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Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality 1st Edition

4 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1594488771
ISBN-10: 1594488770
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Amazon Exclusive: Barbara Bradley Hagerty on Fingerprints of God

It took me more than a decade to muster the courage to write Fingerprints of God. The seed was planted on June 10, 1995, when I was reporting a story for the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine about evangelical churches. Kathy Younge and I were sitting on a bench outside Saddleback Church. She told me that her melanoma had returned after a remission, and she believed that the disease was not meant to kill her, but to give her a transcendent purpose. As we talked, the night darkened to indigo. The streetlamp next to our bench cast a perfect circle around us, creating the eerie sense that we were actors on a stage. The temperature had dropped into the 50's. I was shivering but pinned to the spot, riveted by Kathy and her serene faith.

My body responded before my brain, alerting me to some unseen change. My skin began to tingle and my heart started beating a little faster. Imperceptibly at first, the air around us thickened; it grew warmer and heavier, as if someone had moved into the circle and was breathing on us. I glanced at Kathy. She had fallen silent mid-sentence. Neither of us spoke. Gradually, and ever so gently, I felt engulfed by a presence I could feel but could not touch. After a minute, although it seemed longer, the presence melted away. We sat quietly, while I waited for the earth to steady itself. I was too spooked to continue with the interview, and a few minutes later I was driving back to my hotel room.

But I could not shake the questions. Was that experience a delusion, or was it real? Is there a spiritual reality that exists beyond our everyday physical world? Is there evidence of God? Not just people’s beliefs, but hard, scientific evidence? And most basic of all: Is there more than this? For a decade, I looked for books that would answer these questions. Finding none, I decided to investigate the only way I knew how – as a journalist.

In 2006, I took a year-long leave of absence from National Public Radio to research the emerging science of spirituality. I spoke with dozens of prominent scientists who are bushwhacking through this controversial territory, often drawing the ire or ridicule of their colleagues who believe that everything can be explained by material means. In the meantime, I took a journey peppered with surprises and ridiculous situations. I traveled to Canada and donned the "God helmet" to see if activating my temporal lobes would unleash an encounter with the "divine." I attended to a peyote ceremony (although, like our former president, I barely ingested) and visited Johns Hopkins University in search of a chemical that would manufacture a mystical experience. I arranged for a minister to have his brain scanned while he prayed at the University of Pennsylvania, and tried to see if I could physically change my own brain through two weeks of meditation at the University of Wisconsin.

And I spent endless hours with people who had enjoyed dramatic spiritual experiences. Some had had spontaneous mystical experiences, right out of the blue. Some transcendent moments were triggered by a trauma, others by drugs, or epilepsy, or near-death experiences. Some people spent hundreds of hours in prayer and meditation to cultivate the ability to connect with the divine.

I confess that my exploration was not an entirely clinical. I was raised a Christian Scientist, and while I now consider myself a serious mainstream Christian, I have always believed in the presence and power of God. At the beginning I nursed a nagging concern that perhaps this God business is just a ruse, self medication in the face of certain death. I fretted that science would prove that all mystery, all transcendent experience, can be boiled down to brain chemistry and genetics.

What I found—well, you’ll have to see. But I can say this: By the end of my research, I had redefined God and my view of reality. And perhaps at the end of the book, you will too.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In her first book, National Public Radio correspondent Hagerty acts as a tour guide through the rocky terrain of scientists who study religious experience. Is there a so-called God gene? Why do some people have mystical experiences while others never see the so-called light? Right up front, Hagerty reveals that this is not an entirely objective exercise. As a Christian, she wants to understand her own mystical encounter with the divine and why she believes when others do not. Yet to each interview, whether with a world-renowned neuroscientist or a back-road mystic, she brings a suitably skeptical eye. Along the way, she manages to explain some pretty cutting-edge science—psychoneuroimmunology, anyone?—and unravel some people's pretty hard-to-comprehend religious experiences without sacrificing depth or complexity. Then, with equal aplomb, she dances off to peyote ceremonies, church services and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The real beauty of this book lies in watching Hagerty gracefully balance her own trust in faith and science and, in the end, come down with one foot planted firmly in both. (May)
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"Crossing the Stream"
Read the first chapter of Barbara Bradley Hagerty's Fingerprints of God [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; 1 edition (May 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488770
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488771
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
yet, I don't know that this book really adds anything particuularly new to the debate of the existence of God vs. Science.

This book will give you lots to think about- whether you are religious, spiritual, agnostic or atheist. The author does conclude that "brokenness is the best predictor of spiritual experience", meaning that a large portion of those who have a spiritually enlightening experience, or are 'touched by God', arrive there via a process. One is broken down and then at some low point is 'touched' and the author states that people of all belief systems perceive 'otherness' in a similar way(having to do with darkness, distance and then a light and ensuing peace). She uses former addicts and alcoholics or those ill with serious and sometimes fatal diseases as examples.

What I liked about this book, aside from the fact it is very welll written and organized(I imagine quite tricky given the breadth of the subject matter and the anecdotal nature of many of the references), is that the author was very open minded in looking at the question. She considers the scientific evidence both for and against the existence of some greater force at work in the universe, as well as anecdotal evidence, opinions of doctors, scientists, philosophers- even such famous atheists as Dawkins, and religious clergy of all sorts. She crosses all lines of faith and religion.

The author hails from a Christian Science background but as an individual who fell away from her faith and then regained a new faith through her individual spiritual experience. The facts she presents are interwoven with her own personal journey.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Barbara Bradley Hagerty was raised as a Christian Scientist, a view she disavowed as a twenty-something. Now a religion correspondent for NPR, this book chronicles her year long quest to answer a question: is there any real scientific evidence for God?

In Fingerprints of God, we witness Hagerty's numerous interviews with those who claim to have had mystical, out-of-body, and near death experiences. We also interview the many scientists who have studied "neurotheology" - the biological and neurological underpinnings of religion and religious experience. During all of this, Hagerty lets us hear her own thoughts as she encounters these religious believers and scientists. Hagerty writes very conversationally and honestly about her beliefs, doubts, and misgivings.

But in all honestly, the thing I liked least about the book was that Hagerty was simply not very balanced. She struck me as someone who very much wanted to find evidence for God in science and set out to find it regardless of what the evidence actually is. (To her credit, she admits that she is biased in favor of belief in a deity, but it does take the investigativeness out of the investigation.) At least twenty times in the book, she writes paragraph upon paragraph about a scientist who sees evidence of god in biology/neurology, only to dismiss in a paragraph the skeptical scientist by saying something like: "...but there HAS to be more to it than just biology/neurology."

The book was an interesting read, and Hagerty is a very good writer, capable of expressing very deep thoughts in simple terms. My only objection about her writing is that it is a tad formulaic in organizaiton; each chapter is organized very much the same as the others.
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Format: Hardcover
If you could ask 1 question of National Public Radio's religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty, what would it be?

Well, recently Barbara switched sides in the studio and let NPR's Diane Rehm interview her about her unusual new book, "Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality." When Diane opened up the telephone lines to listeners coast to coast, the essence of what they asked Barbara was: So, do you think prayer works? (People want to know if there's any serious scientific basis for taking spiritual experiences seriously--after all, half of all Americans report having had a transformative spiritual experience at some point in life.)

Many of us want to know how Barbara answers such a question. After all, this is a hard-headed, nationally respected NPR journalist--a balanced, skeptical reporter who covers religion in the classic approach of the now-endangered profession called religion news writing. If Barbara Bradley Hagerty thinks prayer works--that's inspirational news!

On the air, she answered the question mainly in the affirmative.

Some callers described dramatic scenarios in which they believe God answered prayers and they challenged Barbara to agree or disagree with them.

Wisely, Barbara told the radio audience: "When it comes to spirituality, all you can say is: It's possible." If I had to sum up her new 300-page book in one sentence--well, you just read it from Barbara's own broadcast.

The cover and the title may make her new book seem like yet another volume in the roaring, roundabout debate between atheists, scientists and defenders of faith. So, let me be clear: It's not.
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