The central focus of this thesis concerns the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms that give rise to the sense of the supernatural, which most analysts consider an essential component of religiosity. In order to come to grips with this question, the thesis explores the viability of Neurophenomenology, a new method of analysis which considers both the phenomenal (psychological) and neurological aspects of human cognitive activity in framing its explanatory solutions.
As a result of technical advances in brain imaging, together with increased sophistication of experimentation, it is now accepted amongst the majority of neuroscientists that brain activity and mental activity are one and the same; that neural and phenomenal (mental) activity are identical. The emerging credibility of neurophenomenal identity allows humanistic scholarship to incorporate neuroscientific research into any serious consideration of the human domain. In regard to the analysis of religious phenomena, this novel circumstance provides an opportunity to develop a method for the analysis of religious phenomena as part and parcel of the brain's representational output, and wholly within the bounds, therefore, of natural science.
On the basis of several decades of neurpsychological research, it is possible now to map the contours of the structure of neurophenomenal awareness (consciousness), and further, to answer at least one intriguing question regarding on of the enduring features of the human condition: why the brain believes in God, why humanity has for millennia maintained a sense of the supernatural.
The approach to this question commences in chapter one with an historical review of religious studies methodology and its longstanding marginalisation of natural scientific analysis. It is pointed out that even though the subject matter of Religious Studies is essentially phenomenological in nature, comprising conscious acts, attitudes, intentions and worldviews, little attention has been paid to the analysis of the actual neuropsychological constituents of consciousness itself.
The second chapter reviews progress to date as regards the neurological foundations of phenomenal consciousness, and develops a working framework for the analysis of conscious states in terms of several universal structural parameters. Chapter three outlines the working protocols of Neurophenomenology, a new formal analytical approach based on the fact of neurophenomenal identity and suited to the demands of research into the neurocognitive mechanics involved in religious phenomena. Chapter four explores the potential of this new analytical discipline, Neurophenomenology, to provide fundamental new insights in the analysis of such basic categories of religious phenomenology as worldview, myth, ritual, charisma, healing & ecstasy and the important issue of gender. In addition, because it constitutes an important phenomenological category within many Eastern and Western programs of spiritual development and mysticism, the neurocogitive mechanisms involved in lucid consciousness are examined as an ideal subject with which to assess the improved analytic power of Neurophenomenology.
In the fifth and final chapter, the analytical lens of Neurophenomenology is focused on the fundamental question of the essence of religiosity, the origins of the supernatural sense in the human psyche. The chapter concludes by examining the significance of the supernatural sense (and thus of religion) in light of the evolutionary development of its neurophenomenal bases.