Science and Spirituality - The Weekend University

Explore the new science of spirituality in this day of talks from leading neuroscientists and professors.

Have you ever felt you went beyond your ordinary self and felt connected to something bigger than you?

In a 2016 UK survey, over 84% of respondents (including atheists, agnostics, Christians, and Buddhists) said yes to this question.

So what’s going on?

In the complex web of modern life, we’re conditioned to embrace our rational minds and spend every second of our conscious hours in search of opportunities and threats. We are encouraged to get ahead, win friends, influence people, attract praise, avoid blame and generally focus on satisfying the individual everyday ego.

Indeed, the idea of a “self”, as a unique and coherent individual, has existed ever since humans began to live in groups and become sociable.

But is this egoistic view of ourselves scientifically accurate?

Or is there something more to the human experience? And might our most basic assumptions about who we are be wrong?

In this series of talks, we’ll explore the science and psychology of spirituality, drawing on insights from the neuroscience of yoga and meditation, the psychology of enlightenment, and the new science of interconnectedness – to question our most basic assumptions about who we really are, and our place in the world.


  • The Neuroscience of Yoga and Meditation; how these ancient practices impact our cognitive and behavioural functions, cause lasting structural alterations in the brain, slow down atrophy, improve learning, memory, and decision-making processes, and boost mental health and wellbeing – Dr Sara Lazar (Harvard University) 
  •  Neuroscience, Spiritual Experiences & Self Transformation; what brain scan studies of Brazilian psychic mediums, Sufi mystics, and Buddhist meditators have revealed about the specific neurological mechanisms underlying spiritual experiences, how you can activate these circuits in our own brain, and why these experiences often lead to profound, positive and lasting life changes – Dr Andrew Newberg (Thomas Jefferson University)
  • The New Science of Interconnectedness; how our sense of identity as isolated individuals is an illusion that is becoming increasingly maladaptive in the modern world, evidence from neuroscience and psychology that challenges this paradigm, and how a scientific perspective can transform our self-identity into one which leads to both human and planetary flourishing – Professor Tom Oliver (University of Reading)

Event Schedule:

  • 10:00am – 12:00pm: The New Science of Interconnectedness – Professor Tom Oliver
  • 12:00 – 1:00pm: Lunch break
  • 1:00pm – 3:00pm: The Neuroscience of Yoga and Meditation – Dr Sara Lazar, PhD
  • 3:00pm – 3:30pm: Afternoon break
  • 3:30pm – 5:00pm: Neuroscience, Spiritual Experiences & Self Transformation – Dr Andrew Newberg, M.D.

Full Day Pass: £49.99 (includes VAT + Booking Fee)

Student/Unwaged: £26.99 (includes VAT + Booking Fee)


Sun 25 April 2021
10:00 – 17:00 GMT

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25/04/2021 10:00 AM
25/04/2021 5:00 PM
Online Video Conference
The Weekend University – Science & Spirituality

Online Conference

Lectures & Speakers

The New Science of Interconnectedness – Professor Tom Oliver

In this seminar, we will take a voyage together exploring the biological and cultural evolution of individual identity, and the consequences of our self-perspective for major global social and environmental issues. 

Part one draws on evidence from molecular biology and neuroscience, such as how most of our 37 trillion cells have such a short lifespan that we are essentially made anew every few weeks, whilst the bacteria, fungi and viruses that make up our bodies influence our moods and even manipulate our behaviour. This is combined with evidence from neuroscience and psychology to challenge the sense of ourselves as unchanging, discrete entities. For example, every word and every touch we receive from other people transforms the neural networks in our brain. In Part 2, we will encounter how our sense of identity as isolated individuals is an illusion that is becoming increasingly maladaptive in the modern world. It is responsible for many interlinked environmental, health and economic problems and we will critically explore the proposition that solving these urgent problems lies in transforming our self-identity.

Reading Recommendations:

Books and Articles: 

Tom Oliver - The Weekend University

Tom Oliver is a professor at the University of Reading, leading their Ecology and Evolution research group. He is a prominent systems thinker, advising both the UK government and the European Environment Agency. He has published more than eighty scientific papers in world-leading interdisciplinary journals and won two first-place prizes for essays communicating science to a broader audience. His writing has appeared in the Guardian, Independent and BBC Science Focus and he is author of the critically acclaimed book The Self Delusion: The Surprising Science of Our Connection to Each Other and the Natural World

The Neuroscience of Yoga and Meditation – Dr Sara Lazar

In the first half of this talk I will present data demonstrating the impact of mindfulness practice on brain structure and function, and how that leads to enhanced cognitive abilities in older adults who regularly practice mindfulness meditation and yoga. After the break I will then discuss how mindfulness can be used to help cope with pain and fear. We will conclude with a brief (3 minute) guided mindfulness session followed by a question and answer period. 

Reading Recommendations:

  • Gard T , Taquet M, Dixit R, Hölzel BK, de Montjoye YA,  Brach N, Salat D, Dickerson BC, Gray JR, Lazar SW. Fluid intelligence and brain functional organization in aging yoga and meditation practitioners. Front Aging Neurosci, 2014; 5:76  PMID 24795629
  • Gard T, Taquet M, Dixit R, Hölzel BK, Dickerson BC, Lazar SW. Greater widespread functional connectivity of the caudate in older adults who practice kripalu yoga and vipassana meditation than in controls. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience [Internet]. 2015;9 (137). 
  • Greenberg J, Braun TD, Schneider ML, Finkelstein-Fox L, Conboy LA, Schifano ED, Park C, Lazar SW. Is less more? A randomized comparison of home practice in a mind-body program. Behaviour research and therapy [Internet]. 2018;111 :52-56. 
  • Hölzel BK , Carmody J, Vangel M, Congleton C,Yerramsetti SM, Gard T, Lazar SW. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psych Res: Neuroimaging,2011; 191: 36-42. PMID 21071182
  • de Jong M, Lazar SW,  Hug K,  Mehling WE, Hölzel BK, Sack AT, Peeters F,  Ashih H, Mischoulon D, Gard T. Effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on body awareness in patients with chronic pain and comorbid depression. Front Psychology, 2016; 7:967.  DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00967  PMID 27445929
Dr Sara Lazar - The Weekend University

Sara W. Lazar, PhD is an Associate Researcher in the Psychiatry Department at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Assistant Professor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School. The focus of her research is to elucidate the neural mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of yoga and meditation, both in clinical settings and in healthy individuals. She is a contributing author to Meditation and Psychotherapy (Guilford Press), and has been practicing yoga and mindfulness meditation since 1994. Dr Lazar’s research has been covered by numerous news outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, and WebMD, and her work has been featured in a display at the Boston Museum of Science.

Neuroscience, Spiritual Experiences & Self Transformation – Dr Andrew Newberg 

Through his brain-scan studies on Brazilian psychic mediums, Sufi mystics, Buddhist meditators, Franciscan nuns, Pentecostals, and participants in secular spirituality rituals, Dr Andrew Newberg has discovered the specific neurological mechanisms underlying spiritual experiences – and how we might activate those circuits in our own brains. In his survey of more than one thousand people who have experienced enlightenment, Dr Newberg has also discovered that in the aftermath they have had profound, positive life changes. 

In this talk, you’ll learn how spiritual experiences offer us the possibility to become permanently less stress-prone, to break bad habits, to improve our collaboration and creativity skills, and to lead happier, more satisfying lives. Relaying the story of his own transformational experience as well as including the stories of others who try to describe an event that is truly indescribable, Dr Newberg will share a new paradigm for deep and lasting change.

Reading Recommendations:


Dr Andrew Newberg - The Weekend University

Dr Andrew Nerberg is a neuroscientist, author, Professor, and the Research Director in the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. He studies how brain function is associated with various mental states, and is a pioneer in the neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences – a field known as “neurotheology.” Dr Newberg’s research has included brain scans of people in prayer, meditation, rituals, and trance states, as well as surveys of people’s spiritual experiences and attitudes. He has also evaluated the relationship between religious or spiritual phenomena and health, and the effect of meditation on memory. He believes that it is important to keep science rigorous, and religion religious. You can learn more about Dr Newberg’s work at: 

What TWU attendees are saying:

    positive review  I attended the Weekend university at Birkbeck today. I enjoyed the three speakers. I plan to attend future events.

    Mary Lou Finlan Avatar Mary Lou Finlan
    May 27, 2018

    5 star review  My first time at this and I am very very pleased with all of it. All 3 speakers were amazing and really interesting. I will definitely be booking for more ?

    Pauline Roberts Avatar Pauline Roberts
    May 28, 2018

    5 star review  Great event, 3 fantastic lectures presented

    Greg Cornthwaite Avatar Greg Cornthwaite
    January 30, 2018
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