Tours of Heaven in Light of the Neuroscientific Study of Religious Experience


  • István Czachesz University of Heidelberg



Apocalypticism, Ascension of Isaiah, extra-corporeal experiences, flights, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, qualia, sleep paralysis, subjective experience, tours of heaven


This article addresses the neuroscientific background of ancient tours of heaven. McNamara’s work on religious experience is used in the context of other philosophical, cognitive, and neuroscientific research. After discussing the definition and phenomenology of subjective experience, the article outlines three possible understandings of religious experience in the cognitive research tradition. The article then situates ancient tours of heaven in the context of flights and ascents in religious traditions and discusses how neuroscientific evidence sheds light on various aspects of such experiences. In particular, McNamara’s work is combined with Michael Marsh’s study of extracorporeal experiences to account for the twophase narrative sequence of the tours. The model is applied to the tour of heaven in the Ascension of Isaiah, followed by a brief discussion of other early Jewish and Christian apocalypses.

Author Biography

István Czachesz, University of Heidelberg

István Czachesz is Heisenberg Fellow and Privatdozent of New Testament at the University of Heidelberg.


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How to Cite

Czachesz, I. (2016). Tours of Heaven in Light of the Neuroscientific Study of Religious Experience. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 2(1), 33–52.