Neuroscience of Religious Experience

From Randall Stephens, a history professor at Eastern Nazarene College:

Patrick McNamara, the director of the Evolutionary Neurobehavior Laboratory in the department of neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine, has worked on “developing an evolutionary approach to problems of brain and behavior and currently is studying the evolution of the frontal lobes, the evolution of the two mammalian sleep states (REM and NREM), and the evolution of religion in human cultures.”

McNamara is also the author of The Neuroscience of Religious Experience. “For billions of people the world over,” he writes, “religious experiences and beliefs influence who they marry, how they rear their children, whom they spend time with, and how they comport themselves in dally life. It may well be that we would not be as we find ourselves in the 21st century if our ancestors had not been intensely religious for most of the ‘life’ of our species.” McNamara thinks it’s the perfect time to develop a “real science of religion,” aided by breakthroughs in “anthropologic, cognitive, and neuroscientific studies of the manifold features of religious experiences and in evolutionary approaches to religious experiences and behaviors.”

I met up with McNamara at his office at Boston Medical Center about eight months ago. In the two-part interview embedded here, I ask him about recent developments in neuroscience and pose questions about how the biological sciences can inform religious studies and, even, religious history.



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