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Michael Winkelman is Director of the Ethnographic Field School, Ensenada, Mexico, and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Arizona State University, Box 872402, Tempe, AZ 85287-2402. SHAMANISM AS THE ORIGINAL NEUROTHEOLOGY by Michael Winkelman Abstract . Neurotheological approaches provide an important bridge between scientific and religious perspectives. These approaches have, however, generally neglected the implications of a primordial form of spiritual healing—shamanism. Cross-cultural studies estab- lish the universality of shamanic practices in hunter-gatherer societ- ies around the world and across time. These universal principles of shamanism reflect underlying neurological processes and provide a basis for an evolutionary theology. The shamanic paradigm involves basic brain processes, neurognostic structures, and innate brain mod- ules. This approach reveals that universals of shamanism such as animism, totemism, soul flight, animal spirits, and death-and-rebirth experiences reflect fundamental brain operations and structures of consciousness. The shamanic paradigm can contribute to a recon- ciliation of scientific and religious perspectives by providing a uni- versalistic biopsychosocial framework that explicates the biological underpinnings of spiritual experiences and practices and provides a basis for neurotheology and evolutionary theology approaches. Keywords: consciousness; evolutionary theology; metatheology; mystical experience; neurotheology; shamanism. The role of brain functions in spiritual experiences has received increasing attention (e.g., Ashbrook and Albright 1997; d’Aquili and Newberg 1999; Ramachandran and Blakeslee 1998; Rayburn and Richmond 2002; Rott- schaefer 1999; Winkelman 2000), especially in the pages of this journal (see Zygon 26:3 [September 2001]). Neurotheological understandings of religious impulses in terms of human biology and evolutionary psychology (Peters 2001) enhance appreciation of certain aspects of spirituality but are [ Zygon , vol. 39, no. 1 (March 2004).] © 2004 by the Joint Publication Board of Zygon. ISSN 0591-2385 193
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194 Zygon often limited by biasing distortions produced by culture- or religion-spe- cific conceptualizations (see Rottschaefer 1999; Winkelman 1990b; 1993). Such biases include defining religiosity in terms of particular experiences (see Carol Rausch Albright’s [2000] critique of Ramachandran and Blakeslee 1998) or a priori assumptions (for example, Eugene d’Aquili and Andrew Newberg’s [1999] focus on mystical experience and “absolute unitary be- ing” as the primordial basis of religious experience). Cross-cultural research on religious practices can overcome limitations from cultural, ideological, and faith-specific conceptions of religiosity. Research using systematic cross-cultural samples (Winkelman 1985; 1986a; 1990a; 1992) has revealed universal patterns of magico-religious practice that provide transcultural frameworks for neurotheological theories. Reli- gious practices associated with hunter-gatherer societies worldwide involve a complex of specific characteristics, practices, and beliefs known as sha- manism .
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