The spiritual and second-order sense of scripture, according to which, for example, the crossing of the Red Sea denotes Baptism, and Jacob's ladder denotes the cross, presents at least two epistemological challenges. First, the history of interpretation suggests that some kind of collective judgment has been made between acceptable and unacceptable interpretations, but the rules for making these judgments are unclear. Second, for a variety of reasons, spiritual interpretations of specific persons, objects or events in scripture cannot add to theological knowledge through argumentation. A further challenge, that the spiritual sense depends on belief in providential special divine action (SDA), ought not to exclude the study of this interpretation according to its own principles but may have contributed to a comparative neglect of this topic. Despite its historical popularity and influence, recent academic work on the spiritual sense has therefore been limited.
In this seminar, I examine the spiritual sense in the light of recent work in neuroscience. I argue that although particular spiritual interpretations are dependent on a body of pre-existing theological propositions, and cannot add to these propositions directly, this does not mean that these interpretations lack cognitive value. On the contrary, the spiritual sense is the fruit of a kind of insight most commonly associated with the right hemisphere of the brain, associating embodied experiences with otherwise abstract theological statements and integrating such statements within shared narratives. I further examine work on partial brain dysfunction to underline the risks involved from a neglect of the spiritual sense, and consider practical implications for religious life.
DR ANDREW PINSENT is Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, a member of the Theology and Religion Faculty at Oxford University and a research fellow of Harris Manchester College. He was formerly a physicist at CERN, has degrees in philosophy and theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and a second doctorate, in philosophy, from St Louis University. He is the author of The Second-Person Perspective in Aquinas's Ethics: Virtues and Gifts, and a wide range of other publications on virtue ethics, neurotheology, science and religion, the philosophy of the person, divine action, and the nature of evil.