Course Syllabus

Semester & Location:

Spring 2019 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Elective Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

Neuroscience, Psychology, Religious Studies

Faculty Members:

Jes Buster Madsen

Program Director:

Carla Caetano

Program Assistant:

Carolyn Goddard -

Time & Place:

Thursday & Friday, 14:50-16.10, F24-206


Description of course:

The course offers a biological and neurocognitive psychological approach to explore and debate what neuroscience, psychology, and related fields reveal about the brain’s role in spiritual experiences, religiosity and atheism. Main topics include in -depth discussions of the nature of the field of neurotheology; health benefits and risks related to being or not being religious; functional neuroanatomy, neurocognition and neurochemistry of religious and spiritual experience; neurochemistry correlated with spiritual experiences, mystical states and religiosity across the lifespan with respect to neuro-cognitive factors.


Learning objectives of the course: 

By the end of this course you will gain insight into the complexity of researching religion, spirituality, and atheism from a neuroscientific perspective. You will be informed about some of the most relevant debates and research directions currently being pursued pertaining to the exploration of the “religious” brain. We explore evolutionary arguments for and against religion, we discuss studies that explore religion and spirituality in the brain. You will also gain understanding of human consciousness, as this pertains to understanding scientific methods, in relation to the study of religion.

You will also have the opportunity to think of an exciting research question, to explore this topic in depth and to come up with your own experimental paradigm.


Field Studies:

When: February 20, 13.00-17.00

Location: Ateistisk Selskab

Topic: The role of atheism in the modern society


When: May 1, 10.30-12.00

Location: Medicinsk Museion

Topic: The relationship between Religion and Science


Guest Lecturer:

Jonathan Puntervold, Cand. Mag. - The Miracle of Language


Approach to Teaching:

A key component of this course is student participation and discussion. It is thought, that students should take responsibility for their own learning, and that discussion and debate is the cornerstone of a good learning environment.

Each class is structured such that it begins with a short exercise, which will often be practical in nature, and thereby activate and engage the students. This is then followed by a mini-lecture, where bullet points and essential ideas are explained to the class. Afterwards, the class will engage in group work and discussion, in order to summarize and understand todays reading.


Expectations of the Students: 

This course emphasizes collaborative learning. This involves in-class group activities and frequent discussion among peers punctuated by mini-lectures from the instructor for context and direction. It is expected by the instructor, that each student engages actively in class, and 10% of the final grade is based on it. Additionally, the class is non-electronic, meaning that laptops are not allowed in class.





Participation and Attendance


Paper Assignment I  


Paper Assignment II            


Research Question, Poster Session           




Final Exam







Participation and Attendance: 10%

The heart of this class is driven by student participation. The primary character of the class will be exploration of ideas, idea generation, inquiry and discussion. Students must bring to class an inquisitive mind, a willingness to share their thoughts, ideas and questions. Grades will be deducted when readings have not been completed and when participatory efforts are lacking. Please see participation rubric on canvas for specifics. Unexcused and frequent absenteeism will result in a loss of grade.


(Paper Assignment I & II): 20%

  1. A Nonreligious Life, Paper/Essay,

Due: Februar 15

Write a 5-page essay, in which you discuss the Pros and Cons of living a Nonreligious life, compared to a religious life.  

In your essay, argue for why you think, it is desirable or not desirable to live non-religiously.

It is expected, that you use data/results from the article ”What Do You Mean, ”What does It All Mean? Atheism, Nonreligion, and Life Meaning”.

You are allowed to use other peer reviewed articles.

  1. Spirituality and Physical Health, Paper/Essay,

Due: April 2

Write a 5-page essay, in which you discuss the link between spirituality and physical health.

It is expected, that you use data/results presented in the article ”Religion and Spirituality - Linkages to physical health”.

You are allowed to use other peer reviewed articles.


Research Question/Poster Session: 25%

Due: April 16 & 26

For this class we will simulate a poster session at a conference. The conference is on methods used in the study of neuroscience of religion and atheism. Small groups will present to their peers on their assigned empirical method and its uses. We encourage the presenters to rely also on the material (papers and course material) presented during the class. Preparation will include group work outside of class to develop the poster as well as guidance from the lecturers. During the poster session, the other "research teams" will pose questions about the merits and methodological problems of their method and how it can be used to study our topic best. Both the presentation and the questioning skills will be taken into consideration for the assessment of this task. Please refer to the assignment description and grading rubric for further information (on canvas).


Final Exam: 25%

Due: Thursday, May 9th 9.00-11.00

There will be a final exam based on the readings and class discussion. It will be a combination of short and long answer questions. There will be a review and more information as the semester progresses.

To be eligible for a passing grade in this class you must complete all of the assigned work.


Course Summary:

Date Details