Galileo Commission Summit IV – Human Interaction with the Divine, the Sacred, and the Deceased

A two-day donation-based Summit and Book Launch

A partnership of The Scientific and Medical Network, Galileo Commission, Institute of Noetic Sciences, and the Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences (AAPS) present some of the leading researchers in the sciences and humanities for a series of round tables to mark the publication of the edited volume Human Interaction with the Divine, the Sacred, and the Deceased:  Psychological, Scientific and Theological Perspectives edited by Thomas G. Plante, PhD and Gary E. Schwartz, PhD.

December 10 & 11, 2021

4 to 7:30 PM, London UK Time

(Check your local time here)

Donations are requested for registration.

All registrants will receive links to the session recordings.

$20 AAPS member, $25 Non-member, $30 Additional donation

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(Be sure to WAIT a minute after PayPal registration completes,
to be sent to the AAPS thank you page, which has the Zoom link for both days’ presentations)

People across the globe have been trying to connect and communicate with the divine and with the deceased since the dawn of time. Prayers and rituals of various sorts, reflecting diverse faith traditions and cultures, have tried to not only interact with those who have passed on but have tried to influence the divine, the sacred (including angels and the saints), and departed to act in ways that will benefit the living. Prayers for salvation, deliverance from troubles such as illness and traumas, as well as for insight, inspiration, wisdom, safety, security, and for basic needs are common. Experiences and desires for visitations from ghosts, angels, saints, deceased friends and relatives, and the divine are common too.  There appears to be a longstanding, multicultural, multi-faith, and perhaps innate psychological desire to communicate with the gods and the departed to help better understand, manage, and cope with the various challenges of the living. In addition, clinically, those who are grieved long to connect with loved ones who have passed on.

We believe that no thoughtful questions, addressed with state-of-the-art evidence and methodologies by scholars of goodwill, should be off-limits and so we have assembled a multidisciplinary team of scholars with unique expertise and qualifications to address the topic of human interaction with the divine, the sacred, and the deceased examining psychological, scientific, and theological perspectives. We have divided the contributions into four major sections that include (1) the personal experience, (2) theological consideration, (3) medical, technological, and scientific considerations, and finally (4) psychological considerations. Scholars who specialize in theology, psychology, medicine, neuroscience, and ethics are included thus providing a multidisciplinary, well-rounded, and grounded perspective on human interaction with the divine, the sacred, and the deceased. We come to these issues and questions from various informed academic and applied lenses along with diverse religious and spiritual backgrounds as well.

Although the jury is still out in terms of the answers to all, if not at least many, of our questions regarding human efforts to communicate with those who are beyond the realm of the living, these scholars together provide a very thoughtful, compelling, evidence based, and contemporary approach.  While we all have more questions than answers perhaps, we can collectively move the ball forward in our understanding of this critically important topic in a thoughtful manner.


(All times shown in UK, GMT)

Friday, 10 December

London 4 – 6 pm (Pacific time 8-10 am)
The Personal and Storied Experience of Divine and Departed Communications. Speakers: Patricia Pearson, Anne Richards, Gary E. Schwartz. Chair: David Lorimer
London 6:30 – 8:30 pm (Pacific time 10:30 am-12:30 pm)
Theological Perspectives. Speakers: Catherine Wolff, Paul J. Schutz, Candy Gunther Brown. Chair: Prof Bettina Schmidt

Saturday, 11 December

London 4 – 6 pm (Pacific time 8-10 am)
Medical, Technological, and Scientific Perspectives. Speakers: Karen Newell, Eben Alexander, Gary E. Schwartz. Chair: Prof Marjorie Woollacott
London 6:30 – 8:30 pm (Pacific time 10:30 am-12:30 pm)
Psychological Perspectives. Speakers: Crystal L. Park, Julie J. Exline, Thomas G. Plante. Chair: Dr Diane Hennacy Powell•

About the speakers:

Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J., University Professor and Professor of Psychology and, by courtesy, Religious Studies, as well as Director of the Applied Spirituality Institute at Santa Clara University. He is also an Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM). He is the current editor of the APA journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice. He recently served as vice chair of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and was President of the Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (Division 36 of the APA). He has published over 200 professional journal articles and book chapters. Additionally, he has published 24 books. These include: Healing with Spiritual Practices: Proven Techniques for Disorders from Addictions and Anxiety to Cancer and Chronic Pain (2018), Graduating With Honor: Best Practices to Promote Ethics Development in College Students (2017), Do the Right ThingLiving Ethically in an Unethical World (2004), Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: A Decade of Crisis, 2002–2012 (2011) and Spiritual Practices in Psychotherapy: Thirteen Tools for Enhancing Psychological Health (2009). He has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Time magazine, CNN, NBC Nightly News, The PBS News Hour, New York Times, USA TodayBritish Broadcasting Company, and National Public Radio, among many others. He has evaluated or treated more than a thousand priests and applicants to the priesthood and diaconate and has served as a consultant for a number of Roman Catholic and Episcopal Church dioceses and religious orders. Time magazine referred to him (April 1, 2002) as one of “three leading (American) Catholics.”

Gary E. Schwartz, PhD is a professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, psychiatry, and surgery, and director of the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health, at the University of Arizona.  After receiving his PhD at Harvard University in 1971, he served as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard.  He moved to Yale University in 1976, where he was a professor of psychology and psychiatry, director of the Yale Psychophysiology Center, and co-director of the Yale Behavioral Medicine Clinic, before moving to Arizona in 1988. His research has spanned (and bridged) psychophysiology, health psychology, behavioral medicine, energy psychology, and spiritual psychology.  He has published more than 450 papers, including six papers in the journal, Science. He has co-edited 13 academic books including Is Consciousness Primary (Schwartz & Woollacott, 2019).  He has authored 11 books for the general public including The Afterlife Experiments (2002), The G.O.D. Experiments (2006), The Energy Healing Experiments (2007), The Sacred Promise (2011), Super Synchroncity (2017), and Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence (2020).  He was the founding president for the Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences (

Eben Alexander, MD is a former neurosurgeon who spent 15 years on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, thinking he had a reasonable idea of the relationship of consciousness to the brain. That all changed dramatically after a near-death experience due to a weeklong coma from a severe case of gram-negative bacterial meningo-encephalitis in 2008 from which his doctors predicted no significant recovery. The extensive brain damage and resultant miraculous recovery to full function over two months changed his life completely, redirecting his focus to the deepest mechanisms of the nature of consciousness and healing. His books on his experience include Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, The Map of Heaven: How Science, Religion and Ordinary People are Proving the Afterlife, and, most recently (co-authored with his life partner, Karen Newell, co-founder of Sacred Acoustics) Living in a Mindful Universe: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Heart of Consciousness.

Candy Gunther Brown, PhD is Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University. Brown is author of The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789-1880 (University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Testing Prayer: Science and Healing (Harvard University Press, 2012); The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America (Oxford University Press, 2013); and Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools: Reforming Secular Education or Reestablishing Religion? (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). She is editor of Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing (Oxford University Press, 2011), and co-editor (with Mark Silk) of The Future of Evangelicalism in America (Columbia University Press, 2016).

Karen Newell is an author and specialist in personal development with a diverse body of work that rests upon the foundation of heart-centered consciousness. As an innovator in the emerging field of brainwave entrainment audio meditation, Karen empowers others in their journeys of self-discovery by demonstrating how to connect to inner guidance, achieve inspiration, improve wellness and develop intuition. She is co-founder of Sacred Acoustics, and co-author with Eben Alexander III, M.D. of Living in a Mindful Universe.

Julie J. Exline, PhD is a Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.  She has a special interest in the struggles and challenges that people often experience around religion and spirituality, and she also studies the causes and consequences of supernatural attributions for events. She has served as PI on two projects from the John Templeton Foundation: one on religious/spiritual struggles and one on supernatural attributions. She is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ohio and has also been certified as a spiritual director through the Ignatian Spirituality Institute at John Carroll University. She is a past president of APA’s Division 36 (Psychology of Religion and Spirituality).

Crystal L. Park, PhD is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Connecticut. Her research focuses on religious beliefs and religious coping, the phenomenon of stress-related growth, and the making of meaning in the context of traumatic events and life-threatening illnesses, particularly cancer and heart failure.  She also studies integrative interventions and is currently PI or Co-PI of NIH- and foundation-funded studies of religious beliefs and stressful experiences and yoga for stress-management. She coauthored Empathic Counseling and Spirituality, Meaning, and Trauma and coedited The Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (first and second editions). She is editor of Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. At UConn, she maintains an active research lab of graduate and undergraduate students and teaches health psychology at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Patricia Pearson, MSc is a journalist, author and grief counselor based in Toronto, Canada. Her most recent books are Opening Heaven’s Door, an exploration of consciousness at end of life, and Wish You Were Here, an examination of traumatic grief and unsolved murder from Penguin Random House. She has written for the New Yorker and the New York Times, among dozens of other publications.

Anne Richards, MA is an interdisciplinary social scientist, retired from the University of California San Francisco and Berkeley where she was a research specialist conducting qualitative research in behavioral medicine and public Health with a focus on spiritual aspects of caregiving, bereavement and recovery from grief. Ms. Richards has also developed programs through the Public Health Institute and Curry Senior Center aimed at reducing social isolation and loneliness among disenfranchised populations.

Bettina E. Schmidt, DPhil (habil.), PhD, MA in cultural anthropology (Marburg University, Germany), professor in study of religions and anthropology of religion at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, UK and the director of the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre, UK. Previously she worked at Marburg University, Oxford University and Bangor University and as visiting professor at the City University of New York and the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo. She served as President of the British Association for the Study of Religions (2018-2021) and is currently the deputy chair of the REF sub-panel Theology and Religion. She has published extensively on Caribbean and Latin American religions, identity, cultural theories and migration. Her academic interests include anthropology of religion, diaspora identity, religious experience, urban studies, medical anthropology and gender issues. Her main fieldworks were conducted in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, New York City, and in São Paulo, Brazil. She is the author of Spirit and Trance in Brazil: An Anthropology of Religious Experiences (2016, Bloomsbury), Caribbean Diaspora in the USA: Diversity of Caribbean Religions in New York City (2008, Ashgate), and other monographs as well as co-editor of the Handbook of Contemporary Brazilian Religions (2016, Brill) and Spirituality and Wellbeing: Interdisciplinary approaches to the study of religious experience and health (2020, Equinox) and other edited volumes.

Paul J. SchutzPhD is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. His research aims to reinvigorate the Christian theology of creation through engagement with contemporary science. His dissertation, on the writings of astronomer William Stoeger, SJ, proposes an “ecopolitical” theology oriented toward the flourishing of each creature. Recent publications include “En-Gendering Creation Anew: Rethinking Ecclesial Statements on Science, Gender, and Sexuality with William Stoeger, SJ” in Horizons (2021), two chapters in the T&T Clark Handbook of Christian Theology and the Modern Sciences (2020), “As Dewdrops on Indra’s Web” in All the Ends of the Earth: Challenge and Celebration of Global Catholicism (2020), “Cultivating a ‘Cosmic Perspective’ in Theology: Reading William R. Stoeger with Laudato Si’” in Theological Studies (2019).

Catherine Wolff,  MA, MSW, MPM is the former Director of the Arrupe Center for Community-Based Learning at Santa Clara University. She edited Not Less Than Everything: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience from Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero (HarperCollins, 2013). Her book on the afterlife, Beyond: How Humankind Thinks About Heaven, will be published by Riverhead Books/Penguin Random House in May, 2021. She lives in Northern California with her husband Tobias Wolff, close to their three children and three grandchildren.

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