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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


Religious Experience.

Proudfoot, Wayne. (1985).
Berkeley: University of California Press.


ISBN: 0-520-05143-2


Description: Hardcover, xx + 263 pages.


Contents: Preface, introduction, 6 chapters, conclusion, chapter notes, references, index.


Excerpt(s): Schachter proposed a two-factor theory in which emotion consists of: (1) a general and diffuse pattern of arousal in the sympathetic nervous system, and (2) a cognitive label, or an explanation by which the subject understands this arousal. The label or cognition would determine whether this arousal was experienced as anger, joy, bliss, or awe. ... This theory of dual determinants of emotional state led Schachter to predict that if a person were to find himself in a state of arousal for which no explanation or appropriate cognition were immediately available, he would feel pressured to understand and to label his feelings. He would require some way to account for what was happening to him. (page 99)

Given the results of Schachter's experiments, it seems quite plausible that at least some religious experiences are due to physiological changes for which the subject adopts a religious explanation. ... Certain classical meditation states function to decrease heart rate and to dampen rather than arouse autonomic functions. Laboratory-induced sensory deprivation has resulted in subjects' reports that are often quite similar to classical descriptions of mystical experience. (page 102)

The results of a controversial experiment in the psychology of religion may also be subject to reinterpretation in the light of Schachter's theory. Pahnke attempted to induce experimentally a form of mystical experience with the aid of psilocybin. In the setting of a Good Friday service, theology students received either psilocybin or a mild control drug, nicotinic acid. The results show that the subjects receiving the hallucinogen labeled their experiences in religious terms to a significantly greater extent than did those who received the placebo; and their reports of their experiences showed a significantly greater coincidence with nine characteristics previously gleaned from the reports of classical mystics. Pahnke's experimental design can be viewed in retrospect as parallel to that of Schachter, but with attention to a different dependent variable. Pahnke sought to maintain a constant cognitive context (the Good Friday service and the use of seminarians for subjects) and manipulated the arousal agent. Clark calls attention to the fact, omitted in the published accounts, that one of Pahnke's subjects seems to have been immune to the religious effects of the hallucinogen because of a firmly held naturalistic interpretation. This subject was skeptical from the outset, was randomly selected for the experimental condition, and did not report any of the characteristics of religious experience. ... The subject was unwilling or unable to adopt the attributions suggested by the context, and so the effects of the psychedelic drug were not experienced as mystical or religious. Pahnke's conclusion that mystical experience might be caused by some quality of the hallucinogen is then called into question. Perhaps psilocybin functions only as a rather powerful agent of arousal, differing only quantitatively from the arousal produced by the nicotinic acid. The attributional or interpretative component might then be the crucial factor in those experiences that were reported in terms reminiscent of classical mystics. (page 106)



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