MUR I: 2-3.03.2013

How many specialists may there be in Poland interested in the subject of the intersection of the study of religions and cognitive science? Two? Three?
When the first idea of organizing the Brain-Mind-Religion academic conference surfaced in 2013, the atmosphere was that of shy insecurity. Still, the idea was unstoppable. When the Dean of the Jagiellonian University Faculty of Philosophy, Jarosław Górniak, prof. PhD, took honorary patronage over the event, the organizers were empowered and knew that the conference had to be a success.
When, after the announcement of the call for papers, first proposals started coming in, each was greeted with enthusiasm. Over seventy abstracts were submitted and the task of selecting only twenty-nine best, most interesting and closest to the subject of the conference was a difficult one. Nonetheless, the mission was accomplished and finally nine panels were assembled. Thematic fields included i.a. Religion as Adaptation, Altered States of Consciousness and Psychoactive Substances, Psychopathology, Meditation in Light of Cognitive Science, Cybernetics and Transhumanism. The icing on the cake was the acceptance of the invitation by some of the most outstanding Polish academics to serve as keynote speakers and participate in the discussion panel.
The conference started on 2nd March 2013 at the Collegium Novum building of the Jagiellonian University. The inauguration lecture was delivered by the conference supervisor, Maciej Czeremski, PhD, who discussed the need for cognitive approach within the study of religions. Subsequently, lectures were given by Jerzy Vetulani, prof. PhD („A Neurobiolobist in Quest for Soul"), Józef Bremer, prof. PhD („Free Will from the Perspective of Neuroscience") and Marian H. Lewandowski, prof. PhD („The Dychotomy of the Cerebrum or The Specific Functions of Nonspecific Systems"). On the 3rd March a heated expert discussion took place, pertaining to the perspectives of studying religious phenomena within the neurocognitive paradigm. It was moderated by Tomasz Sikora, PhD, and the participants included Andrzej Szyjewski, prof. PhD, Andrzej Pilc, prof. PhD as well as Stefan Florek, PhD. To no surprise, the spacious Collegium Novum hall was hardly large enough to contain the vast audience.
None of this would have mattered, however, were it not for you, Dear Participants, who showed us what a treasure a conference audience may be, and who kept asking for a continuation.
Honorary Conference Patronage
Jarosław Górniak, prof. PhD
Dean, Jagiellonian University Faculty of Philosophy

Conference supervisor
Maciej Czeremski, PhD
Director of Student Affairs, Institute for the Study of Religions
The Organizing Committee
Coordinators: Natalia Kłeczek, Szymon Król, Wawrzyniec Ordziniak,
Public Relations: Anna Hojdeczko, Agnieszka Rojowska
Finances: Szymon Król, Natalia Nieciąg
Graphic Design: Małgorzata Mrówczyńska, Michał Spurgiasz
Editing: Agnieszka Dąbal
Organization Team: Matylda Ciołkosz, Małgorzata Dulska, Magdalena Kozioł, Leszek Michta, Maksymilian Woch, Justyna Bendkowska, Adam Anczyk, Anna Łagan, Aleksandra Sadowska

MUR II: 1-2.03.2014

On 1st-2nd March 2014, at the Collegium Novum Hall in Cracow, the second edition of the nationwide „Brain-Mind-Religion" student conference took place. The conference was a joint initiative of the Institute for the Study of Religions Student Association and the Association of the Students of Cognitive Science. The Honorary Patronage was provided by the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, Jarosław Górniak, prof. PhD.
The subject matter of the discussions held during the two days oscillated around the study of religions, cognitive science and neurobiology. In line with the aim of the conference, an interdisciplinary dialogue was initiated, concerning new ways to study widely understood religious phenomena. Both the advantages and the disadvantages were accounted for, resulting from the application of the cognitive and biological perspective to describe phenomena traditionally placed within the domain of social sciences.
The broad spectrum of issues discussed by the participants was divided into seven panels, intersected by lectures delivered by experts from different academic domains. The inauguration lecture was given by Halina Grzymała-Moszczvńska, prof. PhD, a psychologist and a student of religion, who spoke about cultural psychology and the need to take for account the different modes of thinking associated with place of birth and residence.
The first panel comprised of two papers. The first one, titled „Refections on the Reception of Patterns in the Study of the Features of Magico-Religious Worldviews of the Inhabitants of Polesia", was presented by anthropologist Bożena Józefów-Czerwińska, PhD. The second, presented by Michał Spurgiasz, presented a cognitive theory of magic and alchemy. During the second panel, the main theme concerned sleep and dreaming. Karolina Maria Kotkowska analyzed religious and magical strategies of coping with sleep paralysis. Adam Anczyk talked about religious and magical representations of sleep disorders and dreams. Maksymilian Woch, on the other hand, applied the cognitive theory of conceptual metaphor to study the content of dreams described by Internet forum users.
The second half of the first day was devoted to Eastern religious traditions. Agnieszka Marek and Monika Marek-Łucka opened a panel concerning meditative techniques, presenting calligraphy as a form of meditation and illustrating their lecture with audio-visual material. Andrzej Jankowski showed how and why Buddhist philosophy and meditation can be discussed from the perspective of the study of the brain. Finally, Matylda Ciołkosz, who focused on the practice of Iyengar yoga, presented the concept of mind inherent in the tradition, discussing its metaphorical structure (once again referring to the categories of cognitive linguistics). These papers provided a relevant introduction to the discussion panel, entitled „Nous, Manas, Xin... Mind — The Polysemy of One Concept within Academic and Religious Discourse". The participants of the panel, moderated by Tomasz Sikora, PhD, included Marzenna Jakubczak, PhD (specializing in Indian philosophy), Maciej Stanisław Zięba, PhD (specializing in Asian religious traditions) and Adam Workowski, PhD (a philosopher). The frame for the discussion was provided by a short lecture delivered by Robert Piłat, prof. PhD, dedicated to the problem of the category of reflexion and Cartesian self-reference. The polemic related to the difference between the structure of mental processes of humans and other animals and computer programmes, initiated after Professor Piłat's lecture, stretched onto the discussion panel itself. The experts began by presenting alternative (in relation to the „Western", dualistic concept) models of the mind. The underestimation of cybernetics was discussed, as well as the Indian differentiation between the subject and the embodied mind, the Chinese indifference towards the concept of mind and the underscoring of the symbolism of the heart (as an active centrum of the human organism) and, finally, the fascinating lack of interest in the brain in Europe until Renaissance. The multitude of perspectives presented by the participants provided the possibility to look reflexively at the specific, Western mode of speaking about the mind.
The first day of the conference, though academically fulfilling, did not turn out too strenuous intellectually. A moment of relaxation was provided during an evening meeting at the Święta Krowa pub, during which discussions about the brain, the mind and religion were continued in an informal atmosphere, to the accompaniment of a concert given by our musician friends.
Next morning, Włodzisław Duch, prof. PhD, a world-famous computer scientist, physicist and cognitivist, spoke in front of a full auditorium about the apparent weaknesses of the human mind, cognitive illusions, superstitions, conspiracy theories and memetics and about how a conspiracy is implemented in the brain (and how this process can be modelled).
Issues related to the functioning of the brain were the subject of the first Sunday panel. Martyna Neumann began by sketching out the results of the main neurological research on religious experiences. Przemysław Chmielewski from the Department of Anatomy of the Jagiellonian University Collegium Medicum discussed the anatomical basis of emotional reactions accompanying the development of moral behaviour. During the last presentation, Leszek Michta discussed alternating magnetic fields as a source of mystical experience, providing examples concerning i.a. transcranial magnetic stimulation. The subject of altered states of consciousness was continued in the fifth panel, comprising of the presentations by Maciej Grzelczyk and Michał Jakubczak („Flint Mines and the Perception of Prehistoric Communities"), Magdalena Rusek („The Usage of Psychoactive Substances in Prehispanic Mesoamerican Cultures") and Anna Maćkowiak („Chocolate and Christianity").

The last keynote speaker was Ryszard Tadeusiewicz, prof. PhD, who summarized the results of his study on the relations between the mind and the brain, discussing the potential of the domain of neurocybernetics. He presented complex notions (such as the concept of emergence) in an imaginative way, supported by numerous metaphors and anecdotes.

The sixth panel comprised of Tomasz Niezgoda's analysis of political theology from the perspective of Roy Rappaport's cybernetics of the holy and of Katarzyna Bajka's discussion of the models and metaphors of the robot in popular culture and transhumanist discourse. Finally, during the last panel, Mateusz Piwnicki and Katarzyna Gawryszewska presented the results of a pilot study on the correlation between religiousness and sexuality, Dariusz Niezgoda discussed the influence of the time-perception distortion resulting from marihuana use as a source of the change in profile of the Rastafari Movement and Jakub Szczęśniak showed how models of altered states of consciousness may be applied to analyse the texts of culture, using the example of the videoclip to The Beatles' „Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds".

When Małgorzata Dulska closed the conference, the applause was an honest – and fully deserved – one. The conference drew the attention of a vast audience interested in the cognitive study of religions, providing ground for discussions between representatives of different, often apparently unrelated, domains of knowledge. Let the fact, that the keynote speakers eagerly participated in the discussions following the panelists' presentations, be the testimony to the high quality of the papers. Numerous informal discussions and new academic acquaintances prove that the conference served its purpose by propagating an interdisciplinary discourse and the introduction of science into the study of religions.

The Organizing Committee
Coordinators: Natalia Kłeczek, MSc, Mikołaj Kupiec
Public Relations: Anna Hojdeczko
Finances: Karol Kaczorowski, MA, Szymon Król
Graphic Design: Michał Florek, MEng
Website Administrators: Michał Gocyła, Jakub Szczęśniak, MSc
Editing: Agnieszka Dąbal
Organization Team: Matylda Ciołkosz, Małgorzata Dulska, MA, Filip Kinczyk, Karolina Kotkowska, MA, Magdalena Kozioł, Leszek Michta, MBA, Maksymilian Woch

Conference MUR III


Collegium Maius
Michał Bobrzyński Hall
Jagiellońska 15
31-010 Kraków