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Publisher's Summary

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?Most people, whether deeply religious or outright doubters of any spiritual power, have probably pondered these questions for themselves. In fact, the religious impulse is so powerfully pervasive that neuroscience has posed a provocative question: Are our brains wired to worship?

Now, in a series of 24 riveting lectures from an award-winning scholar and practicing neuroscientist, you can explore the exciting field of neurotheology - the new 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," Professor 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.

In these captivating lectures, you'll learn how religious experiences originate, their meaning, and the reasons why religion plays such a huge role in human experience - peering directly into the seat of all human thought and action as you delve into the relationship between brain function and spirituality.

A leading researcher in neurotheology, Professor 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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2012 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2012 The Great Courses

What members say

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Engaging

When a topic like Science and Religious Experience is the focus I have a little caution. Depending on the authors bias and preconceptions the results can be more of a soap box for personal opinion than an objective study.

I did not find this to be the case with this. Through the whole listen I didn't feel any bias was present but rather a thorough study of religious experience and true scientific analysis of possible explanations.

When a solid scientific explanation for something could not be called upon to describe something there is no attempt to try and use that as some sort of proof that it must have a divine source. Nor is a divine source ruled out. It is left as a question.

There is a great deal of information packed into these lectures and I believe it is a great listen to anyone religious to shed light on some of the experiences that can be brought into question and by non-religious to help understand better what religious experience is to a person who has one.

This is by far the best source I have found for the latest research and information on this subject.

39 of 40 people found this review helpful

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A WARNING...

There are two groups of people who are going to be apt to preemptively judge this "book by its cover:" religious people and atheists. This is NOT a book about religion. Newberg does personally have a religious bent (neurological tendency?), but those seeking a scientific proof of God are going to have to go elsewhere. This is NOT a promotion of religion. So do not come at this book and have a knee-jerk negative reaction because of two words in the title. It IS a book about the neurological basis of religious EXPERIENCE. Get that? EXPERIENCE. That people have an experience of religion means neither that it is true or false or anything other than that they tend to experience something in a very subjective way. This is a scientific, neurological examination of the pre-wiring of the human brain to potentially think in religious terms. Now, if you need more reassurance, devout atheists such as V. Ramachandran have explored this topic and used Newberg's "nun study" in their work. (Ramachandran studied a split brain patient whose left brain was atheist and whose right brain was religious: he quipped that he wondered if half the man would go to heaven and the other half to hell.) Steven Pinker, also an atheist, has quoted Newberg's work in his examination of whether or not the tendency toward religiosity or atheism is heritable (it seems to be). There are also other interesting case studies to consider. The religious experience has been identified more or less with the right temporal lobe, and those with temporal lobe epilepsy (like Vincent Van Gogh) are prone to very vivid religious hallucinations (visions?)--Van Gogh had them. Again and again: this is a neurological study of the religious EXPERIENCE in humans, not a book advocating religion. So go in prepared. (O, and it's a really good lecture series too, if you were wondering...)

153 of 165 people found this review helpful

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Outstanding overview

Professor Andrew Newberg presents an outstanding synthesis of a very complex subject, the latest research on brain activity, measured with the latest neuroimaging and other biological methods, to determine their relationship to prayer, meditation, mysticism, faith, speaking in tongues, and other characteristics of religious people. This course is appropriate for a general adult audience however it will be appreciated by both theology and scientific audiences.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Interesting

This is interesting and enlightening from both a scientific and religious perspective. Did God create the brain to seek him, or did our brains evolve to create God. Understanding more about how our brains work can help us in our pusuit for answers and understanding why we think the way we do.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Wow. Engaging and Fluid

Fascinating subject; by itself, and in addition to the professors passion and curiosity of it, which are pleasantly overarching in each lecture - and the course itself.

What I liked:
-Andrew engaged me with questions throughout the lectures
-Each lecture flowed naturally into the other, and as a whole
-I enjoyed Andrews refreshing ways of exploring science

Who should listen to this? Anyone who has ever thought about religion, spirituality, the brain, or are interested in expanding the way they see the world.

*I've read Andrew's book 'How Enlightenment Changes your Brain' and listened to 'How God Changes your Brain'* - both are incredibly interesting, and can give you further insights to his research.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Expected more experiements, but it wasn't bs

Any additional comments?

I am a scientist. I can be picky about what is passed off as science. However, all lines are blurry when it comes to experiments with human subjects. I think the author here was reasonable enough.<br/>What i didn't like was that this book was repetitive and basic, and did not have much meat. <br/>Experiments are meat. There were a few experiments. For example, monitoring the brain activity of some Franciscan nuns while they were meditating. I was satisfied with the explanations of the meditation and the results. However, I was hoping that there would be a dozen or more experiments. <br/>What writer really wants to get across is that, in places like nursing homes and hospitals, it is healthy and beneficial for patients to have access to things like church services, shrines, ect. What he doesn't say is that the reason he needs to argue this is because... say an insurance company is deciding whether or not they are going to put a care facility in their network, or say that you are gathering funding to build a new hospital... you get the picture$

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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slow start

lectures star slow and seem to drag, but it picks up. the topics were interesting and informative

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Nice overview but too thin

Would you try another book from The Great Courses and/or Professor Andrew Newberg?

Newberg is knowledgeable and I would try another book by him. This was the first Great Courses audiobook I've tried, and it was so thin on content that I'm hesitant to buy any other Great Courses audiobook, even though I've put several on my wish list.

What do you think your next listen will be?

A nonfiction book on a similar topic but with more content. Typically I will relisten to an audiobook, but not this one.

Which character – as performed by Professor Andrew Newberg – was your favorite?

My favorite scientific study was when they gave dopamine to atheists, making them perceive ambiguous shapes more like believers perceive them.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment. I kept waiting to get past the general and to the meaty specifics. Even though I was listening as double speed, the content was so thin that my mind wandered.

Any additional comments?

It's in the form of lectures, so it works great for an Audiobook. The Modern Scholar series is better. It's also in lecture format, but the content is powerful and packed, not weak and thin.

13 of 20 people found this review helpful

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A metaphysical approach to the human need religion

If you could sum up The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience in three words, what would they be?

The unknown brain

What other book might you compare The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience to and why?

Mind Body Philosophy. Both attempt to describe how the brain actually deals with subjective experience.

What about Professor Andrew Newberg’s performance did you like?

Good trial (experimental) related stories

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No - it's not that kind of topic.

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just loves this!

I love how this lecture was sensitive to all those with rigid belief systems. he provides neuroscience of the brain to explain spiritual experience. Why some are more prone to accept religion and those who are atheists.

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  • Kev Nw1
  • 09-19-17

A interesting course

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes quite a light and interesting series, although some of the later lectures I found less interesting

Any additional comments?

Good but not great

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  • Jim Vaughan
  • 09-04-17

Neurotheology from an Eminent Leader in the Field

Prof. Newberg is one of the great names in the research of brain states and religion. His seminal work with D'Aquila on brain changes during meditation is fascinating and original and he starts the course describing his work and findings.

The course of 24 lectures goes on to examine the various functions, such as the holistic function, spacial and temporal orientation, identity functions, morality functions etc. and the brain areas responsible, which contribute to our human religious and mystical experiences, beliefs and concepts.

Whether religion can be reduced explanatorily to these brain states, or whether they point to the perception of a transcendent reality is an enjoyable philosophical thread that runs through the whole course, without ever being resolved.

The course was recorded some time ago, and advances have been made since. I would have liked more specifics eg. names for the brain areas concerned with the various functions, many of which tended to be around the parietal and temporal lobes. Specifics on the mode of action of drugs which mimic mystical states like DMT or LSD, and more illustrative cases from brain injury and neurological patients, as well as reference to the various psychological biases we have as humans, and which play a role in religious belief, would have made this a truly fantastic lecture course.

However, if you are interested in religion, whether as an atheist, agnostic or believer, and wish to understand better the neuronal correlates of the experiences, practices and beliefs of religion, taught by one of the most eminent researchers in the field, I thoroughly recommend this course.