Neuroscience and the Free Exercise of Religion
Georgetown University - Law Center (Deceased)
January 15, 2010
LAW AND NEUROSCIENCE: CURRENT LEGAL ISSUES, M. Freeman, ed., Oxford University Press, 2010
Georgetown Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 10-01
Recent developments in neuroscience that purport to reduce religious experience to specific parts of the brain will not diminish the fundamental cultural or legal standing of religion. William James debunked this possibility in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) when he noted that “the organic causation of a religious state of mind” no more refutes religion than the argument that scientific theories are so caused refutes science. But there will be incremental legal change in areas like civil commitment where judges must sometimes distinguish between mental disorder and religious belief. The paradox is that the ecstatic religious experience of unorthodox individuals will fare less well in the courts than the beliefs of conventional groups, which is precisely the opposite of James’ view of authentic religious life.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 14
Keywords: freedom of religion, neurosciences, metaphysics, church and state
JEL Classification: K10, K30
Date posted: January 18, 2010 ; Last revised: October 28, 2015
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