and the global rise of two generations of practitioners well- trained by traditional teachers in the classic contemplative traditions of Asia. Where Stace wrote as a philosopher sympathetic to and perhaps even sensitized to mysticism, Stace, Meditation and Philosophy, 21, but without consistent or profound mystical experiences of his own, the scholar of mysticism is today more likely than a half century ago to be a longtime and well-trained meditator. And, unlike in Stace’s day, the student of mysticism can today draw upon the rapidly expanding field of contemplative neuroscience in order to uncover and confirm the universality of various types of mystical and yogic experience, Newberg, d’Aquili, and Rause, Why God Won’t Go Away, 7, 140-141.
  53. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 147, 148, 152, 204.
  54. Andrew W. Newberg, Principles of Neurotheology (Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2010) 64. Or what, according to Evan Thompson, neuroscientists call the “intrinsic activity” of the brain, which is generated by the brain and not outwardly determined, Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), Kindle edition, “Prologue: The Dalai Lama’s Conjecture.”
  55. Newberg, Principles of Neurotheology, 89.
  56. Jensine Andresen and Robert K. C. Forman, “Methodological Pluralism in the Study of Religion: How the Study of Consciousness and Mapping Spiritual Experiences can Reshape Religious Studies Methodology,” in Andresen and Forman, Cognitive Models and Spiritual Maps, 13.
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