How God Works: The Science Behind Spirituality

How God Works: The Science Behind Spirituality

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.


May 28, 2023 38 mins

Hate and prejudice based on ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation are all too common in our world. But are we doomed to be this way? Or is it possible to create a world where cooperation and peace are the norm?

Join Dave as he talks to NYU professor Jay van Bavel about the deeper mechanisms at work when it comes to group conflict (and how to avoid it), and with Zen Buddhism teacher Larry Ward about how the te...

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Music has the power to transform and connect us, no matter our native tongue. In many ways, it's a language unto itself. It ties us to places. It heals us, promotes compassion and empathy.  It unites us not only to each other, but according to many people, perhaps even to something greater.

On this episode we’ll take a look at what’s going on in our brains and bodies when we sing sacred songs to...

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April 30, 2023 35 mins

What do we get out of making things with our hands? Traditions the world over incorporate crafts into their religious practice, and for secular people, that experience of getting “in the zone” while weaving or working with wood or clay can also feel meditative, even spiritual.

So maybe it’s worth asking: Is there a craftsperson in all of us that we should occasionally step away from our devices to nurture? And could craft...

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April 16, 2023 37 mins

Were the Earth and all its resources created just for our benefit? Do plants and animals exist solely for us to consume? Or should we be viewing our role on this planet differently? When it comes to protecting the environment and addressing climate change, religion has had mixed results. Why is that?

With Earth Day almost upon us, we thought it would be the perfect time to take a look at how religion plays into our relati...

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April 2, 2023 29 mins

Awe fills us with wonder -- we feel small in the face of things that seem vast, inspiring, almost beyond comprehension. So it makes sense that spiritual experiences often inspire awe. But new science is showing it can also work the other way around.

Awe from any source -- nature's beauty, art and music, even others’ noble acts -- can actually nudge us toward becoming more spiritual -- toward believing in the divine. And a...

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March 26, 2023 1 min

Season 4 is coming on Sunday, April 2!

Can learning to experience awe more often be good for us? Does learning to make pottery, sing in a choir, or play a group sport give us some of the same benefits as being part of a religious community? Does being Christian make you more or less likely to taking a stand on climate change? What does Buddhism have to teach us about healing the divisions in this country? And do spiritual...

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While we’re working on Season 4, we wanted to share a special episode from another podcast we love, The Happiness Lab.

On The Happiness Lab, Dr. Laurie Santos explores all the ways we get our happiness wrong and what we can do to really feel better. She walks through the latest evidence-based strategies for improving your mental health, sharing practical advice on what will really bring more joy.

In this episode, Laurie...

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February 5, 2023 35 mins

What do we owe future humans? In principle, it seems obvious that we should do what we can to make life better for the generations that follow, just as our ancestors did for us. But while most of us agree that doing this is the right thing, it can be hard to put into practice while also avoiding some of the pitfalls that often afflict growing philosophies like effective altruism and longtermism.

Join Dave as he speaks to ...

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January 22, 2023 34 mins

Sooner or later, most of us experience grief from losing someone we love. It’s always painful, and sometimes even debilitating. But there is plenty we can do to help ourselves and others be resilient. Join Dave as he talks with Columbia University psychologist George Bonanno and Rabbi Angela Buchdahl about ways to promote a healthy mourning process and find a path back to life.

George Bonnano’s book The Other Side of Sadn...

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If you ask people what they think about religion, you often get one of two answers: Religion is the source of war, violence, abuse, and hypocrisy OR a route to love, kindness, tolerance, and mercy. Put another way, it’s either what divides us or it’s the thing that can actually bring us together. In a country deeply divided over social, political, and moral issues that seems to be moving further apart by the day, the answe...

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December 25, 2022 39 mins

Time with family, friends and loved ones is supposed to be at the center of the holiday season… but in our screen-dominated world, how many of us can say that’s still true? Our devices are purposefully designed to monopolize our attention and make themselves hard to put down. So even though we know that spending too much time staring at screens is bad for us, the addiction can be hard to break.

With the New Year almost up...

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December 11, 2022 32 mins

‘Tis the season for giving and…forgiving. But while forgiveness is something to which we often aspire, it can be harder than it seems at times. It's human to feel the tension between the urge for revenge and the intent to forgive, especially when the hurt or betrayal is great. That tension shows up in many religions too, though forgiveness usually wins. But it’s not just a religious ideal, it’s also a biological necessity.


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December 4, 2022 1 min

Join us for the very first How God Works live event this Wednesday, December 7th at 7:30pm, at The Greene Space in New York.

For tickets and more information, click here.

If you can’t make it in person, not to worry, we’ll be livestreaming the event here.

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November 27, 2022 35 mins

Work is becoming a “religion” for many people these days. It’s worship of the efficient, productive, and almighty dollar. But that doesn’t make people very happy. And organizations filled with miserable employees aren’t ideal for making the world a better place either. Can anything be done to fix it?

We’ll talk to Sacred Design Lab co-founder Angie Thurston about how to make workplaces more spiritually nourishing, and to ...

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November 13, 2022 35 mins

Can you pray with a robot? Will people worship AI like a god? It's not science fiction. It's starting to happen now. But what does it mean if robots become priests, or AIs start offering ethical advice? And how do we know when to trust them?

We’ll talk to MIT social roboticist Cynthia Breazeal about how technology can manipulate our minds and emotions for good or ill, and with religion professor Robert Geraci about how te...

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October 30, 2022 37 mins

Have you ever heard a voice, seen an image, or felt a presence around you that you couldn’t explain? If you have, you’re not alone. More people than you might think report having these kinds of experiences. For some, it can be easy to write these off as tricks of the mind. But for others, especially the religious and spiritually-inclined, these events are often transformative and can profoundly alter the way they feel abou...

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October 23, 2022 1 min

Join us for the very first How God Works live event on Wednesday, December 7 at The Greene Space in New York.

For tickets and more information, click here.

If you can’t make it in person, not to worry: we’ll be livestreaming the event too.

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October 16, 2022 37 mins

Every year, thousands of people head to Nevada's Black Rock Desert for a week at Burning Man. And while from the outside, it might seem like a place for partying, drugs, and debauchery, to many, it offers something deeper, even life changing.

We’ll ask neuroscientist Molly Crockett and Episcopal minister Alex Leach, both burners themselves: Is Burning Man a new type of spiritual gathering? How and why does it deeply move ...

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October 2, 2022 1 min

How God Works will be back with Season 3 starting October 16th! This season we’ll continue to explore some of life’s deepest questions through science and spirituality.  But we’ll also have another big question in mind - What comes next?

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May 22, 2022 32 mins

As a society that fears death, we tend to avoid the subject. But the key to having a positive end-of-life experience might come in doing just the opposite. On this episode, we’ll hear from philosopher Simon Critchley, Boston-area chaplains Ruth Delfiner, Sarah Byrne-Martelli, and Maude Quinn, and Threshold Choir singer Leigh Davis about what makes a good death, and the many rituals, spiritual or secular, that ease our tran...

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