James B. Ashbrook and #neurotheology

I came across the work of James B. Ashbrook yesterday in my continued investigation of how the soul, mind, and body are interrelated. Ashbrook dedicated much of his career to studying the neuroscience of the brain and how the bimodal (right-brain/left-brain) consciousness is both analogous and metaphor of God. His work culminated in the books Minding the Soul and The Humanizing Brain.

Ashbrook’s theology is rooted in Rauschenbusch, Kierkegaard, Whitehead, and Tillich.

“Tillich opened for me experiential origins of the theological past. The main tributary of Christianity has been Antiochean incarnationalism, Jesus divine and human. I have resonated more with Alexandrian Logos Christology, Christ as the universal ordering of existence. This more cosmic view reduces the impulse to exclusiveness among the world religions. I prefer to think of religion as wholistic or whole-making, or, better yet, the dynamic integrity of Reality. For me, Jesus is the archetypal
prototype of what it means to be human rather than a perfect essence emanating from some Platonic realm.”1

These two paragraphs provide a summary of his work:

“The primitive and core brain focuses our attention. The old mammalian brain involves the psychosocial processes of belonging and connectedness and of owning and differentiating. The highest level of complexity, the neocortex, is the locus of conscious cognition and conceptual coherence or interpretive integration. Because of our genetic capacity for empathy and attunement, we are object seeking; because of our capacity for cognitive organization, we are makers of meaning.
I insist that these twin aspects of meaning making and object seeking represent the reality of religion. Religious understanding in its unconscious roots suggests there is “more” to God than rationalization of feelings. In the conscious reaches of religious understanding there is the “more” of imagination and mystery. With such a background of knowledge and understanding I link the cry for the other, including the cry for God, and the biocultural womb of human development.”2

I found Ashbrook thanks to the breadcrumbs left by Ted Peters in his article “The Soul of Trans-Humanism” in Dialog.3 Ashbrook represents a view of the soul/body relationship that Peters calls “Emergent Dualism.”

  1. Ashbrook, James B.. 1996. Making Sense of God : How I Got to the Brain. Zygon 31: 401-420, 403-404. []
  2. ibid, 419. []
  3. Peters, Ted. 2005. The Soul of Trans-Humanism. Dialog: A Journal of Theology 44: 381-395. []

3 thoughts on “James B. Ashbrook and #neurotheology”

  1. He has a beautiful way with words. Is it your sense that Ashbrook understands the hardwiring as an intentional, relational design, or does he believe the mishaps of evolutionary biology have accidentally come together to make us seek an “other” who isn’t really there?

    1. Jim, thanks for the comment. I have only begun to read Ashbrook, so I cannot make an informed response. However, my first impression is that he sees intentionality in the Ultimate Reality to which to analogous and metaphorical mind-body points. He flows from Tillich’s theology, so it is always difficult to speak of God directly within that framework.

      Curious, how did you come across my post?

      1. I’ve read a lot about neurotheology and keep an eye out for postings on the subject. I’ve approached it more from a philosophical standpoint than a scientific one, but clearly the topic is on the horizon for the intersection of theology and culture.

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