“About four years ago, when I was reading an article about some of the neuroscientific research going on with spiritual experiences, it sparked my idea for the novel,” Small said.
In his second fiction book, “The Jericho Deception,” Small explores the intersection between science, psychology and spiritual experiences, he said.
As a graduate of Yale and Harvard Law School, as well as Oxford University, where he studied religion, Small is no stranger to exploring spirituality.Experiential research by a Canadian neuroscientist Michael Persinger sparked Small’s idea of the God machine, he said.
“He was experimenting with using electromagnetic waves that would hit certain areas of brain, the temporal lobes, to create deep, mystical spiritual experiences for people,” he said. “My main character is a Yale professor researching brain and spiritual experiences, why we have these experiences and where they come from.”
The professor, Ethan Lightman, is working on the God machine with his mentor, Elijah Schiff, when he uncovers a darker side to his research.
“He discovers the CIA has been funding research for the purpose of establishing mind control operations in the Middle East,” he said.
Lightman is then kidnapped with an attractive graduate student, Rachel Riley, brought to a CIA facility disguised as a monastery in the Egyptian desert and the story unfolds from there.
To help him write his book and deepen his own spirituality, Small said he explored ancient temples in Egypt.
“It’s one thing studying these cultures from an academic standpoint,” he said. “There’s a depth in visiting them and talking with people. It was a process. … The writing process became a spiritual journey for me.”
The main theme of “The Jericho Deception” is the “universality of spiritual experiences,” Small said. “Whether people of different faiths or even those who are atheist or agnostic, there is a deep human yearning to go beyond ourselves, … a sense there is something more than our everyday lives,” he said. “The real purpose behind religion is to reach out past ourselves and touch a deeper dimension to reality.”
Terrorism is the supporting theme, he said, and the stereotype placed on Muslims.
“I have a major character who is Muslim who is a good guy,” Small said. “You get to see his struggles and his faith from his perspective, encompassing a very warm beneficial view that’s rare to see in thriller. … It’s turning the genre on its head a bit.”
As a devout Episcopalian, Small said he sets aside his own biases and researches other religions like Islam as if he is an anthropologist.
“Islam is the fastest growing religion in world,” he said. “A tiny percentage of that is extremists but that’s the voice — we hear every day, most recently in Boston. … We don’t get the vast majority view of what religion is really about.”
West Hills Press Publisher Mark Bernstein, of San Francisco, said Small’s books, including his first novel, “The Breath of God,” published in 2011, are thought provoking and difficult to put down.
“Jeff’s story is so compelling it took me out of [the] nonfiction publishing world [and] put me in fiction world,” he said. “You leave Jeff’s book thinking I can look at world in different way. … It got me thinking about spirituality and its roots.”
Small will give a talk titled “God and the Brain” Thursday at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Buckhead from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. He will discuss the latest neuroscientific research of religion and the human mind.His book is available in all bookstores and can be ordered on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.