SACRED OR NEURAL? The Potential of Neuroscience to Explain Religious Experience

Anne L. C. Runehov

SACRED OR NEURAL - cover page

Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht May 2007-01-17
ISBN 978-3-525-56980-1


Are religious experiences, experiences of God or Ultimate Reality, merely a product of the human nervous system? In other words, are religious experiences sacred or merely neural?

The starting point for this philosophical analysis has been that today, neuroscientists place different explanations at our disposal concerning what religious experiences are and what causes these experiences. For instance, some neuroscientists explain religious experiences in terms of consequences of a damaged, malfunctioning or mentally deranged brain. Others explain them in terms of existential crises. Again other neuroscientists maintain that religious experiences are correlated with the brain as do all human experiences.

As the title reveals, the purpose of Sacred or Neural is to investigate the potential of contemporary neuroscientists to explain religious experiences. Therefore, the author particularly analyses and evaluates the research performed on religious experiences of the Canadian neuropsychologist Michael Persinger and the American neurologist Andrew Newberg and his fellow researcher, the late Eugene d'Aquili.

The main question asked is in what way and to what extent can neuroscientists explain religious experience? To answer this question, the author establishes specific criteria for when an experience can be considered to be a religious one, she suggests models for how religious experiences can be explained interdisciplinary and presents erroneous and accurate ways of reduction.

Her conclusion is that neuroscientists can explain religious experiences in a methodologically restricted way and to a methodologically limited extent. However, also philosophical and theological explanations are limited by their methods. To put it differently, as soon as we explain something, we have to reduce this something in some manner or to some extent, regardless academic discipline.

Religious experiences are not sacred OR neural, but sacred AND neural. Hence there is a quest for interdisciplinarity.

Cover: So close, so far: Oil painting by the Swedish artist Erika Bengtsdotter.

Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions

Anne L.C. Runehov and Lluis Oviedo

Springer Reference, 2013, LVIII, 2372 p. 81 illus., 50 illus in color. In 4 volumes.

(Order at


"To all who love the God with a 1000 names and respect science"

In the last quarter century, the academic field of Science and Theology (Religion) has attracted scholars from a wide variety of disciplines. The question is, which disciplines are attracted and what do these disciplines have to contribute to the debate? In order to answer this question, the encyclopedia maps the (self)-identified disciplines and religious traditions that participate or might come to participlate in the Science and Religion debate. This is done by letting each representative of a discipline and tradition answer specific chosen questions. They also need to identify the discipline in relation tot the Science and Religion debate. Understandably representatives of several disciplines and traditions answered in the negative to this question. Nevertheless, they can still be important for the debate; indeed, scholars and scientists who work in the field of Science and Theology (Religion) may need knowledge beyond their own specific discipline. Therefore the encyclopedia also includes what are called general entries. Such entries may explain specific theories, methods, and topics. The general aim is to provide a starting point for new lines of inquiry. It is an invitation for fresh perspectives on the possibilities for engagement between and across sciences (which includes the social and human sciences) and religions and theology. This encyclopedia is a comprehensive reference work for scholars interested in the topic of "Science and Religion". It covers the widest spectrum possible of academic disciplins and religious traditions worldwide, with the intent of laying bare similarities and differences that naturally emerge within and across disciplines and religions today.

The Human Project in Science and Religion, Copenhagen University Discussions in Science and Religion, Vol. I

Anne L.C. Runehov, Niels Henrik Gregersen and Jakob Wolf

Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen press, 2010.


This volume is a collection of essays resulting of several lectures organised by the Copenhagen University Network for Science and Religion, during 2008. The papers mirror firstly, a professional inderdisciplinary dimension of Science and Religion concerned with studying specific topics of religion from an interdisciplinary point of view. The collection of studies represents a professional level of analysis that aims at accounting for some of the current questions arising in the interface of science and theology. The most interesting point in these essays is that they clearly show how one of the ambitions of Science and Theology is to raise the standard of debate thereby supplying a meta-platform for discussion. Obviously this emsemble of intellectual reflections mirrors the reflective dimension of Science and Theology: when both fields come into contact, a second or third order of reflection is required to deal with the impending challenges.


Lluis Oviedo, "Introduction."

Alister E. McGrath, "Thruth, Beauty and Goodness. A New Vision for Natural Theology."

Anne L.C. Runehov, "Natural Theology or Theology of Nature and the Natural?"

Mikael Stenmark, "In Science (Alone) We Trust?"

Niels Henrik Gregersen, "Preferential Scientism: A Useful Fiction."

John A. Teske, "Stories, Myths, and Human Identity in Cognitive Neuroscience and Religion."

René Rosfort, "The inexpressible Meaning in Narratives."

Peter Gärdenfors, "The Role of Understanding in Human Nature."

Christine Tind Johannessen-Henry, "Meaning of Patterns - Patterns of Meaning."

Understanding Darwin and Darwinian Understandings, Copenhagen University Discussions in Science and Religion, Vol. II

Anne L.C. Runehov and Charles Taliaferro

Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen Press.


"Descended from the apes! My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known" These are the words with which Patricia G. Horan opens the foreword of the Origin of Species (1979), thereby referring to the words of the wife of the Bishop of Worcester after she heard about this book in 1859. The second volume presents a collection of essays based on several lectures organized by the Copenhagen University Network of Science and Religion, during 2009, in honour of Charles Darwin's publication of the Origin of Species 150 years earlier.


Anne L.C. Runehov, "Introduction."

Momme von Sydow, "Darwinian Metaphysics."

Christopher Southgate, "Darwinism's Impact on Christian Theology."

Andrew Robinson, "God's Quality and Creation's Longing."

Antje Jackelén, "Creativity through Emergence: A Vision of Nature and God."

Lluis Oviedo, "Theology after Darwin - and Beyond."

Eberhard Herrmann, "Pragmatism and its Relevance for the Science/Religion Debate."

Kees van Kooten Niekerk, "A Critical realist response."

Lars Sandbeck, "The New Atheism in Denmark."

Carl Reinhold Bråkenhielm, "Three Neoatheistic Arguments. A Critique."

Ted Peters, " Astrotheology."

Robert John Russel, "Life in the Universe: Philosophical and Theological Issues drawn from, and influencing Scientific Research."



Conference: »
[Added 2009-07-24]
Nordic Society for Philosophy of Religion, Reykjavik, June 26-28, 2009