Rise of Neurotheology: The Science that studies God and religion
What happens when science and religion meet? Well — for starters you get a Scientist named Abhijit Naskar, that’s me. But jokes apart — when science and religion meet we get a field of human understanding that belongs to the domain of science as much as it belongs to the domain of religion. And that field is called “Neurotheology” — which is a communion of science and religion. It is the only field of science that actually has to do with religion as much as it has to do with science.
But why? Why do we need Neurotheology? We need Neurotheology because it is the only field of rational thinking that attempts to understand the roots of religion, religiousness and god without a predominant urge to refute and undermine religion all together. And we do it based on empiricism, not mere optimism, even though optimism is there in us, aiding in out research.
The first criterion for doing research into the tangible earthly roots of religion, is that you need to be free from obvious religious biases — you cannot do such study with a predominant detestation of religion or a radical obedience to faith. For example, if you are to study the neuropsychology of racial biases then you cannot expect to do so with a predominately explicit attitude of racism. So to study racism you need to be not a racist. And to study religion at a molecular level you need to be neutral in terms of religious biases.
In Neurotheology we scientists study the roots of God and its associated religious sentiments in the human mind. And here by God, I mean the God or the Gods that humans worship. We are not trying to understand whether there is an actual Supreme Divine force out there that’s running the universe. Even if that God does exist, it has nothing to do with life on earth. The Gods that humans worship, like Jehovah, Allah, Krishna, Rama and all others, are creation of the human mind itself. And we Neuroscientists in the field of Neurotheology attempt to understand the roots of these Gods of the human world, and as for the Supreme Divine Entity running the universe, I’d rather leave that to the Physicists to find out. That’s their expertise. Which means that if the majority of the physicists come to me and tell me — “Hey Naskar, you know what, we just discovered that the universe is not run by a Supreme Divine Entity”. I would most graciously accept their consensus, because I know that they must have done their research on the issue quite rigorously and then they have come to the conclusion that there is no actual God. That’s called trusting the expert in the field.
If you truly want to know about the universe you need to seek answer from a physicist, not from a biologist or a celebrity. Likewise if you want to know about life you need to seek answer from a biologist, not from a physicist or a celebrity. Also if you want to know whether Global Warming is real, you need to ask a climatologist, not a president or any of his white supremacist pals. Ask the expert, if you seek real answer, not just an answer you feel comfortable with. Although in today’s society we see a behavior quite contrary to this. We see anti-intellectualism. And that may not be dangerous, but it surely is unprogressive.
I am Neuroscientist, which means, I can tell you about your mind, your emotions, your thoughts and your behaviors, but I may not be able to fix your water supply at home, when it’s not working. For that you’d need a plumber. The plumber is the expert in fixing your water supply. The electrician is the expert in fixing the electrical wiring of your home. A Neuroscientist, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist is the expert in fixing the wiring of your mind. Every work needs expertise. One expert cannot boast about being an expert in various fields. It is possible, but in rare occasions.
So the work that we Neuroscientists do in Neurotheology is to study the gods of the society. And we have come a long way in this path. We have discovered facts that would appear to the radical believer as nothing but blasphemy. But the point is, we are civilized beings today. We no longer are medieval idiots who used burn and slaughter innocent lives for holding different belief system. So I am sorry to say, the idea of blasphemy has no place in today’s society — no wait, actually, I am not sorry at all. It’s them who should feel sorry, for being barbarians still while endorsing primitive ideas of blasphemy, apostasy and all sorts of evil. These terms can no longer hold any value to the civilized conscientious human.
Now to get back to the topic at hand, which is Neurotheology — it is quite gloriously a newly emerged field of scientific endeavor. In this context, let me bring up an excerpt from my book In Search of Divinity: Journey to The Kingdom of Conscience.
“Through the newly emerged field of Neurotheology, Scientists such as Andrew Newberg, Michael Persinger, myself and a few others have already taken the first step from the side of Science, to diminish the gap between Science and Religion. Now it is time for Religion to do the same. And the moment any religion does that, the eternal battle between Science and Religion would slowly start to disperse.”
In the brief journey so far in this field, we have understood a lot about the neurological roots of religious and spiritual sentiments of the human mind. We have even analyzed closely the transcendental experiences of the past that gave rise to the religions of the world. And as we keep moving forward in this field with an unbiased look at religion and God, we will discover various new elements of the human mind that may contribute to the sentiment of religiousness and spirituality. And they will allow us to understand the human mind in a better way. And when we understand the mind better, we can develop techniques to deal with its issues in more effective ways.
(First published on Goodreads.)