Andrew Newberg M.D. is an American Neuroscientist and Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, adjunct Professor of Religious Studies and Associate Professor of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Dr. Newberg graduated from Haverford College in 1988 with a degree in chemistry and then received his medical degree in 1993 from the University of Pennsylvania. He then completed postgraduate training in Internal Medicine with a Residency at the Graduate Hospital from 1993 to 1996. Dr Newberg went on to undertake and a Fellowship in Nuclear Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Radiology from 1996 to 1998. He was certified in Internal Medicine by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 1997 and certified in Nuclear Medicine by the American Board of Nuclear Medicine in 1998.
Because of his work in the intersection between religion and the brain, he has become an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. From 2005 to 2010 he was also the Director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind.
Newberg has studied the relationship between brain function and altered mental states. He has studied widely, the effects of religious and spiritual practices and experiences and their effects on brain function. His research involved taking brain scans of people whilst they were praying, meditating, in rituals and other trances states in an attempt ‘to better understand the nature of religious and spiritual practices and attitudes also to develop neurotransmitter tracers for the evaluation of ‘religiosity’. It is hoped that this research will aid other neurological and psychiatric disorders including depression, traumatic brain injury as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Dr Newberg is one of the pioneers in this new field of ‘neurotheology’.
In the early 1990s, Newberg began researching where brain function and religious and spiritual experience intersect. He described the possible neurophysiological mechanisms associated with religious and spiritual experiences. His initial research included the use of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study the brain function of Buddhist meditators and Fransciscan nuns in prayer. This work was eventually published in three books, The Mystical Mind, Why God Won’t Go Away, and Why We Believe What We Believe. He is now one of the leading authorities on the neuroscience behind spiritual enlightenment (yes, it is a thing).
Newberg’s research has been featured in Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times as well as New Scientist He appeared in the groundbreaking film What the Bleep Do We Know!? As wll as Religulous He has continued to study religious and spiritual phenomena including topics related to forgiveness, meditation, prayer, spiritual development, morality, and belief. This work has been incorporated more recently into a new Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked with Big Think in producing videos on the Neuroscience of Spiritual Enlightenment (watch it here) and as well as the processes to undertake to become so in ‘5 steps to Achieve Englightenment – All Supported by Science’ (watch it here).
Newberg has authored six books, and peer-reviewed publications on neuroimaging in neuropsychiatric disorders and also neuroscience and religious and spiritual experience. His book, Why God Won’t Go Away, is a popularized account of this topic which describes some of the brain imaging studies and his theories regarding the nature of religious and spiritual experience. A more recent book, How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain, co-authored with Mark Waldman, is a scientific and practical look at how faith and meditation can enhance brain function.
Despite his geeky looks and his untested fundamental assumption of consciousness being generated in the brain; Dr Newberg, for all the work he has done to increase awareness in the scientific community of the neuroscience behind spiritual enlightenment deserves the accolade of cool neuroscientist.
Article by Vikas Pandey