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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

The Handbook of Social Psychology: Vol. Five: Applied Social Psychology.

Lindzey, Gardner, and Aronson, Elliot. (1969).
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

ISBN: none

Description: hardcover, second edition, xiv + 786 pages.

Contents: Preface to the First Edition, Preface to the Second Edition, 9 chapters (being chapters 37-45 of the five-volume set), author index, subject index.

Note: Chapter 44 “Psychology of Religion” by James E. Dittes, will be of most interest to readers of this chrestomathy. Like so many people, Dittes talks about “the psychedelic experience” as if it were one thing rather than a diverse variety of experiences. Thus someone who has a non-mystical or non-religious psychedelic experience is likely to over generalize to the conclusion that no psychedelic experiences are mystical or religions; similarly, someone who has had a mystical or religious psychedelic experience is also likely to over generalize to the conclusion that all psychedelic experiences are mystical and/or religious.

Excerpt(s): The major dilemma in this area is still the search for relevant variables, definitions, and categories. ... The situation with psychedelic drugs provides a good illustration. Here the dominant question in the literature has been one of definition: Is the psychedelic experience mystical and religious? Havens, Leary, and Smith have written careful surveys and concluded that the experience is religious. But by what criteria? And how are the criteria measured in the experience? Little conclusiveness seems to have emerged from such a discussion. A fundamental problem is that the question as posed requires a research design which seems to amount to proving a kind of null hypothesis: the drug-induced experience is not different from “natural” mysticism (or religion). Such a task is the more precarious, the less reliably measured the variables are. In this case, in which the drug experience is so novel as to transcend conventional language categories and the mystical experience is by definition ineffable, the degree of precariousness would seem to approach infinity. The problem is particularly great when the evidence consists of the reports of subjects themselves that the experience has been religious. What they mean by “religious” is not systematically explored. One may suspect that this is simply the only word most subjects have available to apply to any kind of intensely emotional self-transcending experience.

The most systematic empirical effort to establish the religiousness (in this case mysticalness) of the psychedelic experience was by Pahnke. He devised reliable scoring procedures for nine categories (for example, transcendence of time and space, deeply felt positive mood) which appeared from the literature (primarily relying on Stace) to identify reported mystical experience. He found, using suitable control techniques of double-blind administration, that the reports of subjects receiving psilocybin during a Good Friday worship service were scored significantly higher on each of these categories than the protocols of control subjects. But this stills seems a relatively feeble demonstration of a null hypothesis, that these subjects’ experiences were like those of a mystic. An appropriate control would have to include scoring categories of intense, novel, but non-mystical experiences. It would be necessary to demonstrate that psilocybin produced effects identifiable as specially mystical and not generally startling or novel. The experience may be simply a general phenomenon for which subjects can make use of mystical terms on a questionnaire — if those are the only terms that are applied to them!— and which subjects can describe in spontaneous protocols which judges match with mystical terms — if those are the only terms that are supplied to them! (James E. Dittes, “Psychology of Religion,” pages 646-647)

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