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Michiel Bouman wins award with thesis on spiritual intelligence

20 February 2024
VU FRT PhD candidate Michiel Bouman has won the national Jan Brouwer Thesis Prize in the category of Religious Studies and Theology.

In his award-winning master's thesis, titled "A Life of Gelâzenheit: Spiritual Intelligence According to Meister Eckhart and Iain McGilchrist," Bouman explores how two different intellectuals understand knowledge of God, or 'spiritual intelligence.'

Watch the video of the ceremony, with Michiel from 25'08.

Bouman: "The British philosopher and psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist argues that both our brain hemispheres encompass different functions and that in the Western world, the left hemisphere has become increasingly dominant over the centuries. As a result, we have developed an increasingly mechanistic and closed worldview. However, for experiences of transcendence in nature, art, or religion that go against such a worldview, the right hemisphere is essential, because it can better represent the implicit, affective, and embodied dimensions of our experience."


"McGilchrist's theory exhibits striking similarities with the thinking of the mystic Meister Eckhart, the man from whom God hid nothing. Eckhart advocates for a state of gelâzenheit (equanimity), a specific mood of active passivity, a kind of receptivity, which is an attitude that resembles the way McGilchrist characterizes the attitude of the right hemisphere.

"According to McGilchrist, the consequences of the decline of this attitude are severe: alienation from nature, marginalization of art, theatre, and poetry, and a misunderstanding of religion. My work adds that the suppression of the right hemisphere can have major consequences on individual spiritual experiences, religious communities, and theology."

Jan Brouwer Thesis Prizes 

The Jan Brouwer Thesis Prizes are an initiative of the Royal Holland Society of Sciences (KHMW). The prizes reward society-oriented research that provides insight into concrete problems and can contribute to solutions. The criteria the jury assesses the theses on include societal relevance, research quality, originality, and readability.

"I am very pleased that my attempt to engage science and theology in a conversation around the topic of spiritual intelligence is receiving such recognition," says Bouman. "I am grateful to the Faculty of Religion and Theology at Vrije Universiteit, Marius Dorobantu, and the International Society for Science and Religion for their support throughout the entire process."

Photo: Vera Duivenvoorden