Neuroscientific Explanations of Religious Experience are Not free from Cultural Aspects

Ars Disputandi:141-156 (2008)
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Abstract
We cannot disregard that the neuroscientific research on religious phenomena such as religious experiences and rituals for example, has increased significantly the last years. Neuroscientists claim that neuroscience contributes considerably in the process of understanding religious experiences, because neuroscience is able to measure brain activity during religious experiences by way of brain‐imaging technologies. No doubt, those results of neuroscientific research on religious experiences are an important supplement to the understanding of some types of religious experiences. However, some conclusions drawn from neuroscientific research on religious experiences are arguable. For example, one such conclusion is that religious experiences are actually nothing but neural activity, i.e. there is nothing ‘religious’ to the experiences at all. Another such conclusion is that a person’s religious experiences actually derive from some ultimate reality, meaning that religious experiences are real. It is the latter assertion that will be analyzed in the present paper. The question is asked whether neuroscience alone is able to affirm that religious experiences are real or whether there are, besides neuroscientific issues, also cultural‐religious assumptions that underlie this conclusion.
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