Daniel Cohen
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
301 Swallow Hall

Ph.D., University of Virginia


South Asian Religions; Religion and Neuroscience

My teaching and research interests include South Asian religions and the interrelationship between religion and neuroscience.

As a Fulbright-Hays scholar I conducted extensive ethnographic research in India on Hindu ancestor worship, funeral traditions, spirit possession and related ghost exorcism rituals. In detailed case studies, my Ph.D. dissertation explored Hindu religious and cultural interpretations of mental and physical problems understood as having spiritual bases treatable through specialized religious rituals.

My ongoing interest in religion and spirituality has led to collaborative interdisciplinary research. This research has generated many peer-reviewed publications including: comparative studies on religious and spiritual dispositions of individuals with different medical diagnoses (cancer, traumatic brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, epilepsy); research on the religious, spiritual, and personality characteristics of individuals from five local faith traditions; brain imagining (MRI) studies of individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and correlated measures of religiosity, spirituality, transcendence, and empathy; multiple research studies with individuals suffering from TBI using a various measures of  neuropsychological function, religiosity, spirituality, and transcendence, with research studies conducted in the U.S. and India.

I have published numerous articles and one book on the neuroscience of spiritual experience, and  recently articles on the evolution of religion. I am involved in a large collaborative study with colleagues from several U.S. Christian colleges that is investigating virtues, spirituality, and personality in college undergraduates. I have an interdisciplinary pilot study at MU assessing religion and spirituality in neurosurgery (tumor) and seizure (epilepsy) patients.

In my research I work with colleagues from Health Professions, Medical School, Psychological Sciences, and Social Work, and with scholars and researchers from other universities both in the U.S. and internationally. My diversified academic background (Anthropology, Religious Studies, and Biology) and ongoing commitment to interdisciplinary research make me well positioned to explore interconnections between the humanities, sciences, and social sciences as a way to build a broader multidisciplinary understanding of religion and spirituality in a rapidly globalizing and changing world.

Courses that I teach cover topics related to religion, spirituality, neuroscience, psychology, environmental ethics, South Asian religions (especially Hinduism and Buddhism), and globalization of yoga and meditation practices. Several of my courses are cross-listed with South Asia Studies and East Asian Studies. I have been teaching in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia since 2004.


RS 2930 Religion and Psychological Perspectives

RS 3200 Hinduism

RS 3230 Buddhism and Environmental Ethics

RS 3240 Buddhism of South and Southeast Asia

RS 3260 Hindu Goddesses

RS 3270 Yoga and Meditation in the Modern World

RS 3280 Religion and Law in America

RS 3740 Religion and Film

RS 4990 Senior Seminar in Religious Studies

RS 4200/7200 Religion, Spirituality, and the Brain

RS 8005 Yoga, Hinduism, and Globalization

Select Publications

Cohen, D., Bhushan, B. Hanks, R., Yoon, D. P., Johnstone, B., & Hunt, I. (forthcoming). The Right Parietal Lobe, Sense of Self, and Empathy: Cross-cultural, Ethnic, and Religious Considerations. Mental Health, Religion & Culture

Cohen, D. (2020). Changing Brains: From Primal Horde to Nuclear Family to Religion. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 10(1), 72-77.

Cohen, D. (2019). Sex and the Evolution of Spirituality. In Jay R. Feierman and Lluis Oviedo, (Eds.), The Evolution of Religion, Religiosity and Theology: A Multi-Level and Multi-Disciplinary Approach, (pp. 54-69). New York, NY: Routledge.

Johnstone, B., & Cohen, D. (2019). Neuroscience, Selflessness, and Spiritual Experience: Explaining the Science of Transcendence. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Johnstone, B., Wildman, W.J., Yoon, D.P., Cohen, D., Armer, J., Lanigar, S., & Wright, A. (2018). Affect as a foundational psychological process for spirituality and empathy. Mental Health, Religion, and Culture, 21(4): 370 - 379.

Johnstone, B., Hanks, R., Bhushan, B., Cohen, D., Roseberry, J., & Yoon, D.P. (2017). Selflessness as a Universal Neuropsychological Foundation of Spiritual Experiences: Validation with Christian, Hindu, and Muslim Traditions. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 20(2), 175-187.

Johnstone, B., Holliday, G., & Cohen, D. (2016). Heightened religiosity and epilepsy: evidence for religious-specific neuropsychological processes. Mental Health, Religion, and Culture, 19(7): 704-712.

Johnstone, B., Cohen, D., Konopacki, K., & Ghan, C. (2016).Selflessness as a Foundation of Spiritual Transcendence: Perspectives from the Neurosciences and Religious Studies. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 26(4): 287-303.

Johnstone, B., Bhushan, B., Hanks, R., Yoon, D., & Cohen, D. (2016). Factor Structure of the Brief Multidimensional Measure of Religiousness/Spirituality in US and Indian Samples with Traumatic Brain Injury. Journal of Religion and Health, 55(2): 572–586.

Jones, A., Cohen, D., Johnstone, B., Yoon, D.P., Schopp, L., McCormack, G., & Campbell, J. (2015). Relationships between Negative Spiritual Beliefs and Health Outcomes for Individuals with Chronic Disabilities and Medical Conditions. Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health 17(2): 135-152.

Johnstone, B., Cohen, D., Bryant, K.R., Glass, B., & Christ, S.E. (2015). Functional and Structural Indices of Empathy: Evidence for Self-orientation as a Neuropsychological Foundation of Empathy. Neuropsychology 29(3): 463-472.

Cohen, D. Ghost exorcism, memory, and healing, in Hinduism. (2015). In Disease, Religion and Healing in Asia: Collaborations and Collisions, Ivette M. Vargas-O'Bryan and Zhou Xun, (Editors), pp. 71-85, Routledge Studies in Asian Religion and Philosophy (vol. 14), New York: Routledge.

Johnstone, B., Yoon, D.P., Cohen, D., Schoop, L.H., McCormack, G., Campbell, J., & Smith, M. (2012). Relationships Among Spirituality, Religious Practices, Personality Factors, and Health for Five Different Faith Traditions. Journal of Religion and Health 51(4): 1017-1041.

Johnstone, B., Bodling, A., Cohen, D., Christ, S. E., & Wegrzyn, A. (2012). Right Parietal Lobe-Related “Selflessness” as the Neuropsychological Basis of Spiritual Transcendence. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 22(4): 267-284.

Cohen, D., Yoon, D.P., & Johnstone, B. (2009). Differentiating the Impact of Spiritual Experiences, Religious Practices, and Congregational Support on the Mental Health of Individuals with Heterogeneous Medical Disorders. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 19(2): 121–138.