November 11, 2016


Deutsches Haus, 420 W 116th Street, Columbia University

9:30 am – 6:00 pm

Event Organizer

Bernard Faure, Religion, Columbia University
Lydia H. Liu, Director, ICLS and EALAC, Columbia University

Event Sponsor

Event Co-Sponsor(s)

Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures at Barnard College, East Asian Languages and Cultures, Center for Science and Society, Neuroscience and History Workshop, Department of Religion, Heyman Center for the Humanities, the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies

Over the past three decades, since the creation of the Mind and Life Institute in the 80s under the auspices of the Dalai Lama and the neurobiologist Francisco Varela, a series of conferences have introduced the idea of a convergence between Buddhism and neuroscience. Neuroscientists have been particularly interested in the possible neural correlates of Buddhist meditation, and their experiments have contributed to the current popularity of Mindfulness and derived techniques, such as “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.” Apart from meditation, a number of important issues, such as notions of self and non-self, or Buddhist ethics and neuroethics, have been discussed. Yet, because of the media attention and a desire to reach consensus, problems and disagreements between the two fields have sometimes been ignored or downplayed, and the conversation has been limited to certain forms of Buddhist thought and practice. The time has come to move “beyond the hype” and to engage in a broader and more critical discussion. With its strong programs in Neuroscience and Buddhist Studies, Columbia University is a natural venue for this conversation. This workshop would include scholars from both the scientific and the social science fields.


Willoughby Britton (Brown)

Michel Bitbol (Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris)

Marion Dapsance (Columbia)

Georges Dreyfus (Williams College)

Bernard Faure (Columbia)

Linda Heuman (Brown)

David Lewis (Researcher at The Center for Trauma and Contemplative Practice)

Jared R. Lindahl (Brown)

David L. McMahan (Franklin and Marshall College)

Ronald E. Purser (San Francisco State University)

William S. Waldron (Middlebury College)

This conference is free and open to the public. No registration is required. Please note that the entrance to Deutsches Haus requires stairs. Please contact Disability Services if you will need assistance.


First session: 9:30am-12:00pm


Linda Heuman, Visiting Scholar at Brown University, Department of Religious Studies: “The Importance of Keeping Differences in Sight in Buddhism’s Dialogue with Neuroscience, Mindfulness, and Modernity”


Michel Bitbol, Director of Research at CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris: “Overcoming biases in the dialogue between Neuroscience and Buddhism”


Bernard Faure, Kao Professor of Japanese Religions, Columbia University: “Should Buddhism Be Naturalized? A View from the Margins”

LUNCH ON YOUR OWN – a list of local sandwich shops will be provided

Second session: 1:00pm-3:15pm


William S. Waldron, Professor of Religion and Chair of Department of Religion, Middlebury College: “Reflections on Indian Buddhist Thought and the Scientific Study of Meditation. Or: Why Scientists should Talk More with their Monks”


David L. McMahan, Charles A. Dana Professor of Religious Studies, Franklin and Marshall College: “Implicit Anthropologies and Epistemologies of Mindfulness”


Georges Dreyfus, Jackson Professor of Religion, Williams College: “An Experience in Meditation and Phenomenology”

Third session: 3:30pm-5:45pm


Willoughby B. Britton, Assistant Professor (Research), Brown University Medical School, and Jared R. Lindahl, Visiting Assistant Professor of Humanities (Research), Brown University: “Meditation-Related Difficulties: A Mixed-Methods Study of Buddhist Practitioners and a Clinical Population”


Ronald E. Purser, Professor of Management, San Francisco State University, and David Lewis, Researcher at The Center for Trauma and Contemplative Practice: “Contemplative Neuroscience’s “Truthiness” Problem”


Marion Dapsance, Postdoctoral Fellow, Columbia University: “What It Means to be a ‘Scientific Monk’ ”


Closing remarks

 The Heyman Center for the Humanities, Room B-101
74 Morningside Drive
New York, NY, 10027
  (212) 854-4541
  (212) 854-3099