Michiel van Elk

Michiel van Elk is an Assistant Professor at the unit Cognitive Psychology of the Institute of Psychology, at Leiden University. As head of the Religion, Cognition and Behavior Lab, his research focuses on religious and spiritual experiences, and altered states of consciousness (ASCs), as induced through meditation, sensory deprivation, psychedelics and other means. By using a variety of different techniques, including self-report measures, interviews, expectancy manipulations, neuroimaging tools, psychophysiological techniques, and pharmacological challenges he aims to understand how ASCs come about, the effects they have on our behavior and well-being, and the philosophical implications of ASCs for our views on the self and reality.


Michiel obtained degrees in philosophy (MA), biological psychology (MSc), and the psychology of religion (MSc) in Utrecht, Amsterdam, and Nijmegen. He completed his Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Donders Institute in Nijmegen (cum laude). He worked as a visiting researcher at the University of California Santa Barbara (2010), as a Marie Curie post-doctoral fellow at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland (2010-2012), as a Fulbright Scholar at Stanford University (2017), as a Research Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Amsterdam (2019-2010) and as a researcher at the University of Amsterdam (2013-2020). Since 2020 Michiel is affiliated with the University of Leiden and supported by grants from the Templeton Foundation, NWO, and the BIAL Foundation he supervises the Psychedelic, Religious, Spiritual, and Mystical experience (PRiSM) Lab. Michiel has published several popular science books on such different topics as the Babybrain, the Evolution of Religion, Ecstatic Experiences, and Psychedelics.

He was on the scientific advisory board of the Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research (2020) and a member of the ALIUS research network.

Notable Research Papers

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