Table of Contents

Editorial Introduction

Jensine Andresen and Robert K.C. Forman:
Methodological Pluralism in the Study of Religion: How the Study of Consciousness and Mapping Spiritual Experiences can Reshape Religious Methodology   full text

Experiential and Experimental Studies

Jensine Andresen:
Meditation Meets Behavioural Medicine: The Story of Experimental Research on Meditation  abstract
Arthur Deikman:
A Functional Approach to Mysticism  abstract
Stanley Krippner
The Epistemology and Technologies of Shamanic States of Consciousness  abstract
Phillip H. Wiebe:
Critical Reflections on Christic Visions  abstract

Maps and Analyses

Ken Wilber:
Waves, Streams, States and Self: Further Considerations for an Integral Theory of Consciousness  abstract
Christian de Quincey:
The Promise of Integralism: A Critical Appreciation of Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology  abstract
James H. Austin:
Consciousness Evolves When Self Dissolves  abstract
Brian L. Lancaster:
On the Relationship Between Cognitive Models and Spiritual Maps: Evidence from Hebrew Language Mysticism  abstract
Andrew B. Newberg and Eugene G. d’Aquili:
The Neuropsychology of Religious and Spritual Experience  abstract
Robert H. Sharf:
The Rhetoric of Experience and the Study of Religion  abstract


Jensine Andresen

Meditation Meets Behavioural Medicine. The Story of Experimental Research on Meditation

This paper juxtaposes Asian spiritual narratives on meditation alongside medical and scientific narratives that emphasize meditation’s efficacy in mitigating distress and increasing well-being. After proposing a working definition of meditation that enables it usefully to be distinguished from categories of similar practices such as prayer, I examine meditation’s role in Mind/Body medicine in the West. Here, I survey a number of scientific studies of meditation, including the work of Dr. Herbert Benson and his colleagues who examine a meditational variant they call the ‘Relaxation Response’, to examine the breadth of efficacy claims made on behalf of the complex and multidimensional grouping of diverse practices we have come to as ‘meditation’. Among other positive outcomes, meditation has been credited with reducing blood pressure, anxiety, addiction, and stress, while Relaxation Response has been shown to decrease sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity, metabolism, pain, anxiety, depression, hostility, and stress. I conclude the paper by suggesting that findings from cognitive neuroscience on the subject of visual imagery can be used to elucidate genres of meditative practice that focus on internal visualization sequences, and I use practices from the Rnying ma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism to illustrate why certain integral aspects of meditation forever will remain beyond scientific grasp.

Correspondence: Jensine Andresen, Boston University STH, 745 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston,  MA 02215, USA

James H. Austin

Consciousness Evolves When the Self Dissolves

We need to clarify at least four aspects of selfhood if we are to reach a better understanding of consciousness in general, and of its alternate states.
     First, how did we develop our self-centred psychophysiology? Second, can the four familiar lobes of the brain alone serve, if only as preliminary landmarks of convenience, to help understand the functions of our many self-referent networks? Third, what could cause one’s former sense of self to vanish from the mental field during an extraordinary state of consciousness? Fourth, when a person’s physical and psychic self do drop off briefly, how has conscious experience then been transformed? In particular, what happens to that subject’s personal sense of time?
     Our many-sided self arose in widely distributed brain networks. Since infancy, these self-oriented circuits have been over-conditioned by limbic biases. Selfhood then seems to have evolved along lines suggesting  at least in shorthand  the operations of a kind of ‘I–Me–Mine’ complex.
     But what happens when this egocentric triad briefly dissolves? Novel states of consciousness emerge. Two personally-observed states are discussed: (1) insight-wisdom (kensho-satori); (2) internal absorption. How do these two states differ phenomenologically? The physiological processes briefly suggested here emphasize shifts in deeper systems, and pivotal roles for thalamo-cortical interactions in the front and back of the brain.

Correspondence: James Austin, 3890 Moscow Mount Road, Moscow, ID 83843-8113, USA

Christian de Quincey

The Promise of Integralism. A Critical Appreciation of Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology

Why do so many people think Ken Wilber is one of the most important thinkers of our time? Why are so many disturbed by what he writes? In this review of his work, I hope to throw some light on both questions.

Correspondence: Christian de Quincey, Institute of Noetic Sciences, 475 Gate Five Road, Suite 300, Sausalito, CA 94965-2835, USA

Arthur J. Deikman

A Functional Approach to Mysticism

Because mysticism is associated with religion it has long been regarded as inimical to science, an enemy of the search for objective truth, not to be credited as a discipline through which knowledge of reality can be gained. At least, that seems to be the official attitude that pervades scientific publications and scientific meetings, even at the present time when quantum theory has made consciousness a legitimate subject for research.
     In this paper, I will present a way of understanding the mystical experience based on the role of intention in determining consciousness. This approach may enable us to understand a variety of mystical techniques and teachings without becoming entangled in obscure doctrines or religious-sounding terminology.

Correspondence: Arthur Deikman, 15 Muir Avenue, Mill Valley, CA 94941, USA

Stanley Krippner

The Epistemology and Technologies of Shamanic States of Consciousness

Shamanism can be described as a group of techniques by which its practitioners enter the ‘spirit world’, purportedly obtaining information that is used to help and to heal members of their social group. The shamans’ epistemology, or ways of knowing, depended on deliberately altering their conscious state and/or heightening their perception to contact spiritual entities in ‘upper worlds’, ‘lower worlds’ and ‘middle earth’ (i.e., ordinary reality). For the shaman, the totality of inner and outer reality was fundamentally an immense signal system, and shamanic states of consciousness were the first steps toward deciphering this signal system. Homo sapiens sapiens was probably unique among early humans in the ability to symbolize, mythologize and, eventually, to shamanize. This species’ eventual domination may have been due to its ability to take sensorimotor activity and use it as a bridge to produce narratives that facilitated human survival. Shamanic technologies, essential for the production and performance of myths and other narratives, interacted with shamanic epistemology, reinforcing its basic assumptions about reality.

Correspondence: Stanley Krippner, Saybrook Graduate School, 450 Pacific, 3rd floor, San Francisco, CA 94133-4640, USA

Brian L. Lancaster

On the Relationship Between Cognitive Models and Spiritual Maps. Evidence from Hebrew Language Mysticism*

It is suggested that the impetus to generate models is probably the most fundamental point of connection between mysticism and psychology. In their concern with the relation between ‘unseen’ realms and the ‘seen’, mystical maps parallel cognitive models of the relation between ‘unconscious’ and ‘conscious’ processes. The map or model constitutes an explanation employing terms current within the respective canon. The case of language mysticism is examined to illustrate the premise that cognitive models may benefit from an understanding of the kinds of experiences gained, and explanatory concepts advanced, within mystical traditions. Language mysticism is of particular interest on account of the central role thought to be played by language in relation to self and the individual’s construction of reality.
     The discussion focuses on traditions of language mysticism within Judaism, in which emphasis is placed on (i) the deconstruction of language into primary elements and (ii) the overarching significance of the divine Name. Analysis of the detailed techniques used suggests ways in which multiple associations to any given word/concept were consciously explored in an altered state. It appears that these mystics were consciously engaging with what are normally preconscious cognitive processes, whereby schematic associations to sensory images or thoughts are activated. The testimony from their writings implies that these mystics experienced distortions of the sense of self (‘I’), which may suggest that, in the normal state, ‘I’ is constructed in relation to the preconscious system of associations. Moreover, an important feature of Hebrew language mysticism is its emphasis on embodiment — specific associations were deemed to exist between the letters and each structure of the body. Implications, first, for the relationship between language and self, and, second, for the role of embodiment in relation to self are discussed. The importance of the continual emphasis on the Name of God throughout the linguistic practices may have provided a means for effectively replacing the cognitive indexing function hypothesized here to be normally played by ‘I’ with a more transpersonal cognitive index, especially in relation to memory.

Correspondence: Brian Lancaster, Liverpool JMU, Henry Cotton Campus, Webster Street, Liverpool L3 2ET, UK

Andrew B. Newberg and Eugene G. d’Aquili

The Neuropsychology of Religious and Spiritual Experience

This paper considers the neuropsychology of religious and spiritual experiences. This requires a review of our current understanding of brain function as well as an integrated synthesis to derive a neuropsychological model of spiritual experiences. Religious and spiritual experiences are highly complex states that likely involve many brain structures including those involved in higher order processing of sensory and cognitive input as well as those involved in the elaboration of emotions and autonomic responses. Such an analysis can help elucidate the biological correlates of these experiences and provide new information regarding the function of the human brain.

Correspondence: Andrew Newberg, University of Pennsylvania, 110 Donner Building, 3400 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA

Robert H. Sharf

The Rhetoric of Experience and the Study of Religion

This use of the concept ‘religious experience’ is exceedingly broad, encompassing a vast array of feelings, moods, perceptions, dispositions, and states of consciousness. Some prefer to focus on a distinct type of religious experience known as ‘mystical experience’, typically construed as a transitory but potentially transformative state of consciousness in which a subject purports to come into immediate contact with the divine, the sacred, the holy. We will return to the issue of mystical experience below. Here I would only note that the academic literature does not clearly delineate the relationship between religious experience and mystical experience. The reluctance, and in the end the inability, to clearly stipulate the meaning of such terms will be a recurring theme in the discussion below.

Correspondence: Robert Sharf, Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, 3070 Frieze Building, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1285, USA

Phillip H. Wiebe

Critical Reflections on Christic Visions

This paper discusses Christic visions as a significant kind of religious experience requiring explanation. It is based upon research published in ‘Visions of Jesus: Direct Encounters for the New Testament to Today’ (1997), in which I draw on information obtained from 30 living visionaries, using 21 categories to classify their experiences, including 15 phenomenological ones.
 Proposed explanations can be plausibly classified as falling into three broad categories: supernaturalistic, mentalistic and neurophysiological. I argue that no single explanation in any of these broad classes can adequately account for the detailed phenomena reported by visionaries. I demonstrate the ineffectiveness of mentalistic explanations, including several made popular by well-known psychologists, and argue that they cannot be improved without adverting to neurophysiological concepts.
 I argue that one of the most advanced neurophysiological explanations developed by recent psychiatric researchers cannot account for a particular kind of experience frequently reported in vision experiences. I also show that well-known supernaturalistic explanations for Christic visions do not provide adequate explanations, and identify some of the features of such visions that continue to tempt percipients toward supernaturalism.

Correspondence: Phillip Wiebe, Trinity Western University, 7600 Glover Road, Langley, BC, V2Y 1Y1, Canada

Ken Wilber

Waves, Streams, States and Self. Further Considerations for an Integral Theory of Consciousness

Although far from unanimous, there seems to be a general consensus that neither mind nor brain can be reduced without remainder to the other. This essay argues that indeed both mind and brain need to be included in a nonreductionistic way in any genuinely integral theory of consciousness. In order to facilitate such integration, this essay presents the results of an extensive cross-cultural literature search on the ‘mind’ side of the equation, suggesting that the mental phenomena that need to be considered in any integral theory include developmental levels or waves of consciousness, developmental lines or streams of consciousness, states of consciousness, and the self (or self-system). A ‘master template’ of these various phenomena, culled from over one-hundred psychological systems East and West, is presented. It is suggested that this master template represents a general summary of the ‘mind’ side of the brain–mind integration. The essay concludes with reflections on the ‘hard problem’, or how the mind-side can be integrated with the brain-side to result a more integral theory of consciousness.

Correspondence: Ken Wilber, 6183 Red Hill Road, Boulder, CO 80302, USA

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