Original Research - Special Collection: Theology and Nature

Examining the function of neurobiology in Christian spiritual experiences and practice

Mark Pretorius
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 1 | a6182 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i1.6182 | © 2020 Mark Pretorius | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 June 2020 | Published: 24 November 2020

About the author(s)

Mark Pretorius, Department of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics, South African Theological Seminary, Johannesburg; Department of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Tshwane, South Africa


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Abstract

Before one can adequately deal with a biblical and neurobiological examination of spiritual experiences, one would need to define what they are. Here, one could offer that a spiritual experience could be an encounter with something or someone that is other than a material experience. It is a supernatural experience that transcends the natural, yet impacts the natural, by affecting our mental and physical senses and how we practise our spirituality. It is an experience that leaves us with a new and perhaps intense sense of otherness. One could further propose that as spiritual experiences are by nature ‘experiences’, they are inherently subjective, and can therefore be classified as personal encounters. In other words, we have unique spiritual experiences in our encounters with God. This article offers several such examples and shows the significance of looking inwardly to answer the important question of why we are (or not) transforming spiritually and mentally.

Contribution: The article’s challenge is to not only show that science and theology are not in conflict, but also how the intersection and emerging field of neurobiology (natural science) and theology can help better understand how spiritual experiences manifest, and that naturally we are seemingly wired for these experiences.


Keywords

God; Brain; Neurobiology; Spiritual experiences; Spiritual transformation

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