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Neuroscience and the Free Exercise of Religion

LAW AND NEUROSCIENCE: CURRENT LEGAL ISSUES, M. Freeman, ed., Oxford University Press, 2010

Georgetown Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 10-01

14 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2010 Last revised: 28 Oct 2015

Steven Goldberg

Georgetown University - Law Center (Deceased)

Date Written: January 15, 2010

Abstract

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.

Keywords: freedom of religion, neurosciences, metaphysics, church and state

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Goldberg, Steven, Neuroscience and the Free Exercise of Religion (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. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1537355

Steven Paul Goldberg (Contact Author)

Georgetown University - Law Center (Deceased)

N/A

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