The Religion Machine, or; A Particular History of the Brain


LAC Burkhardt


Religious Studies


For residence at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania during academic year 2018-2019


The ontology of the brain as an information processing device is neither religious nor secular. Indeed, cognition has become a central concern for those who practice religion, for those who speculate about the ways and means of God, as well as for those who seek to explain religion in the laboratory. The brain, one could say, has long demanded obedience from scientists and supplicants alike. This project offers historical leverage upon the depth, density, and diffusion of this obedience, otherwise known as the cognitive revolution. It does so by narrating across stories of piety and experimentation since the eighteenth century—transatlantic revivalism, circuits of Swedenborgianism, antebellum phrenology, aspirations of parapsychologists, cybernetic pioneers, artificial intelligence, and electric shock therapy in the 1970s. “The Religion Machine” tells a story about cognitive science, politics, money and medicine that is infused with cosmic conjecture and religious allure.