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Fingerprints of God: What Science Is Learning About the Brain and Spiritual Experience

Fingerprints of God: What Science Is Learning About the Brain and Spiritual Experience

3.8 17
by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

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The New York Times bestseller that explores the startling discoveries that science is making about faith.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty's new book, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife, is out now from Riverhead Books

Is spiritual experience real? Or is it a delusion? When we pray, what happens? Can science explain God? In


The New York Times bestseller that explores the startling discoveries that science is making about faith.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty's new book, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife, is out now from Riverhead Books

Is spiritual experience real? Or is it a delusion? When we pray, what happens? Can science explain God? In Fingerprints of God, National Public Radio religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty attempts to answer these and other vexing questions about the science of spiritual experience. Along the way she tells the story of her own intriguing spiritual evolution, delves into the discoveries science is making about how faith affects our brains and explores what near-death experiences reveal about the afterlife. The result is a rich and insightful examination of what science is learning about how and why we believe.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“With honesty, discernment, humor, grace— and an enormous amount of reporting—Barbara Bradley Hagerty takes on one of the fiercest controversies of the last 500 years: Can we measure faith? Fingerprints of God reads like an elegant mystery story as Bradley Hagerty launches a search for evidence of God within us and the universe as a whole. People of faith and science will be grateful for the chance to join her on her quest."—E. J. Dionne Jr., author of Souled Out and syndicated columnist

“Barbara Bradley Hagerty has done something truly remarkable here. She has brought her considerable reporting skills and wonderfully wry writing to the question of who or what is God. By meticulously documenting scientific studies and interspersing them with the experiences of a number of individuals, including herself, she opens doors to those answers. Fingerprints of God is its own scientific and spiritual journey, one well worth taking.”—Cokie Roberts, author of Ladies of Liberty and news analyst

“Fingerprints of God is a courageous and immensely enjoyable book. In Barbara Bradley Hagerty's investigation of the science of spirituality, I found answers for questions I've pondered for years. Many people will find themselves in these pages.”—Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz

“What a book! The pages crackle with fresh insights into the nexus of faith and science. Striking just the right balance between skepticism and open-mindedness, Bradley makes for the perfect guide on this journey of discovery. Read this book. It'll inform and entertain – and just might change the way you view the world.”—Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss

“You can find God in many places, from the condemned on death row to the deepest folds of the human brain. In this groundbreaking book on the emerging science of faith, Barbara Bradley Hagerty discovers the links between science and spiritual experience. Fingerprints of God will provoke you, intrigue you, and inspire you.”—Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking

In this moderate, thoughtful book, award-winning National Public Radio religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty writes about what recent scientific research reveals about human spiritual experiences. These studies are far-reaching, covering not only the mental activities of Buddhist monks and Carmelite nuns but also faith healing through directed prayer and near-death experiences. In interviews with several of the world's leading scientists, Hagerty probes what science can tell us and not tell us about faith and spirituality. Talking about the ineffable; a believer's honest search for truth.
Christine Rosen
In another writer's hands, much of the material in this book might have become fodder for ridicule…But throughout the book, one is struck by the humility Hagerty brings to her subject—something lacking in many contemporary debates over the meaning of faith and the existence of God—and her skepticism about the science offered up as proof of spiritual experience…Hagerty's engaging book poses a provocative challenge to anyone who has ever wondered where faith comes from, and what it can do for—and to—us.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

In her first book, National Public Radio correspondent Hagerty acts as a tour guide through the rocky terrain of scientists who study religious experience. Is there a so-called "God gene"? Why do some people have mystical experiences while others never see the so-called light? Right up front, Hagerty reveals that this is not an entirely objective exercise. As a Christian, she wants to understand her own mystical encounter with the divine and why she believes when others do not. Yet to each interview, whether with a world-renowned neuroscientist or a back-road mystic, she brings a suitably skeptical eye. Along the way, she manages to explain some pretty cutting-edge science-psychoneuroimmunology, anyone?-and unravel some people's pretty hard-to-comprehend religious experiences without sacrificing depth or complexity. Then, with equal aplomb, she dances off to peyote ceremonies, church services and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The real beauty of this book lies in watching Hagerty gracefully balance her own trust in faith and science and, in the end, come down with one foot planted firmly in both. (May)

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Library Journal

Articles about research on spirituality and the brain are usually written from the point of view that religious experience can be understood from a purely scientific perspective. Hagerty's (religion correspondent, NPR) book does not have this naturalistic or materialistic tendency. Rather, as both a reporter and a religious person, she seeks insight on spirituality and science while being open to the possibility that spirituality may still have a transcendent component. The book is interesting to read because the author has interviewed many scientists as well as many people who attest to having mystical or near-death experiences. In a way, the reader feels like a participant in Hagerty's own encounter with the various pieces of information and evidence, struggling with her to make sense of it all. Highly recommended.
—John Jaeger

Kirkus Reviews
A deep spiritual quest from NPR religion correspondent Hagerty. After renouncing Christian Science, the stoic religious heritage of her New England upbringing, Hagerty remained a spiritual seeker. She writes that she experienced numinous episodes in which she physically felt the presence of something not of this world. The author's debut is an attempt to straddle two schools of thought: reductionist materialism (voiced in the extreme by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens et al.), which denies the validity of natural phenomena yet to be explained; and organized religion (James Dobson, Pat Robertson et al.), which discourages serious inquiry into science's understanding of the brain, mind and consciousness. Hagerty offers neither church sermon nor secular argument. This is a serious journalist's courageous, ambitious investigation into what science says about "a spiritual world . . . that eludes physical sight and hearing and touch?" Hagerty weaves together interviews with scientists, psychologists, neurologists and dozens of people who share her metaphysical experience, including mystics, or "spiritual virtuosos." She also explores the so-called God gene, drug-induced vision quests, the neurochemistry of faith, out-of-body experiences and the psychological aftermath of near-death experiences. Ultimately, the book ends where it began, echoing psychologist and pragmatist William James, who said that science can't prove or disprove God. At best, science is agnostic. While this may be comforting for believers, Hagerty's conclusions may prove ordinary for dedicated students of science and philosophy. A commendable, witty attempt to ground spirituality in established fact that will providedeeper understanding to people of faith but few surprises for nonbelievers.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Barbara Bradley Hagerty is the award-winning religion correspondent for National Public Radio. She’s the recipient of the Templeton Foundation-Cambridge University Journalism Fellowship in Science and Religion, and a Knight Fellowship at Yale Law School. Before joining NPR, she was a reporter at The Christian Science Monitor for 11 years. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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Fingerprints of God 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Elishka More than 1 year ago
If you're planning to read this book in order to find scientific proof that there is a God, put it down. It's not that kind of a book. This book is more of an erudite summarion of personal anecdotes along with reports of what various researchers are discovering about what the human brain looks like in periods of prayer and meditation. Most of the researchers interviewed will tell you that these variations in brain patterns are not evidence that there is a God; rather, it's evidence of how the brain reacts or changes during periods of prayer. What I found more interesting personally were the recurring themes among a variety of believers as they reported their experiences. It wasn't just that most of them experienced feelings of euphoria or that they encountered a white light of some kind; it was that they felt a fundamental change in their outlook because of their experiences. Additionally, each person -- no matter their religious persuasion (or lack thereof) -- described their spiritual encounters with a figure they would describe as God (as in creator and omniscient being, no matter what name they gave it) and were left with a sense that religious affiliation was an artificial construct (i.e., it didn't matter whether a person were Jewish or Christian or Hindu or agnostic -- all paths lead to the same place). In his book Spectrum, Dr. Dean Ornish urges meditation as a component of healthful living because it has been proven to reduce stress. Having read Fingerprints of God I am convinced that this is true. That it also opened up some new "visions" for my personal spiritual life is also helpful, but that's beside the point for the purposes of review because not everyone will find this book helpful in that regard. Barbara Bradley Hagerty writes clearly and with a gentle sense of humor, by the way. She brings her journalistic style of writing and sense of organization to the overall tale. It's a joy to read her writing.
TM4VP More than 1 year ago
For those who feel they are seekers of spiritual growth and willing to look at many paths this is a wonderful enquiry into the realms of modern explanation, scientific and otherwise for such a desire. Compelling hopeful and honest.
M_L_Gooch_SPHR More than 1 year ago
As a person continually seeking answers to the big questions, I really enjoyed Barbara Hagerty's book Fingerprints of God. As with Losing my religion by xxx I was impressed by the courage of the author to freely discuss the parts of her life that most people keep under a basket. For a book of this genre, absolute truth is essential but also rare. I also appreciated the excellent writing. Her year of award winning journalism was quite evident in her sharp writing and ability to distill the complex into simplicity with analogy and metaphor. Of the 12 chapters, my favorites were chapter 6 - Isn't God a Trip and chapter 11 - A New Name for God. In 2008 I published a book which dealt with the subject in chapter 6 although I did not provide the rich detail that Barbara gives us. While some may find this to be a 'flaky' science, it is not. Even the top scientists admit they do not understand the mechanics or the ramifications. Another aspect of this wonderful book was the clear sense that the author was not always adhering to a rigid outline. That is, is apparent that at times her mind would pick up new, fresh ideas and thoughts as she actually wrote the book. For me, this is the mark of a true author. Anyone can 'paint by numbers'. This is not one of those books. The evidence suggests the ideas flowed from the mind to the fingers as the work was being produced. I would also recommend, the Language of God and the Mind of God. Older works for sure, but still highly compelling. I highly recommend this book to anyone that seeks a link between our spirit and modern science. It is thought provoking and in this age of atheism, very relevant. I hope you enjoyed this review. Michael L. Gooch
Penny_King More than 1 year ago
My interest was spurred when Hagerty presented her findings in a tantalizing series featured on NPR. I ordered the book in audio format and found myself wishing it had been read by the enthusiastic journalist Hagerty herself instead of a theatrical paid professional. But my criticism stops there. My husband and I listened to the book on a recent road trip. While most of the concepts are not new, the research compiled into one volume is. Each chapter stimulated conversation between us, and friends for that matter, that has gone on for days. Hagerty's explorations have delighted two old metaphysicians.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story documents the authors journey as she questions her religious beliefs and her very believe in God. I felt that it was an honest book that presented both sides objectively. Those of you who believe in God will continue to do so after reading this book. Those of you who do not believe in God will no doubt find support for your beliefs as well. I enjoyed the book, but wish it had spent more time exploring the discoveries in quantum mechanics. Nevertheless, I found the section on quantum entanglement insightful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been seriously searching for the answer to Barbara's question "is there more?" Most of my life. I find myself strongly relating to her experiences and what she has to say. There is much truth here!
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GFS More than 1 year ago
This book is most helpful in providing a well researched and through introduction to the evolving brain function - religious experience data. The notes are a great source for further reading and investigation. it also is an interesting and easy read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ritun_Minor More than 1 year ago
An eye opener for skeptics. Well written, absorbing, a personal, uncompromising, rational search through scientific data and personal interviews - for the big question: is there a G? The writer isn't preaching for a certain God or any God - but left me (a rationalist) excited to see what fantastic revelations science may bring us - about the power of thought, faith and maybe, possibly - a certain type of God.
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From_the_Margins More than 1 year ago
The author's journalism credentials should be revoked. This is pure theism, and cloaking it with dribs and drabs of scientific opinion does not earn it any scientific authority whatsoever. It's dishonest philosophy; yet another lame attempt to drag God back into a universe where it doesn't exist. Don't waste your time!