Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion

2020 Edition
| Editors: David A. Leeming

Neuropsychology of Spiritual States

  • Andrzej JastrzebskiEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-24348-7_9031


Neuropsychological research into spiritual states is relatively new. Consequently, there is still some ambiguity over how to label this field of scientific inquiry. The beginnings of NSS can be traced back to 1975 when Eugene d’Aquili and Charles Laughlin published The Biopsychological Determinants of Religious Ritual Behavior. Similar research was conducted by John McManus, Roger Sperry, Colwyn Trevarthen, Solomon Katz, Victor Turner, and James Ashbrook (1984), who coined the term “neurotheology,” that was subsequently widely popularized by Andrew Newberg (2010). Other names in this field of research are “neuroscience of spirituality” (Jastrzębski 2018) or “neurospirituality,” “psychotheology,” and “biotheology” (Newberg 2010).

Neuropsychology of spiritual states (NSS) has been developed thanks to the availability of new neuroimaging technologies such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), PET (positron emission tomography), and SPECT (single photon emission computed...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Ashbrook, J. (1984). Neurotheology: the working brain and the work of theology. Zygon, 19(3), 331–350.Google Scholar
  2. Beauregard, M., & O’Leary, D. (2007). The spiritual brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  3. Bingaman, K. A. (2013). The promise of neuroplasticity for pastoral care and counseling. Pastoral Psychology, 62, 549–560.Google Scholar
  4. D’Aquili, E., & Laughlin, C. (1975). The biopsychological determinants of religious ritual behavior. Zygon, 10, 32–58.Google Scholar
  5. D’Aquili, E., & Newberg, A. B. (1999). The mystical mind: Probing the biology of religious experience. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.Google Scholar
  6. Granqvist, P., Fredrikson, M., Unge, P., et al. (2005). Sensed presence and mystical experiences are predicted by suggestibility, not by the application of transcranial weak complex magnetic fields. Neuroscience Letters, 379(1), 1–6.Google Scholar
  7. Jastrzebski, A. K. (2018). The neuroscience of spirituality. Pastoral Psychology, 67(5), 515–524.Google Scholar
  8. Newberg, A., Pourdehnad, M., Alavi, A., d’Aquili, E. (2003) Cerebral blood flowduring meditative prayer: preliminary findings and methodological issues. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 97, 625–630.Google Scholar
  9. Newberg, A. (2010). Methodological principles for research in neurotheology. NeuroQuantology, 8(4), 531–545.Google Scholar
  10. Persinger, M. A. (1987). Neurobiological bases of god beliefs. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  11. Schjoedt, U. (2009). The religious brain: A general introduction to the experimental neuroscience of religion. Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, 21, 310–339.Google Scholar
  12. Weker, M. (2016). Searching for neurobiological foundations of faith and religion. Studia Humana, 5(4), 57–63.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Human SciencesSt. Paul UniversityOttawaCanada