Dr Miguel Farias began his academic career at the University of Lisbon, where he studied psychology and psychotherapy, before moving to Oxford to do his doctorate with Dr Mansur Lalljee and Prof Gordon Claridge. His doctoral research focused on the attitudes, values and personality of people attracted to alternative spiritual ideas and practices. Following his DPhil, Miguel Farias was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Ian Ramsey Centre and the Oxford Centre for Science of the Mind, where he worked with philosophers and neuroscientist on a brain imaging study of the analgesic effects of religious beliefs. Miguel Farias moved back to the Department of Experimental Psychology as a Lecturer and carried out new research on conspiracy beliefs, pilgrimage, and the stress-buffering effects of believing in science. Around 2010, in collaboration with the Prison Phoenix Trust, he embarked on the first randomized-controlled trial of the effects of yoga and meditation in prisons. This eventually led him to write, together with clinical psychologist Catherine Wikholm, a book that examines the science and myths about the effects of meditation, including its potential for healing and harm. In 2014, Miguel Farias joined Coventry University to lead the Brain, Belief and Behaviour research group, where he is carrying out new research on the modification of beliefs. He is also the co-author of The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You. Please enjoy my interview with Miguel Farias.

When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?

Academic and author.

What are you reading at the moment?

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Notebook of Colonial Memories by Isabela Figueiredo (in Portuguese).

What’s your earliest memory of reading?

Various comic books, mostly Carl Bark’s stories of Scrooge McDuck. Wonderful storytelling; I’ve been re-reading them with my son and find they haven’t lost any of their delights.

If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be and why?

A young adult: The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa; it’s like entering a city with all kinds of wonderful food where you find both familiar and unfamiliar flavours. And probably also Miyasaki’s dystopian graphic novel Nausicaa which reminds us — in a very skilful way, moving through desolate, dark, but also humorous narrative— that nature (including ours) always finds a way of rebalancing itself.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had?

None, I’ve been lucky so far.

Do you read as much as you’d like to?


What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path and why?

Great novels from Cervantes to Mahfouz: they’re worth much more in psychological insight than 100 years of psychology books.

Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?

Short stories by Borges for sure, parts of Pessoa’s prose: you can always find new things in there. As well as find comfort for the absurdity of life.

What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?

The whole set of The Arabian Nights, followed by The Interior Castle by Teresa of Ávila. Sometimes From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple.

What’s your favourite genre of book?

As an early teenager, adventure books by Emilio Salgari and Rider Haggard; as a late teenager poetry and novels (Pessoa, Borges, Eça de Queiróz, Tolstoy). And I’ve never stopped enjoying comic books.

What do you think a world without books would be like?

It’s like imagining a world without bread; can you imagine growing up without some kind of loaf of bread? But a world without writing of any kind is fascinating: just think of how we’d need to memorise and tell and re-tell all kinds of stories on a daily basis.

Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?

No. My temperament requires diversity.

Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?


What book do you feel humanity needs right now?

Something that binds poetry, the mystical and erotic.

What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?

That’s a difficult one. Probably the Hebrew Psalms and the Keeper of Sheep by Alberto Caeiro. Also, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism by G Scholem, the most insightful book I’ve read on how the way we experience religion has changed (focused on Judaism).

Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?

Old pearls: John Cassian’s travels to meet the Desert Fathers and Ibn Arabi’s travel book where he meets Sufi saints.

What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?

Books on alternative education: I’ve recently visited a democratic school and realised that there are more creative and healthier schooling possibilities than I had ever dreamed of.

If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?

I’d never write my autobiography unless it’s fictional.

If you’d like to learn more about Miguel Farias, you can find him on his website. If you’re interested in psychology, don’t miss our special reading list; the most important psychology books.