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How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  1,082 ratings  ·  143 reviews
God is great–for your mental, physical, and spiritual health. That’s the finding of this startling, authoritative, and controversial book by the bestselling authors of Born to Believe.

Based on new evidence culled from their brain-scan studies on memory patients and meditators, their Web-based survey of people’s religious and spiritual experiences, and their analyses of ad
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published March 24th 2009 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Skylar Burris
Jun 15, 2010 rated it it was ok
Titillating title, but a boring exercise in the conclusion of the mostly obvious, with a cup of unsubstantiated moralizing thrown in for good measure.

In How God Changes Your Brain, two researchers (a neuroscientist and a therapist) discuss how the brain reacts to religious ritual, most particularly meditation. They conclude that intense, long-term contemplation of “God” actually permanently changes the brain, specifically altering those parts that control mood, sensory perception, and notions of
Lee Harmon
Jan 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I see this as two books in one: first, a basic look at the malleability of our brain and how it can be trained--specifically, how spiritual practices rebuild neural paths within our brain--and second, a practical guide to basic meditation.

I give the first half five stars. I didn't read all of the second half. Guess that means I should drop my rating one star. It's not that I'm not interested in meditation, because I'm thoroughly convinced of its spiritual and mental value; it's that, like 95% of
May 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
A better title might have been "how meditation, prayer, and spiritual practice change your brain", but this is a fantastic compilation of decades of research done into the neurological and psychological science of spiritual practice.

From cloistered nuns to Tibetan monks, to average meditators and construction workers who've only been meditating two weeks, the demonstrable changes in neurophysiology and mental and physical health derived from spiritual practice are undeniable.

There is a section o
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first part of this book was rather fascinating, as the authors discussed what affect religion has on the brain. In general, things like prayer and meditation and involvement in a religious community are helpful for bodily health. The big caveat I saw is that how we view God does matter. If you believe God is an authoritarian tyrant who is going to punish you every time you slip up, then this form of religion is not good for you. The question of whether there is an infinite being we call God ...more
This book took me quite a while to read because I was actually also reading most of the footnotes-- and there were a lot of them! It was that kind of book, where you are almost as interested in all the studies and other reference sources as you are with the book.

Andrew Newberg is a medical doctor who has believed in God since childhood and had-- he claims-- the good fortune to have a father he describes a "true agnostic" and a lawyer. As an adolescent his father would "lovingly" argue the opposi
May 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
What I liked about this was the authors had plenty of chances to go into "woo" science territory BUT DIDN'T. They remain agnostic on any questions about the reality of God, but stick to their basic theme - actively meditating on God, morality, and the moral social contract that makes humans human is good for the brain in an empirically measurable way.

Subjects who meditate can, in lab settings, focus on tasks better, demonstrate better memory, and have a different neural pattern that (the authors
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
From the academia perspective this book is rather good. Through research (that is available) Dr. Andrew Newborn advices that God, meditation, prayer are good for health. Religion or engaging in some type of "spiritual" practice can help one become more compassionate, better focused, as well as healthier (blood pressure, reduced stress).

This is rather interesting especially since Dr. Newberg neither is a Christian nor does he claim one can truly know God. In fact, he is of the belief that mankind
Despite its title, this book is largely about promoting compassion, acceptance of others, awareness, and health through various types of meditation, relaxation, and other exercises. The effectiveness of these practices, often taken from religious traditions, does not depend on any religious content or context. They are presented in a form acceptable to anyone, whether atheist or members of any religion. The first part examines concepts of God from an evolutionary and developmental viewpoint. Whi ...more
Jan 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book is chock-full of interesting findings about our brain's chemistry and "wiring", interesting survey results, and in two final chapters, a basket of techniques for improving one's mood, dealing with anger, increasing empathy, and other good goals. The title is provocative, and so is the content. ...more
Dec 17, 2012 rated it liked it
The title's a bit of a misnomer that might dissuade some people from reading this good book about the effects of meditation, secular or religious-based, on health. ...more
Kathryn Zeuthen
Jun 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating book about how our brains can be changed for the better when we contemplate God. The research is impressive and the exercises are so helpful. I am very glad that I worked through this book.
Sep 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Newberg and Waldman, neuroscientist and therapist at the Univesity of Pennsylvania, present fascinating evidence and survey results documenting the beneficial effects of spiritual practice, be it prayer, meditation, or even "compassionate communication," on the brain's chemistry, on one's thinking and values, and on mental health.

In his past research, Newberg has concentrated on performing CAT-scans of meditating Buddhist monks and praying nuns to observe the neurological effect of these activi
Sam Woodward
Aug 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The title of this book may give some people the wrong idea. 'How God Changes Your Brain' discusses Newberg & Waldman's latest neuroscientific research into how the brain is affected by various spiritual practises - particularly meditation, prayer & contemplation of God or a positive secular image. The tone is objective & the authors are not interested in pushing either a religious or anti-religious agenda.

Whether or not God actually exists is not discussed. For the authors, whether someones' bel
Mar 28, 2016 rated it liked it
This one's hard to judge. It's an easy read on an interesting topic with some decent insights into the effects of spirituality on the brain and the development of spirituality in people's lives. In the last few chapters it offers a few practical tools for meditation, good communication and healthy living and there are a few genuinely good lifehacks here (smiling, yawning, exercising). The same goes for the meditation exercises and as such, this book is a good resource.

However, as every popular a
James Jacob
Nov 30, 2010 rated it liked it
There were some fascinating results of studies revealed in this book about what happens in our brains as we participate in certain religious or spiritual activities - praying, meditating, and even glossolalia. The authors addressed this from their scientific perspectives and appeared not to grasp or take seriously one spiritual beliefs. I am a Christian, but I believe that a non-believer or one of another world religion might also recognize this. Certain facets or tenets that one of any particul ...more
Jul 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
The neurological discoveries exposed in the book are perfectly consistent with what mainstream theologians have taught over the centuries. Does that make this book redundant? Not at all, but is scientific confirmation of ancient wisdom and comes in big support for it. This is something much needed in our current culture that gives credence to science over any other form of knowledge.
A lot can be said about this book, but if I got something from it is this: anger in all is forms is the enemy of y
Raghda Soliman
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mind Opening and Life Changing

Even though this book is not a Christian book, it still opened my mind on spiritual matters that can be carried out to evolve my life to the better. Andrew and Mark help us learn all the researches done on spiritual practices as meditation and the results that come out of such practices. They show us the benefits of carrying out such practices like meditation, compassionate communication... etc.
I found the book so insightful. It helped me learn a lot on how I can
Joel Wentz
Oct 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
This work is extremely well-researched (footnotes galore!) but written quite accessibly. More than anything else, I deeply appreciated the "openness" with which the authors approached their work, remaining curiously agnostic on the question of God's existence, but also passionately in defense of faith and belief. This is quite a refreshing opinion in our current age!

Personally, I found the first half of the book significantly more interesting, which is where the writers dive into their research
Darin Stewart
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Regardless of ones individual approach to spirituality, ranging from rabid fundamentalism to disinterested atheism, the structure, wiring and operation of your brain will reflect that world view in tangible and measurable ways. "How God Changes Your Brain" is not an attempt to convert the reader to any particular belief system, but rather and explanation of the impact spiritual practice has at a neurological level. They also explain how these physiological ramifications can manifest positively o ...more
Miles Darcey
This book should be retitled "How religious meditation and prayer affects the brain". This book shows off the authors' findings on how spiritual practices, like prayer and meditation, can permanently affect a person's brain positively and negatively. There is a lot of information and studies referenced in this book, though all of them are based on how prayer-like practices affect the brain. This book is great for understanding the neurological changes of these practices and how to get the benefi ...more
Cristina Smith
If you own and operate a brain, this book is for you.

"...every human brain, from early childhood on, contemplates the possibity that spiritual realms exist. " Take a moment and let that sink in.

This book offers many such opportunities for consideration, philosophically, psychologically, spiritually and scientifically. A wonderful blend of not too dense facts and research and practical ways to help enhance and maximize whole brain functioning, it gives us a different way to think about thinking
Micke Goteman
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
(Update) The book gets even better after a second reading :)

I really enjoyed this book. I'm sure people with different views on faith and science may perceive it very differently based on their existing opinions. But I thought Newberg and Waldman do a great job presenting findings and explaining them in a way that even I was able to (mostly) understand. I think so much of how we experience life and even faith comes back to how our brain works, because of that I think it is very important to hav
Oct 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2012
This is an excellent consideration of the neurological effects of spiritual practices, not limited to any individual faith (ie. the book cites Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu practices and more). This is _not_ a theological or inspirational book, but rather the presentation and analysis of various studies and projects led by the authors. The closing chapters give excellent steps for integrating mindfulness to personal meditation and for encouraging and enabling compassionate communication wit ...more
Karen Christino
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
The title is a little misleading, since the thrust of this book is about how spirituality, meditation and activating the compassion and empathy centers of the brain are good for you. The authors have digested an amazing array of studies to arrive at their conclusions, and include guided exercises at the end. Easy to read but packs a lot of information.

The amygdala, or reptilian brain, is responsible for our fight or flight response, which can make us unhappy, stressed and angry. Meditation coun
Jun 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book's multifaceted approach to the subject. Two authors with each having a different philosophy which adds to one's ability to bring a personal philosophy to it. So God is described as a spiritual philosophy or the answer to man's search for life relevance. An epiphany: "If you use your belief in God to practice charity, compassion, and acceptance, that's great. But if you use your beliefs to generate any level of discimination - -". I also loved one of the authors relating that ...more
Asher Jones
Aug 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I found this book the other morning amongst my father's many many books. His vast library tends to sprawl throughout the house, reaching as far upstairs as both bathrooms, and is one of the biggest pleasures of coming home. The nonfiction read is a very informative one. It definitely opened new doors that I am more than willing to walk through already having planned to look more into meditation. I like how the book sort of makes things simple to the average person but does fill itself with enoug ...more
May 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very insightful. Its like introducing into a whole new brain whole. I can imagine my axons and dendrites growing and growing as I read through the book.

I agree with Andrew Newberg point of view on the philosophy with science, especially the analogy he used: Man and God is like Dog and Man. On certain level I find philosopher are people who constantly dig deeper into every aspect in life and universe; which like Newberg advise of 'don't take the easy way out'. Venturing in the world of unknown an
Mar 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
I first read this book in 2012 in a book group where the discussion was lively. Newberg and his co-author Mark Waldman write persuasively in arguing the fact that a simple meditation practice--with or without elements from an established religious tradition--can significantly improve quality of life. More importantly, they argue toward evidence-based conclusions that meditation practice can alter brain function for the better. They take insights developed in the 1970s by Herbert Benson in his bo ...more
Steve Wiggins
Jun 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book! I am always impressed by scientists who do not dismiss the concept of God merely on principle. Newberg has the scientific findings to back him up on how prayer and/or meditation can improve your brain function. Part "how to" book and part documented study, this book made me start meditating again. Very important. For further thoughts see: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World. ...more
Good book! I saw Mark Waldman lecture on this book's content and it was, to this day, one of the most engaging lectures I have attended. Here's a link to a video recording of that very lecture:

Also, if you end up digging this book, check out Buddha's Brain.
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Dr. Andrew Newberg is Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College. He is also Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Board-certified in Internal Medicine and Nuclear Medicine. He is considered a pioneer in the neuroscientific study of religiou ...more

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