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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

America, Religions and Religion

Albanese, Catherine L. (1992)
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

ISBN: 0-534-16488-9

Description: Paperback, second edition, xxvi + 548 pages.

Contents: Foreword, preface, introduction, 14 chapters divided into 2 parts: 1. The Manyness of Religions in America, 2. The Oneness of Religion in America, conclusion, index.

Mystical and Psychic Frontiers

If the twentieth century was congenial to New Thought, it also welcomed a variety of other movements of inward exploration. Moreover, it had its theorist to lay the groundwork. William James (1842-1910) brought together the ideas of the occult and metaphysical movements as he had received them through the thought of Emerson and through nineteenth-century American culture. He articulated them in a scholarly context from his chair of philosophy at Harvard University, weaving together, like occultists of old, themes from religion and science. He had been fascinated by the claims of mental healing. Later, his curiosity about altered states of consciousness in religious experience grew, until he experimented with nitrous oxide and even a peyote button. His book The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) stressed the inner, personal nature of religion as different states of mind. James traced these states in great psychological detail throughout the narrative, often giving examples from the private experiences of individuals. Further, from 1885 he played a leading role in the organization and activities of the American Society for Psychical Research.

The philosophy that James came to teach was known as pragmatism, and its central conviction was that truth could be known by its consequences. Put simply, pragmatism taught that what worked in the life of an individual or a society should be considered true. Thus, using James' ideas, individuals might reconcile occult and metaphysical experiences with the world of modern science. In the context of the philosophy of pragmatism, if the occult-metaphysical tradition worked to create a meaningful universe for a person, its truth could not be disputed. For James, the will to believe could erase doubt and uncertainty.

The legacy of William James lived on later in the twentieth century. Meanwhile, others pursued their quests for homes on a mental landscape, leading them toward mysticism and mind-expanding experiments. Noteworthy among them was Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), an English novelist who settled in California. During the fifties, he followed in the tradition of James by experimenting with psychedelic drugs, and in The Doors of Perception (1954) he broke ground in describing the experience. Yet Huxley throughout his life was conservative in his use of mescaline and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), and his wife afterward reminisced that he had probably used less in a lifetime than many later youthful experimenters would use in a week. Underlying the psychedelic experiments, for Huxley, was his abiding interest in what he called the "perennial philosophy." This term was his way of identifying the major teachings of the occult and metaphysical tradition, which he said lay at the basis of all religion. Nearly a decade before his Doors of Perception, he had published an anthology called The Perennial Philosophy (1946). Here he identified the perennial philosophy as a metaphysics that saw divine reality within both things and minds. Predicated on that metaphysics, religious practice meant for him seeking identity with the divine spark within and finding there the ground of all being. (pages 272-273)

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