Evolutionary Neurotheology and the Varieties of Religious Experience

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Evolutionary Neurotheology

and the Varieties of Religious Experience

(Extended Version)*

Bruce MacLennan

University of Tennessee, Knoxville



My goal is to outline an evolutionary neuropsychological foundation for spiritual and religious experiences. Central to this account are concepts from archetypal psychology, which, on the one hand, explain the structure of common religious experiences, but, on the other, are grounded in ethology and evolutionary biology. From this it follows that certain religious phenomena are objective, in that they are empirical, stable, and public. As a consequence, certain theological claims can be objectively confirmed or refuted. However, it would be a mistake to assume that this approach reduces religious experiences to the “merely psychological” or considers them inessential epiphenomena in a materialist universe. On the contrary, I will show that it demonstrates the compatibility and even inevitability of transcendental religious experience—and its crucial importance—to biological beings such as ourselves. (Along the way I will advance some concrete hypotheses about the possible role of specific brain systems in religious experience.)

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