While religion and science often seem at odds, there’s one thing they can agree on: people who take part in spiritual practices tend to live longer, healthier, and happier lives. The big question is: Why? In the “How God Works” podcast, professor Dave DeSteno takes us on a journey to find out – one that combines cutting edge neuroscience with ancient wisdom.
He’ll speak to leading scientists, spiritual teachers, and religious leaders to explore what we can learn from faith practices ranging from meditation and prayer to psychedelics and fire-walking. He’ll look at how we can adapt and use spiritual practices in our own lives, whatever our beliefs -- including none at all.
By working across boundaries that usually divide people – science versus religion, one faith versus another – we’ll find new ways to make life better for everyone.
Pain: The Benefits of Suffering
Across the world, people accept pain in the name of God. Whether through painful public rituals or private sacrifices, suffering plays a role in many faiths. Join Dave and his guests anthropologist Dimitris Xygalatas and psychologist Paul Bloom to see how extreme rituals improve the lives of both those who do them and those who watch them, as well as why milder forms of suffering may help people find meaning and growth.
For more on Dimitris Xygalatas’s research, click here. Paul Bloom’s books, including The Sweet Spot, are listed here.
Giving Alms: Why Everybody Wins
December concludes a season of gifts for many. And while it's undeniably enjoyable to get gifts, it’s not what brings us the most happiness. It turns out GIVING gifts not only makes us happier than getting them, but does so for longer. Join Dave as he speaks with Harvard Professor Michael Norton and Director of Indiana University’s Muslim Philantropy Initiative Shariq Siddiqui to learn more about why giving brings us joy, how many of the world’s faiths have found ways to help us do it no matter the size of our bank accounts, and why it just might make sense to add it to your list of resolutions for 2022.
For more, check out Michael Norton’s book and TEDx talk on giving. Learn about Shariq Siddiqui’s work here.
Healing Rituals: There’s Power in Belief
A majority of people in the US believe that faith can heal. And while there isn’t any strong scientific data backing the idea of faith healing by divine intervention, there is a growing recognition that faith in the power of a person, religious ritual, or even medicine to heal can play a role in recovery via the placebo effect. Join Dave and his guests science writer Erik Vance and health psychologist Alia Crum to explore the surprising ways belief in placebos can heal, and how, if you’ve ever taken a medication, it’s already worked to your benefit.
For more, check out Erik Vance’s book, Suggestible You. Learn about Alia Crum’s work here.
Transcendence: Why Chemicals Need Rituals
For centuries, Central and South American cultures have used psychedelics to induce mystical states. And while in the US they’ve mostly been used as recreational drugs, interest in their power to offer a rapid route to transcendence has recently been growing. But in our haste to use these chemicals to alter, and perhaps even heal, the mind, we might be losing sight that with speed comes risk. Join Dave as he talks with author Michael Pollan and researcher David Yaden about the nature of self-transcendent experiences, the science of how psychedelics can bring them on, and the dangers of disregarding centuries of shamanic knowledge about how to use them wisely.
Gratitude: Why Every Day Should Be Thanksgiving
Most people think gratitude is an emotion about the past. But in reality, it’s all about the future. Science shows it makes people more honest, more generous, and more patient. It strengthens their relationships and improves their well being. You can think of it as a multivitamin for the soul. But, like a vitamin, you need it more than once a year to get the benefits. And that’s why many religions provide ways to embrace it daily. Join Dave and his guests, author Diana Butler Bass and Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman as they explore ways to make everyday feel more like Thanksgiving.
Contemplating Death: A Secret for Happiness
COVID-19 has led to what’s being called The Great Resignation. People are leaving their jobs in record numbers, many to find more meaning in life or to spend more time with family and friends. As it turns out, realizing that death might not be as far off as it usually seems just might have something to do with that. Join Dave and his guests, psychologist Laura Carstensen and Catholic priest James Martin, as they talk about why thinking about death can be a useful exercise for improving your life at any time, not just in the midst of a pandemic.