Short Book Review: Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life by Scott Marshall

Recommend reading/Book Review:
Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life by Scott Marshall

Even before Bob Dylan preached the gospel under the bright lights of 1980 in stages across the world, he was a man who valued Jewish and Christian traditions over the course of his lifetime. Bob's consistent interest in spirituality is made clear in a recent book entitled Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life by Scott Marshall.

Indeed, while the music during the gospel-era might of taken on another flavor due to some personal revelations Bob had in the late 1970s, the spiritual has always been a priority for Bob. 

All this leads me to believe that Bob Dylan is not a person who is trapped in "enlightenment" thinking, constantly using left brain rationality. He is right brained: interested in images, poems, and meanings that extend beyond rational and into the spiritual. 

Bob Dylan's emphasis on the spiritual has peaked my recent interest in reading about the relationship between science and religion- the interplay between art and science, logic and the ethereal. It seems that in this modern world of iphones, big data, and science-based truth, we can lose sight of the fact that logic and reason don't necessarily extend their important insights into the spiritual. To add to the mess, I think science actually informs us of this truth. If that makes any sense! 

After all, logic/reason and science don't mesh with the spiritual and ethereal in the brain. It is the left brain that celebrates logic, and the right brain that celebrates beauty. To put it in another way, Evolution tells us that we don't have tails, but it doesn't tell us why we find that interesting (cite: Rob Bell). In this sense, science and religion are compatible, not opposites, but rather truths that can be held in tension. 

Which brings me to Bob Dylan's brain. 

As this Harvard Divinity School review of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks book Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning notes: ". . . the brain's dual hemispheres have different functions is the premise upon which Sacks's approach to science and religion rests. As Sacks discusses in some detail, contemporary neuroscience has demonstrated that the left hemisphere is analytical, linear, and atomistic, while the right hemisphere is creative, integrative, and holistic.

Sacks goes on to claim that "Hebrew thinking operates within categories different from those of Plato or Aristotle. ... Geographically and historically, Jerusalem and Athens ... are not too far removed from each other. Spiritually, they are worlds apart. ... The concern of philosophy is to analyze or to explain, the concern of religion is to purify and to sanctify."

My conclusion (with the help of Rabbi Sacks)? 

Bob Dylan is a right-brained artist who values spirituality. To paraphrase GK Chesterton, Bob Dylan doesn't try to fit the heavens into this head. He is a poet and artist who merely wants to get his head into the heavens for a look around. He doesn't calculate the infinite sea and make it finite. He wants to float easily in it. 

The release of the Trouble No More Bootleg Series along with Scott Marshall's book help shed further on the genius that is Bob Dylan, as his upcoming gospel-era bootleg series is set to be released. May these songs, embedded with faith and mystery, be celebrated. 


  1. The reviewer seems to imagine himself as an expert on rationality. His article is rationally incoherent, however, accusing Dylan's thinking of being pre-'enlightenment', with its implication that all before that period was irrational, while using Plato and Aristotle to support his argument. The article also seems ignorant that, through the likes of Augustin and most particularly Aquinas, Christianity represents the synthesis of Faith and Reason.

  2. I do appreciate your feedback and thanks for reading!

    I was attempting to tie together current research on the brain that speculates that our left brains deal with reason and logic while our right brain is focused on the abstract and spiritual.

    According to Scott Marshall's book, Bob Dylan has been interesting in perusing these "right-brained" forms of thinking in the form of spirituality and religion. The modern world tends to value left brain thinking over right, and I think Bob has gone against that grain.

    The Plato and Aristotle quote is from the book review I linked to from Harvard Divinity School that discusses a book on religion and brain activity. I thought the quote nicely explained the difference between religious thinking and logical thinking.

    I wouldn't claim any particular spiritual tradition has a monopoly on truth.

    1. Interesting feedback from a recent reviewer. This may not have a context but the final tune I was listening to from Dylan Radio on my walk today was the "Disease of Conceit." I wonder if that might apply here! Keep on blogging!


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