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Essay about Neurotheology and Prophecy in the Hebrew Bible

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Neurotheology is becoming an increasingly popular strand of theology. Although trances of this branch of theology can be traced back to the 70’s, it really became an area of interest in the mid 90’s. Neurotheology is a process of studying religious and spiritual phenomena with the neuroscientific perspective. This field is continuing to grow and with better technology for neuro-imaging and a growing understanding of the human mind theologians can use this framework to better understand a wide variety of theological concepts. One theme in particular that is dominant in the Hebrew Bible is that of ecstatic states and prophecy. This phenomenon can be found in almost every culture and time period yet cannot be traced back to any one. Erika Bourguinon, one of the most prominent ethnologists in the area of altered states of consciousness, examined trance states as they appeared in cross-culturally. In a study examining institutionalized altered states she shows that, “of a sample of 488 societies, in all parts of the world, for which we have analyzed the relevant ethnographic literature, 437, or 90% are reported to have one or more institutionalized, culturally patterned forms of altered states of consciousness.” This phenomenon of trance states is of great significance, as it appears to be a major aspect of human behaviour and religious experience. When examining prophecy in the Hebrew Bible this method of examination can shed insight into the behaviours of the prophets and onto our interpretation of them. Trance states, or ecstatic states, in the Hebrew Bible have long been problematic for biblical scholars. Many scholars have found it problematic to reconcile the seemingly erratic behaviours of trance states and other rationalist...


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... 2012) 1-9.

14. Shantz, C. Paul in Ecstasy: The Neurobiology of the Apostle’s Life and Thought. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

15. Singer, S. “Mystical-ecstatic and Trance States.” In The British Journal of Psychiatry. Vol. 152. 296-297. 1988.

16. Taves, A. Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

17. Trimble, M. The Soul in the Brain: The Cerebral Basis of Language, Art and Belief. Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 2007.

18. Ed. Walter, M. and Neumann Friedman, E. Shamanism: an Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices and Culture. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2004.

19. Wilson, R. Prophecy and Ecstasy: A Reexamination. In Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 98, No. 3. (Sept. 1979). Pp. 321-337.



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