ch.6 - Chapter 6 Contemporary Approaches and Debates So far...

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J.M. Nelson, Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, DOI 10.1007/978-0-387-87573-6_6, @ Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009 175 Chapter 6 Contemporary Approaches and Debates So far we have been concerned with great historic movements in the dialogue between psychology and religion. Where is the field headed next? While predictions about the future are dangerous to make, in this chapter we review three prominent movements within psychology that are likely to affect the dialogue with religion. These are: (1) neurobiological approaches that utilize our expanding knowledge of the structure and workings of the brain; (2) evolutionary and cognitive psychology, which have developed a combined approach to the study of religion; and (3) post- modern perspectives, which challenge many of our conventional understandings of the human person and suggest new ways to think about religious life and the spiritual quest. 6.1 Neurobiological Approaches to Religion Since the mid-20th century there has been increasing interest in the biological bases of behavior. The growing sophistication of research methodology and knowledge in this area has allowed researchers to begin investigating the biological underpinnings of religious experience. These attempts assume that there is a relationship between the brain and our mental life. In the early modern period, mind and brain were treated as largely separate from each other. This dualistic position was embedded in the philosophy of Rene Descartes (1596–1650) and has been very influential in modern thought. However, 20th century developments in neurobiology have ques- tioned this position and today it has largely been rejected in theology as well (e.g., Rahner, 1963, p. 216). This has led to discussions about the mind-brain problem , how our mental functioning (which appears to be nonmaterial) is related to the physiological processes in our brain (which appear to be material). A number of solutions to the mind-brain problem have been proposed as replace- ments for dualism, generating an enormous literature that is beyond the scope of this book. In the neuroscience community, a popular philosophical position is that the mind and brain are the same thing, a version of monism . There are various ver- sions of this with important differences. In reductive materialist monism, mental events are thought to be merely brain processes. Generally, scholars who take this
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176 6 Contemporary Approaches and Debates view assume that consciousness and subjective awareness are epiphenomena with no real effect or importance. However, many believe that this kind of eliminative dualism is inadequate, and that consciousness and subjectivity are vital parts of our humanity (e.g., Varela, 2001; cf. Nagel, 1986). In this view, finding a way of look- ing at mind and brain that preserves the integrity of both is the most sensible way of approaching their relationship. While it is entirely possible that the mind-brain problem is philosophically and
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ch.6 - Chapter 6 Contemporary Approaches and Debates So far...

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