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RELIGST 14N: Buddha's Brain and the New Science of Mind

Meet the Instructor | General Education Requirements

Course Description

How has the modern fascination with the Buddha, who lived nearly 2,500 years ago, come to influence scientific research on the nature of mind and its potential role in human flourishing? Do "mindfulness apps" have anything to do with ancient Buddhist theories of mind and techniques for training and transforming it? This class explores these and related questions through studying the history, nature, and implications of the diverse encounters and exchanges between Buddhists and psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers of mind.

In studying how the multi-faceted encounter between Buddhism and the mind sciences has influenced contemporary understandings of the mind and mental health, this course aims at developing self-reflective awareness of our positions within its history and future aspirations. It aims to do so through discussion and debate of recent popular science publications and "mindfulness apps," alongside traditional and contemporary Buddhist literature, Religious Studies analysis, and Science and Technology Studies (STS) theory. Topics to be addressed include, among others, the early encounter between Buddhism and psychology; the beginnings of the study of Buddhist contemplative practices in the laboratory; the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and the “Mindful Revolution;” the Mind and Life Institute and its promotion of formal dialogues between representatives of Buddhist traditions and scientists; Buddhism and the creation of a ‘science of happiness;’ Buddhism and technology; and Buddhism, neuroscience, and the idea of secularism. Final projects will include group analysis and presentation of one of the many "mindfulness apps" currently on the market.

General Education Requirements

Meet the Instructor

James Gentry

James Duncan Gentry

"I am a scholar of Buddhist traditions who has lived the past thirty years between remote Buddhist monasteries in Nepal, India, and China; academic institutions in the US, and the major cosmopolitan centers of New York City, Washington DC, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Studying Buddhism across these very different kinds of settings has given me a unique perspective on how ancient Buddhist theories and practices centering on the mind, its relationship with the body, and its potential role in our wellbeing have unexpectedly, and often without acknowledgment of their Buddhist origin, become an integral part of our everyday lives. Questioning how this surprising turn of events has taken place has led me to study the encounters between Buddhists and scientists over the past several decades and the influence of these exchanges in fields as diverse as psychology, education, medicine, and the arts."