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Neuroscience, Selflessness, and Spiritual Experience - 1st Edition - ISBN: 9780081022184, 9780081022191

Neuroscience, Selflessness, and Spiritual Experience

1st Edition

Explaining the Science of Transcendence

Authors: Brick Johnstone Daniel Cohen
eBook ISBN: 9780081022191
Paperback ISBN: 9780081022184
Imprint: Academic Press
Published Date: 15th June 2019
Page Count: 192
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Neuroscience, Selflessness, and Spiritual Transcendence conveys the manner by which selflessness serves as a neuropsychological and religious foundation for spiritually transcendent experiences. The book combines neurological case studies and neuroscience research with religious accounts of transcendence experiences from the perspective of both the neurosciences and the history of religions. Chapters cover the subjective experience of transcendence, an historical summary of different philosophical and religious perspectives, a review of the neuroscience research that describes the manner by which the brain processes and creates a self, and more.

The book presents a model that bridges the divide between neuroscience and religion, presenting a resource that will be critical reading for advanced students and researchers in both fields.

Key Features

  • Creates a common focus on selflessness as a reliable construct for use by all disciplines interested in the basis of spiritual experience
  • Links neuroanatomical data with religious texts from multiple faith traditions to describe the necessity of selflessness for spiritual experience and transformation
  • Highlights disorders in neurological functioning that result in disorders of the self


Advanced students and researchers in neuroscience, neurology, neuropsychology, and cognitive science, as well as advanced students and researchers in the humanities (such as religious studies and philosophy) studying the neurobiological underpinnings of spiritual experience

Table of Contents

The Nature of Transcendence
1. Introduction
2. The Nature of Spiritual Transcendence

The “Self” and Selflessness
3. Disorders of the Self
4. Neuroscience of the Self
5. Neuropsychology of Spiritual Transcendence

Selflessness as the Key to Transcendence
6. Faith Traditions, Spiritual Transcendence, and Selflessness
7. Universal Neuropsychological Model of Spiritual Transcendence

Applications of selflessness
8. Building bridges between Neuroscience and the Humanities


No. of pages:
© Academic Press 2019
15th June 2019
Academic Press
eBook ISBN:
Paperback ISBN:

About the Authors

Brick Johnstone

Dr. Johnstone has expertise in the integration of the neurosciences and humanities, completing two fellowships sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, including one on “Religious Experiences and Moral Behaviours” in Princeton, and one on “Religion and Science” in Oxford, both of which involved internationally renowned theologians, philosophers, and neuroscientists. He has long-term expertise in neuropsychology, having served as the primary investigator of a TBI Model System Center, and was selected by the CDC to serve on an expert panel to write a report on TBI rehabilitation for the federal Congress in 2012. He is the author of more than 90 publications on the neurobiological foundations of spiritual experience

Affiliations and Expertise

Retired Professor, Department of Health Psychology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA

Daniel Cohen

Dr. Cohen has degrees in anthropology and biology, and his research focuses on the intersection of religious studies, neuropsychology, and neuroscience. He completed a Fulbright-Hays fellowship in India where he studied cultural interpretations and traditional religious resources used in treating mental health disorders (as understood by western standards), physical ailments, and social tensions. He has published numerous articles on the neuropsychology of spiritual experiences, including studies involving U.S. and South Asian populations.

Affiliations and Expertise

Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA


"It is a rare treat to see a neuroscientist collaborate with a humanities religious studies scholar at the depth evident in this marvelous book. No matter what happens to religion in a secularizing world, spiritual experiences of selflessness and transcendence are a basic part of the human condition. Fortunately for all of us, experts such as Johnstone and Cohen can help us make sense of them." -- Wesley J. Wildman, Ph.D., Boston University and the Center for Mind and Culture, author of Religious and Spiritual Experiences (Cambridge University Press).

 "Neuroscience, Selflessness, and Spiritual Experience: Explaining the Science of Transcendence is a far-reaching scientific collection on transcendent experiences. Incorporating insights from neuroscience, neuropsychology and faith traditions, this inspiring book offers thoughtful, engaging, and multidisciplinary perspectives on a fundamental aspect of human life such as spiritual transcendence". -- Cristiano Crescentini, PhD, Department of Languages, Literatures, Communication, Education and Society, University of Udine, Italy

"This interesting book is a fine example of meaningful cooperation between the humanities and natural sciences. Contrary to many attempts to find dedicated religious modules of the brain, this sober and enlightening analysis focuses on the religious experiences of selflessness and transcendence, not as an explanatory magic bullet, but as an entranceway into the otherwise complex neural correlates of human experience in general." -- Armin W. Geertz, Prof. Emeritus, Study of Religion, Aarhus University

"The outstanding accomplishment of this wonderfully researched book is that it flows perfectly for believers, non-believers, neuroscientists and those with a general scientific curiosity. The authors are so adept at presenting findings that this book can be read in one sitting while equally serving as a reference book that one will turn to often. Brick  Johnstone and Daniel Cohen have put together a masterpiece of science as there is finally  an authoritative book on a topic that has proved elusive. This fast-paced and comprehensive book is a must have for any cognitive neuroscientist or any person interested in knowing what can be argued is the most interesting facet of brain research." -- Julian Paul Keenan, PhD, Director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory, Professor of Biology, Professor of Psychology, Montclair State University

"Neuroscience, Selflessness, and Spiritual Experience is a rare and remarkable book that transcends disciplinary boundaries. It is a stunning accomplishment and I recommend it for anyone interested in religious experience. Johnstone and Cohen’s clear style and exceptional scholarship shine through on every page. It is one thing to advocate for collaboration between the sciences and humanities; it is quite another to produce a volume that not only builds the science-humanities bridge, but regularly traverses it. This type of work is precisely how the study of religion needs to move forward and it is clear that Johnstone and Cohen are well-positioned to lead the way." -- Richard Sosis, James Barnett Professor of Humanistic Anthropology, University of Connecticut

"Johnstone and Cohen’s book presents a neuropsychological model of spirituality and self-processing
by integrating numerous findings from multiple disciplines for a better understanding of the
relationship between spirituality and the self. It covers extensive research findings from conceptual,
social, cultural, and psychological perspectives." --  Heekyeong Park (2019) Neuroscience, Selflessness, and Spiritual Experience: Explaining the Science of Transcendence, The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, DOI: 10.1080/10508619.2019.1707613

Ratings and Reviews