cover image Science and Spiritual Practices

Science and Spiritual Practices

Rupert Sheldrake. Counterpoint, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-1-64009-117-7

Biologist Sheldrake attempts to beat new atheists at their own game by using science to shore up devotion to spiritual practices in this persuasive appeal for a more enchanted world. To do that, he considers seven practices that are spiritually fulfilling while also having proven health benefits: meditation, gratitude, connecting with the non-human world, human-plant relationships, ritual, singing, and pilgrimage. For each, he provides a brief, intriguing history of its rise and modern diminishment across various traditions. Sheldrake pines for his vision of a less profane, more individualized past, as he makes clear through his laments about loss of connection to nature and the secularization of pilgrimages. He draws on a wide range of studies to show benefits for each type of worship: meditation increases the brain’s gray matter, gratitude leads to better health, and group singing enhances abilities to concentrate. A few fuzzy moments, including reliance on many studies about improved happiness and overly speculative accounts (such as his claims that ritual repetitions create an inheritable memory across generations), do not overwhelm the otherwise convincing work. With accessible suggestions, clear arguments, and an encouraging tone, Sheldrake makes a good case for reincorporating bygone spiritual habits. (Aug.)