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Goodwyn, E. (2011). Mcnamara, Patrick. The Neuroscience of Religious Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Pp. xvi + 320. Pbk. $68.00.. J. Anal. Psychol., 56(3):437-438.

(2011). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 56(3):437-438

Mcnamara, Patrick. The Neuroscience of Religious Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Pp. xvi + 320. Pbk. $68.00.

Review by:
Erik Goodwyn

It is remarkable that neuroscientist Patrick McNamara, in his new book The Neuroscience of Religious Experience, makes very little mention of Jung; I can only assume this is due to his relative unfamiliarity with Jungian analysis. Much of his theory matches clearly with many Jungian concepts with regard to symbolism, ritual, complexes, ‘possession’, and the transformation of the ego through religious imagery. As such it is essential reading for Jungian analysts with an interest in the advances in recent neuroscience concerning religious and ritual behaviour.

Early on, McNamara defines a set of neurobiological structures/processes that he labels ‘the Executive Self’ or simply ‘the Self’. This structure, McNamara points out, is implicated in a variety of experiences deemed religious. The Self is a construct that according to McNamara evolved to bring order to the chaotic interplay of various unconscious circuits or impulses, and in his review he noticed that there is a considerable overlap in brain regions associated with the Self (not to be confused with Jung's Self archetype, which is obviously different), and with religious activities.

A strong Self, it is argued, is essential for good functioning, and it is composed of autobiographical memory, emotional/evaluative systems, agency, bodily awareness, theory of mind, and a sense of unity in consciousness. McNamara reviews clinical data and research on the neurobiology of the Self from many perspectives, and a large database of neuroscientific studies of religion, and concludes that religious practices of all kinds converge on consistent associations with Self circuits.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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