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10 Enlightening Books About Science & Spirituality

Science and Spirituality

Over the last three or four decades, there has been a blossoming of discussion about the confluence of science and spirituality. As a society, we believe in the efficacy of a world-view sustained empirical research but are also experiencing a deep spiritual thirst. 

It is in this vein that together we’ve sought a integrative approach. An approach which combines scientific understanding with our knowledge of ancient practices and philosophies, one in which each is informed and enriched by the other. And, in many ways, also one that doesn’t depend on accepting any religious framework.

I think this emerging dialogue is an incredibly exciting phenomenon. One with implications for both our own spiritual lives and the spiritual life of humanity itself. 

1. Waking Up by Sam Harris

Sam Harris is often affiliated with what has been termed “secular spirituality,” a topic that, amongst others, he explores in this book. It’s made all the more interesting by the inclusion of stories of Harris’ own spiritual journey and his experiences with meditation.

There’s practical and theoretical dimensions to Waking Up, both of which combine to make one of the most insightful books on contemplative wisdom recently published. 

2. The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality by The Dalai Lama

In The Universe in a Single Atom, The Dalai Lama examines the parallels between modern science and Buddhist philosophy. 

It’s an engaging read, in part because of the breadth of topics that it covers. He also isn’t afraid to point out where he doesn’t think the two fit.

3. The Mind’s Own Physician by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Richard Davidson

The Mind’s Own Physician is a collection of talks and discussions that took place at the 2005 Mind & Life conference.

The Mind & Life institute has pioneered the conversation between Buddhist thinkers and scientists. Many of the world’s best-known spiritual teachers, including people like The Dalai Lama and Sharon Salzberg, are closely linked to it. 

4. Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson

Rick Hanson has a deep knowledge of both neuro-psychology and Buddhist philosophy and it really shows in this (relatively) easy-going and engaging book. 

If you want a basic grounding in the interplay of traditional practices and neuroscience, then this is the place to start. One of my all time favourites. 

5. Rational Mysticism by John Horgan

A riveting read that brings together many different strands (philosophy, psychology and pharmacology, amongst others) in outlining an empirical picture of mysticism and mystical states.

The author interviewed a lot of interesting people for the book, including Ken Wilber, Terrence McKenna and Alexander Shulgin (author of PIHKAL).

6.  Our Religious Brains by Ralph D. Mecklenburger

This book by Mecklenburger is a fascinating exploration of the ways in which neuroscience can help understand religious experience and belief. 

It explores the theme on a general level and, though the author is a rabbi, is inclusive of all faiths and disciplines. 

 7. The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman

The essays in this book combine strong scientific rigour with an openness to exploring the metaphysical and spiritual dimensions of life’s important questions.

This is somewhat of a classic and has received many accolades and recommendations, including a thumbs-up from Jon Kabat-Zinn. 

8. Going on Being: Life at the Crossroads of Buddhism and Psychotherapy by Mark Epstein M.D.

Mark Epstein is credited with being one of the very first writers to cover the intersection of psychology and Buddhism.

In this partly autobiographical book, he talks about how Buddhist psychology can aid us in understanding our own mental life and as a tool in navigating life’s everyday complexities.

9. The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

Paul Gilbert, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Derby, has split this book into two parts. The first half explains human emotional and mental life from an evolutionary and physiological perspective whilst the second outlines practical exercises for developing self-compassion.  

10. War of the Worldviews: Where Science and Spirituality Meet – and Do Not by Deepak Chopra Leonard Mlodinow 

A book that evolved out of a televised debate, it examines (and to some extent integrates) different approaches to important questions. 

It’s an entertaining and fluid read that brings together two very different thinkers.

Bonus: DMT, The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman

I tend to veer away from books about psychedelics, but this one about trails involving DMT (a chemical released at birth and death that is said to be responsible for mystical experiences) carried out at the University of New Mexico is well worth a read.

So there you have it! Please include your own suggestions in the comments below…

References

1. R Hanson, Buddha’s Brain, New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, 2009, p.9.

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