With the emergence of a neuro-essentialist framework of human identity, brain scientists are moving into spaces of cultural authority on matters of human personhood. In doing so they reframe traditionally religious and theological conversations on a variety of topics (i.e. human agency, absolution for sin, addiction, human sexuality, mystical experiences, and meta-narratives about human identity and meaning). As a result, neuroscience has become an authoritative voice of wisdom and truth. With the increase in the affordability and access to brain imaging technology, there has been an explosion of studies on brain processes ranging from mystical experiences to sociopathic behavior, and from animal models of learning to claims about human agency, free will and consciousness. Of particular interest is the ubiquitous nature of terms such as ‘neuroplasticity’ and cultural trends to rely on brain altering psychoactive drugs for medicinal, therapeutic, recreational, and enhancement purposes. A survey of the major neuroscientific and theological issues will be provided, and suggestions for how theologians, pastors and laypersons can navigate these conversations will be given.

This event is made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this conference are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

William Struthers (PhD University of Illinois at Chicago) is Professor of Psychology at Wheaton College. His lab research interests are in the neural mechanisms that underlie behavioral arousal and the processing of novel environments. Dr. Struthers has recently been made a Fellow of the International Society for Science and Religion.

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