The biology of spiritual experience
Hodder and Stoughton 2010
£12.99 Pb 331 pp
ISBN 978 0 34096 442 2
I doubt many CMF members will have read a book quite like this. If, like me, you haven't read other works by Charles Foster, this will be an eye opener. The author is a Christian polymath – barrister, vet, scientist, explorer and writer. It is one of the most learned yet lively looks on the nature of religious experience that I have read. Vast arrays of scientific papers are made accessible and woven together into a coherent set of themes. Chapters include: 'Religious experience and the origin of religion', 'An introduction to other states of consciousness', 'How psychoactive substances can throw open the doors of perception', 'Near-death and other out-of-body experiences', 'The holy helix: genetically predestined to believe?' and 'Wholly mad or holy madness?'
Many fascinating case examples of religious experience are examined. Foster takes on top scientists, such as Professor Susan Blackmore, and disputes her dismissal of the self and individual consciousness. The writing style is energetic and full of punchy one-liners. Because of this, the author uses turns of phrase which might occasionally jar with some readers. You might not agree with all in the book but it is a thoroughly good read, and there are some good pictures too.