The Wondering Brain: Thinking About Religion With and Beyond Cognitive Neuroscience

wonderingbrain_largeThe Wondering Brain: Thinking About Religion With and Beyond Cognitive Neuroscience

By Kelly Bulkeley

Routledge, 2004

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This book offers a new integration of religious thought and cognitive neuroscience. By focusing on experiences of wonder—startling encounters with the true, real, and/or beautiful—the author shows that human religiosity (and indeed all creative experience) depends on unexpected moments of radical decentering in which ordinary brain-mind systems are profoundly transformed, generating what science calls new consciousness and what religions call divine revelation.

The Wondering Brain explores four different spheres of wonder: dreams, sexual desire, art, and contemplative practice. Each chapter begins with a narrative of an individual life in which one of these spheres of wonder appears in especially vibrant form. The details of that narrative are then discussed in relation to the revolutionary findings of cognitive neuroscience (CN), which shed new light on the physiological roots of wonder in the human brain. CN can only take us so far, however, and this is where the resources of religious studies (RS) are brought into play, to provide historical and cultural context, to question the metaphysical assumptions of CN, and to clarify the inspiring, life-changing impact of experiences of wonder. Each chapter ends by returning to the original narrative with a richer appreciation for the dynamic interplay of brain-mind functioning and the religious imagination. Guided by the pioneering 20th century investigations of Freud, Jung, and James but pushing far beyond them, The Wondering Brain provides a new foundation for the study of religion and psychology in the 21st century. The book also issues a provocative challenge to scholars and general readers alike to think more deeply about the most dangerous of all spheres of wonder—the violent wonder of war.

Blurbs and Reviews

“A genuinely revelatory read in both the religious and intellectual senses of that term. The reductionist can only come away with a deeper appreciation for the innate or “hard-wired” religiosity of the human brain, and the religionist can only stand in awe before how much we really do know about the brain and its predictable workings. The wisest read, though, is perhaps the one that insists on balancing both of these polarized perspectives within a deep and playful sense of human wonder. Personally speaking, I have not stopped thinking and talking about this text since I set it down, and that was five months ago.”

— Jeffrey J. Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor and Chair of Religious Studies, Rice University

“Kelly Bulkeley’s latest book, “The Wondering Brain” empowers both the scientific and the religious points of view. In his warm and humorous style the reader is informed of recent developments in brain science and religious thinking. I highly recommend this unique book to anyone interested in opening him or herself up to the wonders of the brain.”

— David Kahn, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Table of Contents


1. Dreams and Visions

2. Sexual Desire

3. Creative Madness

4. Contemplative Practice

Conclusion: The Evolution of Wonder


Soul, Psyche, Brain: New Directions in the Study of Religion and Brain-Mind Science

soulpsychebrainSoul, Psyche, Brain: New Directions in the Study of Religion and Brain-Mind Science
by Kelly Bulkeley (editor)
Palgrave Macmillan, 2005
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Soul, Psyche, Brain is a collection of essays that address the relationships between neuroscience, religion and human nature. The book highlights some startling new developments in neuroscience that have many people rethinking spirituality, the mind-body connection, and cognition in general. Soul, Psyche, Brain explores questions like: What are the neurological effects of meditation and prayer? How does the mind develop psychological and spiritual self-awareness? And what are the practical implications of brain-mind science for religious faith and moral reasoning?

Blurbs and Reviews

“Bulkeley provides a unique and valuable resource reporting from the cutting edges of the encounter between neuroscience and religion. Fields as diverse as emotion and dream studies, complexity theory, spiritual development, Christian and non-Christian theology—and more—contribute to the ferment. Those working in any or all of these areas will find here resources to stretch their mind.”
Carol Rausch Albright, co-author of The Humanizing Brain: Where Religion and Neuroscience Meet

“Soul, Psyche, Brain has successfully re-set the starting point for any serious interdisciplinary conversation on the topic of religion. By doing so, this book at once updates all parties, levels the intellectual playing field, and lays open new possibilities for collaborative research—both reflective and empirical—on the topic of religion across a broad range of disciplines.”
Nina P. Azari, Department of Psychology, University of Hawaii at Hilo


Table of Contents


1. Genes, Brains, Minds: The Human Complex
Holmes Rolston III

2. Brain, Mind, and Spirit—A Clinician’s Perspective, or, Why I Am Not Afraid of Dualism
James W. Jones

3. Psychoneurological Dimensions of Anomalous Experience in Relation to Religious Belief and Spiritual Practice
Stanley Krippner

4. Sacred Emotions
Robert Emmons

5. Where Neurocognition Meets the Master: Attention and Metacognition in Zazen
Tracey Kahan and Patti Simone

6. From Chaos to Self-Organization: The Brain, Dreaming, and Religious Experience
David Kahn

7. Converting: Toward a Cognitive Theory of Religious Change
Patricia Davis and Lewis Rambo

8. Cognitive Science and Christian Theology
Charlene Burns

9. Overcoming an Impoverished Ontology: Candrakirti on Buddhism and the Mind-Brain Problem
Richard K. Payne

10.Religion and Brain-Mind Science: Dreaming the Future
Kelly Bulkeley

11.Religion out of Mind: The Ideology of Cognitive Science and Religion
Jeremy Carrette

12.Brain Science on Ethics: The Neurobiology of Making Choices
Walter J. Freeman


Spiritual Dreaming: A Cross-Cultural and Historical Journey.

spiritualdreamingcrossSpiritual Dreaming: A Cross-Cultural and Historical Journey.
By Kelly Bulkeley, Ph.D.
Paulist Press 1995
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Read Chapter 2: Snakes

Blurbs and Reviews

“Kelly Bulkeley’s book is a valuable addition to the growing shelf of dream writings. Using dream reports from traditions as diverse as the religions of Asia, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and many native traditions, Bulkeley presents dreams whose common theme is the experience of the sacred… This is a scholarly but very readable book, including exhaustive notes and a complete transcultural and transtemporal bibliography of dreams.”
—Betsy Caprio, Praying


Table of Contents

1. The Dead
2. Snakes
3. Gods
4. Nightmares
5. Sexuality
6. Flying
7. Lucidity
8. Creativity
9. Healing
Appendix 1. Hermeneutics: The Interpretation of
Spiritual Dreams
Appendix 2. Dreams and Conceptions of the Soul,
Reality, and Reason
Appendix 3. Methodological Issues


Dreamcatching : Every Parent’s Guide to Exploring and Understanding Children’s Dreams and Nightmares.

dreamcatchingDreamcatching : Every Parent’s Guide to Exploring and Understanding Children’s Dreams and Nightmares.
Alan Siegel, Kelly Bulkeley
Three Rivers Press 1998
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Dreams are a regular part of every child’s life and a powerful resource for every parent. Dreamcatching is the first comprehensive dreamwork book covering children’s first reported dreams around age two into adolescence. This practical guide to children’s dreams shows parents how to learn the hopes and fears that their children may not be able to articulate and to nurture their children’s creative, problem-solving, intellectual, and spiritual natures. Siegel and Bulkeley give guidance on how to encourage children to remember and share their dreams, and the book includes a “Dreamcatcher’s Workbook” which is filled with projects using drawing and painting, playacting, and other playful ways to bring to life the meanings of the dream.

Blurbs and Reviews

“Dreamcatching offers a wealth of scientifically backed information about the dream life of young people, and offers adults the opportunity to join with boys and girls in a voyage of social, psychological, and spiritual exploration.”
—Stanley Krippner, coauthor of The Mythic Path, editor of Dreamtime and Dreamwork

“Dreamcatching makes dealing with your children’s dreams the most thought-provoking game you’ve ever played…. The siple instructions geared to all stages of childhood dreaming propel you deeply into the imagination of the people you love most. This book is a joy.”

—Robert Bosnak, author of A Little Course in Dreams and Tracks in the Wilderness of Dreaming


“Few things are more vital in reclaiming the soul of our culture than to get families to share dreams and harvest their gifts of story, mutual understanding, and healing. Alan Siegel and Kelly Bulkeley have written a lucid, practical, and caring guide.”

—Robert Moss, author of Conscious Dreaming


Table of Contents


1. The Family That Dreams Together

2. The Playful Creativity of Children’s Dreams

3. A Child’s Garden of Common Dream Themes

4. Nightmare Remedies: Helping Your Child Tame the Demons of the Night

5. Dreams of Growing Up: From Infancy through Adolescence

6. Dreams and the Changing Family: Divorce, Adoption, Blended Families, and new Siblings

7. First Aid for Crisis Dreams: Dream Patterns in Response to Crisis, Injury, Disability, Abuse, and Grief

8. Visions of Transcendence: Dreams and the Spiritual Life of Children

9. Social Influences on Children’s Dreams: Television, Sex-Role Stereotypes, and the State of the World

10. Your Dreams About Parenting

11. The Dream Catcher’s Workbook

Appendix A. Every Teacher’s Guide to Creative Dream Work for the Classroom

Appendix B. Annotated Bibliography of Children’s Books Related to Dreams


Dreams: A Reader on Religious, Cultural, and Psychological Dimensions of Dreaming.

dreamsareaderDreams: A Reader on Religious, Cultural, and Psychological Dimensions of Dreaming.

Edited by Kelly Bulkeley

Palgrave, November 2001

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This book offers a one-volume compendium of the best contemporary scholarship on the study of dreams, bringing together leading researchers from religious studies, anthropology, and psychology.

Blurbs and Reviews

“A fascinating collection of readings—as rich and diverse as the realm of dreams itself. Bulkeley brings together scholars who explore the science and philosophy of dreams with sophistication, while remaining accessible to readers. A rich array of cultural approaches are represented, and differing western schools receive ample time for a stimulating debate.”

—Deirdre Barrett, Associate Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School


“The dream: hieroglyph, psychic map, cultural artifact, random neural discharge? A century after Freud’s contested odyssey into the interpretation of dreams, this rich volume opens multiple portals to the universal otherworld of dreaming and to some of the most important questions in dream research today …a unique new guide to an endless landscape.”

—Kimberley C. Patton, Associate Professor in the Comparative and Historical Study of Religion, Harvard Divinity School


“There is, arguably, no contemporary scholar writing in the field of the psychology of religion who to date has accomplished a more thorough and critical exploration of the cultural, historical, psychodynamic and religious meanings of the dreaming process than Kelly Bulkeley. This remarkable compilation of carefully chosen essays by leading scholars offers both the student and the professional a comprehensive survey of the best scholarship and the sharpest intellectual controversies that dreaming has provoked world wide and historically… This reader is an epic survey of art, religion, psychology, anthropology literature and diverse human cultures as seen thought the peculiar but illuminating lens of ‘The Dream.'”

—John McDargh, Associate Professor, Department of Theology, Boston College


“Whether you are a scientist or a humanist, a rationalist or a poet, Bulkeley’s collection on dreams will both fascinate and entertain you. Bulkeley knows how to get inside of dreams; he also knows how to take the outsider’s point of view. The individual and the collective, the scientific and the poetic, the past and the present are given their due in this wise selection of readings.”

—Don Browning, Alexander Campbell Professor of Ethics and the Social Sciences, University of Chicago


“I know of no other collection that draws together such a wide range of current approaches to dreams and provides such a comprehensive coverage of the present state of research across disciplines. Bulkeley has deftly assembled so many seminal and challenging essays on dreaming, all of which reflect the latest developments in their respective fields. A veritable feast of dream delights for both the novice, and the seasoned dream researcher.”

— Michele Stephen, Ph.D. Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia


Table of Contents

About the Contributors
Introduction: Contemplating Freud’s Navel

Section I. Traditions

1. The Context of Buddhist Dream Experience and Practice. Serinity Young

2. Through the Looking Glass: Dreams in Ancient Egypt. Kasia Szpakowska

3. Dreams and Dream Interpreters in Mesopotamia and in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Scott Noegel

4. Dreams and Dreaming in Islam. Marcia Hermansen

5. Sending a Voice, Seeking a Place: Visionary Traditions among Native Women of the Plains. Lee Irwin

6. The Role of Dreams in Religious Enculturation among the Asabano of Papua New Guinea. Roger Ivar Lohmann

7. A Content Analysis of Mehinaku Dreams. Thomas Gregor

8. Making Dreams Into Music: Contemporary Songwriters Carry On an Age-Old Dreaming Tradition. Nancy Grace

Section II. Individuals

9. Kagwahiv Mourning: Dreams of a Bereaved Father. Waud Kracke

10. Reflecting on a Dream in Jungian Analytic Practice. Jane White-Lewis

11. Group Work with Dreams: The “Royal Road” to Meaning. Jeremy Taylor

12. Wish, Conflict, and Awareness: Freud and the Problem of the “Dream Book”. Bertram Cohler

13. Penelope as Dreamer: The Perils of Interpretation. Kelly Bulkeley
Section III. Methods

14. Western Dreams About Eastern Dreams. Wendy Doniger

15. The Dream of Scholarship: Some Notes on the Historian of Mysticism as a Dreaming Creative. Jeffrey Kripal

16. The New Anthropology of Dreaming. Barbara Tedlock

17. How Metaphor Structures Dreams: The Theory of Conceptual Metaphor Applied to Dream Analysis. George Lakoff

18. Dreams, Inner Resistance, and Self-Reflection. James DiCenso

19. Turning Away at the Navel of the Dream: Religion and the Body of the Mother at the Beginning and End of Interpretation. Diane Jonte-Pace

20. Using Content Analysis to Study Dreams: Applications and Implications for the Humanities. G. William Domhoff

21. The New Neuropsychology of Sleep: Implications for Psychoanalysis. J. Allan Hobson

22. Consciousness in Dreaming: A Metacognitive Approach. Tracey L. Kahan

23. Dialogue with a Skeptic. Frederick Crews and Kelly Bulkeley

The Wilderness of Dreams: Exploring the Religious Meanings of Dreams in Modern Western Culture

wildernessofdreamsThe Wilderness of Dreams: Exploring the Religious Meanings of Dreams in Modern Western Culture.
By Kelly Bulkeley, Ph.D.
SUNY, 1994
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Blurbs and Reviews

“This book is a must for those professionals (psychologists, psychiatrists, clergy, etc.) who have an interest in the ‘wonderland’ of dreams… Surely, this excellent book will stimulate considerable discussion in a number of professions. I hope it will also stimulate considerable dialogue between psychology and religion, which are not really mutually exclusive (sorry, Sigmund!).”
—Daniel E. Williams, Contemporary Psychology

Table of Contents

Part 1. Introduction: First Steps
1. Dreams Through the History of
2. Exploring the Wilderness of Dreams

Part 2. Eight Paths into the Wilderness
of Dreams
3. Psychoanalysis: Sigmund Freud
4. Surrealism: Andre Breton
5. Analytical Psychology: C.G. Jung
6. Content Analysis: Calvin Hall
7. Neuroscience: J. Allan Hobson
8. Lucid Dreaming: Stephen LaBerge
9. Anthropology: Barbara Tedlock
10. Cognitive Psychology: Harry Hunt

Part 3. Dreams and Interpretation
11. The Crisis of Dream Interpretation: Gadamer to the
12. A Hermeneutic Critique of Modern Dream
Interpretation Theories
13. The Interpretation of Dreams: Hermeneutic
14. Dora’s Dream: The Hermeneutic Principles in Action

Part 4. Dreams and Religious Meaning
15. The Concept of Root Metaphors
16. Flying with Great Eagles and Eating Short Bananas:
Examples of Root Metaphors in Dreams
17. Root Metaphors and the Eight Paths into the Dream
18. Towards Integration: Interpreting “Being Dissected
by the Evil Alien”

Part 5. Conclusion: Out of the Wilderness
19. Why All the Interest Now in the Religious Meaning
of Dreams?
20. The Future of the Wilderness of Dreams

Appendix 1. Other Paths into the Dream Wilderness
Appendix 2. Does God Speak in Dreams?