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Psychedelics and Religion

March 31, 2017 @ 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

The use of mind-altering substances in and spiritual contexts has a long history, from Vedic soma and Eleusinian kykeon to today’s recently resumed research on entheogens and religious experience. This conference will bring together the leading medical researchers in the field, leading experts in the history and contemporary worldwide and American culture of the use of entheogens, and leading academics engaged in the study of present and future religious experience.  We will discuss the scope and results so far of the medical research; the past, current, and potential future use of entheogens in spiritual and religious pursuits; the past, present, and future relationship of psychedelics and religion; and the efficacy and advisability of the use of these substances in religious pursuits.

Participants will examine what we know about entheogenic-induced experience to bring into focus the nature of what we consider to be “religious” experience, now and in the future, bringing the constructivist and historical currents in our field and in more recent hermeneutical and participatory models into dialogue with older models of comparative mysticism. In addition, while a primary focus of today’s research on psychedelics and meditation and spirituality (overlapping with studies with subjects terminally ill with cancer and suffering from PTSD and other conditions) is certainly “experience,” as Bill Richards wrote us about mystical forms of consciousness, “People need to comprehend that they entail much more than ecstatic emotions; they also include intuitive knowledge and ‘fruits for life’ in the everyday world. Many appear to ‘chop wood and carry water’ with increased confidence and joy.”

We will also critically examine the intertwined cultural memes of psychedelia and religion in America over the last 50 years, and discuss where they are distinct and where conflated. While a principal focus will be on Buddhism, New Age, and more traditional religions, other spiritual traditions will be discussed. Finally, we will engage the ultimate question of the benefits and detriments of entheogens on religious life and attainment, now and in the future.

Participants at the workshop will include:

  • Anthony Bossis, NYU
  • Erik Davis, Journalist and Author of Techgnosis
  • Roland Griffiths, Johns Hopkins
  • Robert Jesse, Founder of the Council of Spiritual Practices
  • David Kittay, Columbia University
  • Jeffrey Kripal, Rice University
  • John Modern, Franklin and Marshall College
  • Janis Phelps, California Institute of Integral Studies
  • William Richards, Johns Hopkins
  • Robert Thurman, Columbia University


March 31, 2017
10:00 am - 5:00 pm
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