A “Best Spiritual Book of the Year.”
Spirituality & Practice

Our Religious Brains: What Cognitive Science Reveals about Belief, Morality, Community and Our Relationship with God

A book from Jewish Lights, SkyLight Paths’ sister imprint

Groundbreaking and accessible. Reviews the theological implications of cognitive science, current theory on how our brains construct our world, and why to be loyal to one faith if all major religious traditions deal effectively with universal human needs.

Rabbi Ralph D. Mecklenburger
Foreword by Dr. Howard Kelfer
Preface by Dr. Neil Gillman

6 x 9, 224 pp | 978-1-58023-508-2

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A Revolution in Human Self-Understanding Is Underway—What Does It Mean for Religion and Our Belief in God?

“The brain and consciousness are themselves awe-inspiring. So learning about them no more undermines religion than learning about how symphonies and paintings are crafted takes away from our appreciation of music and art. Science alone does not provide the ultimate answers or firmly rooted values for which we yearn. But religion alone does not have all the answers either. We are blessed, as moderns, with both.”

—from the Introduction

This is a groundbreaking, accessible look at the implications of cognitive science for religion and theology, intended for laypeople. Avoiding neurological jargon and respectful to all faiths, it examines:

  • Current theory on how our brains construct our world in order to guide us safely through life, creating and appreciating meaning as we go.
  • What religious experience is as it plays out in our brains.
  • How modern science challenges historic ideas about free will and undermines the religious concept of the soul as a meta-physical entity separable from the body.
  • What cognitive science reveals about our need for community.
  • Why we should be loyal to one faith if, in fact, all major religious traditions deal effectively with universal human needs.

“Puts a stake in the fertile meeting ground between cognitive science, individual yearnings and the power of community, and describes the lay of the land there with a rare clarity. A critically important book.”

David Eagleman, neuroscientist; New York Times bestselling author,
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

“A fresh look at ancient spiritual questions through the informed lens of modern neuroscience. A fine contribution to the dialogue between science and religion.”

Dr. Daniel S. Levine, professor of psychology, University of Texas at Arlington

“Helps us revise and expand our understanding of once familiar ideas about the soul, spiritual experience, the frailty of our morality, prayer and the longing for community so that we return to our religious lives with deepened appreciation.”

Nancy Ramsay, executive vice president, Brite Divinity School

“Easy to read, very wise meditations ... that manage to respect both science and religion. Rabbi Mecklenburger deftly guides us through current research, ancient teaching and ultimately assembles the elements of an evolved twenty-first-century Jewish theology.”

Lawrence Kushner, Emanu-El Scholar, Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco; author,
I’m God; You’re Not: Observations on Organized Religion and Other Disguises of the Ego

“An invaluable and immensely relevant book…. Will be most useful to people of all religious communities.”

Kenneth Cracknell, former Michael C. Gutteridge Chair of Systematic and Pastoral Theology,
Wesley House, Cambridge; retired professor of Theology and Mission, Brite Divinity School

“Set[s] the foundations for a rethinking of the relationship between the astonishing findings of brain science and the ways in which religious people believe and behave.”

Susan White, Alberta H. and Harold L. Lunger Professor Emerita of
Spiritual Resources, Brite Divinity School

“A profound reflection on the very essence of who we are as human beings. A genuinely original and thought-provoking work, and religious adherents of every stripe will have their faith deepened and broadened through a reading of these pages. I recommend it enthusiastically!”

Dr. David Ellenson, president, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion

“The very first to tackle the complex and fascinating issues of the relationship between brain science and Judaism. The issues raise[d] are on the intellectual and spiritual frontier that all Jewish thinkers will begin to explore in the coming years. [These] pioneering questions leave the reader with an abundance of food for thought!”

Rabbi David Nelson, campus rabbi and visiting assistant professor of religion, Bard College;
author, Judaism, Physics and God: Searching for Sacred Metaphors in a Post-Einstein World

“A significant contribution to the communal conversation on the nature of reality, human wiring and the religious impulse.”

Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz, author, Does the Soul Survive?

“A well-written and highly accessible introduction to an important subject. New research on human consciousness has much to contribute to our understanding of ourselves and our striving toward the mystery we call God.”

Dr. Arthur Green, Irving Brudnick Professor of Philosophy and Religion,
Hebrew College; author, Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow

“A serious exploration of the religious experience, drawing on classic theological sources as well as modern-day findings of cognitive science…. This is an interesting book that will make readers think—not a small accomplishment ”

Rabbi Marc D. Angel, founder and director, Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals; author,
Maimonides, Spinoza and Us: Toward an Intellectually Vibrant Judaism

Foreword xi
Preface xv
Introduction xix

1 Our Believing Brains: On Not Being Overwhelmed 1

2 Taking God Personally 22

3 Mystical and Spiritual, Neurological and Theological 37

4 The Soul Which Thou Hast Given unto Me? 60

5 Free Will and Free Won't: Programming Your Brain 79

6 Morality: The Hop of Faith 110

7 Life Is with People: Organized Religion 133

8 Why My Religion? What of Yours? 151

Notes 169
Suggested Readings and Selected Bibliography 183
Index 189