Something There

The Biology of the Human Spirit

David Hay

In recent years, a considerable body of evidence has been accumulating in both the physical and social sciences suggesting that our spiritual nature is real and not illusory, or that "there is something there." This book provides an accessible interdisciplinary study of recent scholarly work in human spirituality.

Zoologist David Hay analyzes extensive research on contemporary attitudes drawn from surveys and polls; his investigative work with the late Oxford zoologist Alister Hardy, founder of the Religious Experience Research Unit; and more than thirty years of his own research experience. Evidence is presented in the context of Western cultural history, beginning with tracing a repression of spiritual awareness arising from the European Enlightenment view of God as the most remotely theoretical of all intellectual fantasies.

Like Hardy, Hay believes spirituality is "prior to religion and is a built-in, biologically structured dimension of the lives of all members of the human species." Spirituality has a biological context, Hay contends, through which religion can rise, but does not necessarily do so. To evaluate this hypothesis, he examines a lengthy research procedure in the 1990s and excerpts from a poll in which ordinary people talk about how they try to make sense of their spiritual lives.

Hay uses the results of his research to consider ways of overcoming the negative image of the institution of religion. He sees recovery of contemplative prayer as one of the most important tasks of the church. He concludes that most people are already deeply interested in the search for ultimate meaning and long "to repudiate our alienation from our human essence and to rebuild a relationship with the Creator. . . . This amounts to the prying open of a cultural valve long choked up, but never quite closed, because at some level people have always known that there is 'something there.'"

Preface / ix

Part 1: Context

1. The Mountains of the Mind / 3

2. ‘Unfuzzying the Fuzzy’: Working Towards a Biology of the Spirit / 26

Part 2: Conversation

3. The Individuality of the Spirit / 53

4. Shared Aspects of the Spiritual Quest / 76

5. Theorising about the Spirit / 100

6. Primordial Spirituality / 122

Part 3: Conflict

7. Psychologists Start Arguing about Spirituality / 145

8. Modern Scientists Widen the Argument / 165

9. Why Spirituality Is Difficult for Westerners / 188

Part 4: Facing the Crisis

10. The Problems of the Institution / 209

11. Treating the Sickness of the Spirit / 228

An Unscientific Postscript / 251

Notes / 257

Bibliography / 285

Index / 299