Professor of Health Psychology, University of Missouri
“The Sacred and the Brain: Expressions of Selflessness”
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Bixby Lecture Hall, Brouder Science Center
Columbia College Campus
Dr. Brick Johnstone is a clinical neuropsychologist and has been a professor in the University of Missouri Department of Health Psychology for 25 years. His research focuses on the neuropsychological foundations of spiritual experiences, which recently has been informed by fellowships in religious experiences and moral identity at the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton University, and in science and religion at Oxford University.
Dr. Johnstone’s primary interest is in determining the neuropsychological processes associated with spiritual experiences, specifically, what is happening in the brain rather than the location of such brain activity. The right hemisphere of the brain processes information related to the “self,” and reduced activity in this part of the brain leads to increased “selflessness,” which can be experienced as spiritual transcendence, or connection with higher powers beyond the self.
His research indicates that relationships across cultures and faith traditions, namely among American Christians and Indian Muslims, suggest “selflessness” may serve as a universal neuropsychological foundation for spiritual experiences. Additional research also suggests a relationship between selflessness and transcendence for atheists and agnostics, supporting concepts of spiritual atheism and secular spirituality. Working with religious studies scholars, Johnstone has shown how this neuroscientific research is further supported by multiple texts from diverse faith traditions emphasizing the importance of selflessness for spiritual experiences.
Johnstone holds a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from the University of Georgia and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Duke University. He serves on the University of Missouri Center on Religion and the Professions Spirituality and Health Research Project, and his findings have been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals.