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Mystical Mind (Theology and the Sciences) (Theology & the Sciences) Paperback – August 1, 1999

3.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From the Back Cover

"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?"--BOOK JACKET. "This pioneering work by two leading medical researchers explores the neurophysiology of religious experience. Mapping the basic functions of the brain, the authors focus on structures most relevant to human experience, emotion, and cognition. On this basis they plot just how the brain is involved in mystical experiences. Successive chapters employ this understanding to explore mythmaking, ritual and liturgy, meditation, near-death experiences, and theology itself. Original, daring, and widely acclaimed, the authors' research bears exciting implications for philosophy, science, and the future of religion itself."--BOOK JACKET.

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Product Details

  • Series: Theology & the Sciences
  • Paperback: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Fortress Press; First Edition, Later Printing edition (August 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0800631633
  • ISBN-13: 978-0800631635
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #626,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The reader is initially introduced to archetypal and mythical concepts of good and evil, the fall and resurrection, and the theosophical concept of God. The authors describe the development of religion and the role of ritual. They try to develop the argument for a universal "metatheology" which crosses the boundary between religion and science. The book takes a cognitive approach, using process theory to describe domains of experience. Neurobiological and anatomical correlates are emphasized by quoting recent evidence from functional imaging (such as photon emission tomographic scans). The authors designate this approach as "neurotheology" which "refers to the study of theology from a neuropsychological perspective".
The reader is introduced to basic neuroanatomy and the functions of the brain. The authors then describe their own categorization of domains of experience, termed "cognitive operators". These include locations in the brain which deliver the experience of wholeness, in contrast to other sites which deliver the experience of the parts. They introduce the concept of "spiritual intelligence" , which is the integrating and transcending function of the cognitive operators. This process creates transformation or a reframing of the gestalt or world view. Myth is discussed as a transcendent cognitive process which can explain reality and catalyze transformative integration of multivalent experiences. In a nut shell, the neurobiological basis of spiritual experience may provide the physical explanation for personal evolution and adaptation to life crises and change. Ritual may entrain the cognitive operators to process new information and allow integration to occur.
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This book was not what I expected; it was better. I was primed for a pop-science/new-age lightweight discussion full of simplistic generalizations; what I got was a solid theoretical work that's not too dense for the nonspecialist. If you read and comprehend "Scientific American" magazine, you can handle this book, and will probably enjoy it. The authors have thorough backgrounds, although in neuroscience rather than theology, but they don't try to dive too deep into theological constructs. My only quibble is that, as a specialist, I would have liked more documentation of the studies on which the theories were based.
This is a book about humans using our neurologic apparatus to construct meaning in the world, and some possibilities as to how this might occur. Read, and weep at the beautiful complexity of life, and be awestruck at the wonders of the divine Designer.
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The Mystical Mind may be viewed as a modern version of William James' Varieties of Religious Experience. Andrew Newberg (who completed this volume after the death of co-author Eugene Aquili) has a unique background to warrant such a lofty comparison. He is a physician and a scholar with expertise in research methods, neuropsychology, comparative religions, and philosophy. Though the approach of neuropsychology dominates this work, Newberg moves seamlessly to other models as the focus and purpose of analysis requires. He utilizes this broad range of conceptual tools to examine the continuum of mystical phenomenon, from the creation of myth to the sense of peace related to the performance of rituals to the profound mystical state of Absolute Unitary Being (AUB).

The book is divided into three sections. The first provides an overview of the central nervous system and cognitive functions. In the second section, a neuropsychological model for understanding the continuum of religious and mystical experiences is presented. Finally, the third section suggests how a theology based on neurology (neurotheology) can serve as both a meta-theology (i.e. a basis of understanding the entire range of world religions and theologies) and a mega-theology (i.e. a basis for developing a universal theology).

The author presents compelling evidence that everything that we know or experience is dependent upon and mediated by the brain. In particular, he relies on the study of patients with strokes and brain tumors, who loose function in the areas predicted by neuropsychology. It is also validated by the experiences that are generated through electrical stimulation of specific areas of the brain and by imaging data of patients and monks in deep meditation.
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By A Customer on May 21, 2001
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Given the title of the book, and the author's pioneering research background, I had expected some in depth discussion of the author's research and results. Instead, we are presented with pedantic background material having to do with religion and biology which is widely available in thousands of other books, and perhaps 5 pages altogether of research reports. And those 5 pages are not even contiguous! As a result, I find myself quite skeptical of the author's hypothetical framework that he labors so hard to present in this work.
There is at least one glaring omission as well - there is no discussion of the commonality of the kundalini experience among the major mystics, nor any background on the chakra system and its relation to the endocrine system. To have ignored these topics in a book dedicated to 'probing' mysticism, is to be presented with a very shallow probe indeed.
This book is evidently intended as an undergraduate text for a narrowly focused survey class, and not for the general reader.
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