The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and Our Quest for an Inspired Life by Lisa Miller, PhD

The Awakened BrainSeminal book brings hard core science to spirituality and its role for well-being


As I was writing my book on workplace spirituality, numerous peers and mentors recommended I drop everything and read Dr. Lisa Miller’s book. After the third mention of it in as many weeks, I ordered the book and found it so compelling that I finished it in a week. I read it in time to incorporate Miller’s thinking into my book and her work is a frequent mention in my presentations on workplace spirituality.


Dr. Miller is a clinical psychologist, researcher, professor, and an author who has devoted her career to understanding the connection between spirituality and mental health. What makes The Awakened Brain so engaging is her storytelling. She weaves a narrative about the formative experiences that drew her into this work, about how she began to challenge how her colleagues in clinical psychology discounted discussions of religion or spirituality in their work with clients, insights from her own research to test her hypotheses, and stories from her personal life that help us to apply the concepts discussed in the book to real world scenarios.


As engaging as the stories are, what sets this book apart from many on this topic is its pursuit of a scientific understanding of spirituality. Dr. Miller shares her eye-opening seminal research that identifies the area of the brain where spirituality resides. She offers language and scientific evidence to distinguish religion from spirituality. And she takes the reader on a journey through her subsequent research on that explores the role of spirituality for the prevention and treatment of mental health.


This quote sums up her conclusion about the scientific support for spirituality

Each of us is endowed with a natural capacity to perceive a greater reality and consciously connect to the life force that moves in, through, and around us. Whether or not we participate in a spiritual practice or adhere to a faith tradition or identify as spiritual or religious – our brain has a natural inclination toward and docking station for spiritual awareness.


I have found this book especially helpful in describing what it means to be spiritual because there is no consensus amongst scholars on a definition. This language is especially meaningful to me: “Spirituality is a feeling of being held or inspired or buoyed up by something greater than yourself.”


While many individuals look to a faith tradition or religious community to support spiritual well-being and growth and to express their spirituality, Dr. Miller’s research supports the view that even those who do not consider themselves to be religious may claim to be strongly spiritual.


One of Miller’s research collaborations included a study of 5,500 people across India, China, and the United States. Study participants shared 5 common spiritual phenotypes across all major world religions as well as those who self-identified as nonreligious, secular, or spiritual but not religious. These 5 phenotypes include: altruism, love of neighbor, sense of oneness, practice of sacred transcendence, and adherence to a moral code.


This work is important because it offers a broader perspective of how we might think about and talk about spirituality. The rigorous scientific evidence supporting the ideas shared in this book adds credibility to Dr. Miller’s call for spirituality to be included in efforts to support mental health and well-being.


Though the book is written by a scientist and does include a lot of discussion about research, this is a highly engaging book that I’ve been recommending to anyone interested in learning more about the connection between spirituality and mental health.