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Hallucinogens and Religion: Historical to Scientific Perspectives
R.R. Griffiths and H. de Wit, Chairpersons

Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Scientific Meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence

NIDA Research Monograph 182
Editor: Louis S. Harris, Ph.D. (Virginia Commonwealth University)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
National Institutes of Health
National Institute on Drug Abuse
6001 Executive Boulevard
Bethesda, MD 20892

Symposium Program

Introduction
R.R. Griffiths (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) and
H. de Wit (University of Chicago)

Preclinical and Clinical Pharmacology of Psychoactive Drugs Used in Spiritual Practices
C.R. Schuster (Wayne State University School of Medicine)

Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives on the Use of Hallucinogens in Spiritual Practice
M. Dobkin de Rios (University of California, Irvine)

Contemporary Perspectives on the Use of Hallucinogens in Spiritual Practices
R. Jesse (Council on Spiritual Practices)

Application of Scientific Methods to the Study of Spiritual Experience
R.W. Hood (University of Tennessee, Chattanooga)

Discussant
H.D. Kleber (Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons)

Participant Bios





SYMPOSIUM XVIII

HALLUCINOGENS AND RELIGION: HISTORICAL TO SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVES

R.R. Griffiths* and H. deWit**, Chairpersons

*Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD
**University of Chicago, Chicago, IL


In the United States, hallucinogens are classified as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act because they are considered to have high abuse liability and to be of no therapeutic value. The Schedule I classification gives rise to the common assumption that the hallucinogens have no value of any type, or no net value relative to their risks. Yet psychoactive plants having hallucinogenic effects have been valued for thousands of years in many cultures, in structured contexts, for their ability to facilitate spiritual (i.e., mystical/transcendent) experiences (Schultes and Hofmann 1992). The phenomenology of such mystical experiences has been well-described and, as discussed below by Dr. Hood, can be reliably measured. Many scholars of religion believe that "naturally-occurring" mystical experiences, often occasioned by prayer, fasting, solitude or other austerities, have provided the bedrock phenomenological foundation for most of the world's religions (Smith 2000). That is, the founders of many religions had profound mystical experiences on which they based their teachings.

Of relevance to this symposium is the observation/hypothesis that, under appropriate conditions, hallucinogens can occasion profound mystical experiences that are indistinguishable in description and impact from the "naturally-occurring" mystical experiences. The striking similarity between the drug-occasioned and austerity-occasioned mystical states suggests the intriguing possibility that the two may be mediated by common biological mechanisms. In fact, the last several years have witnessed increasing interest in the neurobiology of mystical experiences (Austin 1999; Newberg et al. 2001). A basic premise of this growing field of "neurotheology" is that the compelling commonalties among mystical experiences reported across time and across different cultures and faiths suggest a common neurobiology reflecting the structures and function of the human brain.

As discussed in this symposium on hallucinogens and religion, use of these drugs in natural settings has been studied from the perspective of anthropologists and historians. The preclinical and clinical behavioral pharmacology of these drugs have also been studied in laboratory contexts quite different from the religious contexts in which these drugs are known to be used. However, a vast gap exists between our knowledge of these drugs obtained using the descriptive methods of anthropology and the knowledge obtained using modern clinical pharmacology methods. The gap is even larger than it would be otherwise because, largely in reaction to the excesses of the 1960s "psychedelic movement," there has been virtually no human research with hallucinogens for the last thirty years.

The papers in this symposium discuss the use of hallucinogens in spiritual practices from several different perspectives. Dr. Charles Schuster, a behavioral pharmacologist, discusses the neurochemistry and preclinical and clinical pharmacology of hallucinogens, and makes the point that the classic seretonergically-mediated hallucinogens such as LSD, mescaline and psilocybin do not show classic abuse liability as evidenced by self-administration in animals and euphoria in humans. Dr. Marlene de Rios, a medical anthropologist with particular expertise on the use of ayahuasca in South America, considers hallucinogens from historical and cross-cultural perspectives, commenting on the socially important roles that hallucinogens have had in some cultures and the apparent lack of abuse potential when used under careful ritual circumstances. Bob Jesse, president of the Council on Spiritual Practices, which is sponsoring research on primary religious experience, then considers contemporary perspectives on hallucinogens in spiritual practices, discussing nomenclature, pivotal observations of several modern scholars, and a rationale for further exploration in this area. Dr. Ralph Hood, an expert in the measurement of the mystical experience, discusses the development of the contemporary science of religion, describing the development of reliable and valid measures of the mystical experience which are essential for advancing the scientific analysis of hallucinogen-occasioned mystical states and their impact on spiritual practices. The symposium concludes with discussion comments from Dr. Herbert Kleber, a psychopharmacologist with expertise in drug abuse policy and who has conducted human clinical research with hallucinogens. This multidisciplinary symposium represents a renewed integration of human religious and spiritual experiences into the domain of scientific investigation.

REFERENCES:
Austin, J. H. (1999) Zen and the brain: Toward an understanding of meditation and consciousness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Newberg, A.; Alavi, A.; Baime, M.; Pourdehnad, M.; Santanna, J.; and d'Aquili, E. (2001) The measurement of regional cerebral blood flow during the complex cognitive task of meditation: a preliminary SPECT study. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging Section, 106, 113-122.
Schultes, R. E. and Hofmann, A. (1992) Plants of the gods: Their sacred, healing, and hallucinogenic powers. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1992.
Smith, H. (2000) Do drugs have religious import? In: Cleansing the doors of perception: the religious significance of entheogenic plants and chemicals. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc.



PRECLINICAL AND CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY OF PSYCHOACTIVE DRUGS USED IN SPIRITUAL PRACTICES

C.R. Schuster

Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI

The psychoactive drugs that are used in conjunction with religious ceremonies and for other self-actualizing purposes have been studied, revered, and vilified by individuals with different perspectives and values. Chemically these agents fall into three general classes: the phenylalkylamines (phenethylamines); the indolealkylamines (tryptamines); and the beta-carbolines. They are generally termed by pharmacologists "classical hallucinogens" because they share a similar profile of pharmacological actions in both laboratory animals and humans. It should be noted, however, that the psychoactive effects of these agents are modified by the set of the individual who ingests the drug and the setting in which it takes place. With repeated administration at short intervals tolerance develops to many of their psychoactive and physiological effects. Tolerance to one of these drugs generally conveys cross-tolerance to other members of this group, evidence of their pharmacological similarity (e.g., Wolbach et al. 1962). Further evidence of pharmacological similarity is the recent neurochemical studies indicating that the same serotonergic receptor sub-type (5-HT2a) in the brain (Glennon et al. 1984; Ismaiel, et al. 1993; Winter et al. 1999) mediates their psychoactive effects.

Since none of the classical hallucinogens have accepted medical use in the United States and are considered to have "abuse potential," they have been placed in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. Other widely abused drugs such as heroin and phencyclidine are also in Schedule 1. However, there is considerable evidence demonstrating that the "classical hallucinogens" can be differentiated from these other commonly abused drugs in several important ways. It is well established that drugs that are commonly abused by humans will serve as positive reinforcers in a wide variety of animal models of drug abuse (Johanson and Balster 1978; Griffiths et al. 1979). In contrast, none of the "classical hallucinogenic" agents have been shown to be self-administered by animals (Deneau et al. 1969). This is due to the fact that the classical hallucinogens have a different profile of pharmacologic effects on the monoamine systems of the brain compared to drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. In fact, the limited evidence that exists suggests that the classical hallucinogens are aversive in animals and will serve as negative reinforcers (Hoffmeister 1975). This is in accord with the observations of humans ingesting drugs such as mescaline, psilocybin, or the ayahuasca tea (containing DMT and the beta-carbolines) who frequently show nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea and rarely the type of euphoria associated with drugs of abuse (e.g., Grob et al. 1996).

The substituted amphetamines, MDMA and its relatives such as MDA and MDE (a sub-class of the phenethylamines) have a unique pharmacology. They not only share certain actions with the stimulant amphetamines but also with the "classical hallucinogens." In humans, MDMA and its relatives are purported to have an "empathogenic" effect, which has been claimed to facilitate psychotherapy. There have been no well-designed clinical trials conducted to demonstrate the efficacy of MDMA in facilitating the effects of psychotherapy. Nevertheless, the reports of its empathogenic effects have led to its use by people striving to gain a feeling of greater connectedness and brotherhood with fellow humans. However, in contrast to the classical hallucinogens, the substituted amphetamines are self-administered by laboratory animals (e.g., Beardsley et al. 1986; Griffiths et al. 1979; Sannerud et al. 1996). In drug discrimination studies these drugs have been shown by some investigators to substitute for amphetamine but in other studies they fail to do so. Further, in some studies, they substitute for one of the classical hallucinogens and in others they do not. These results are most likely attributable to differences in the training doses of the drugs used, as well as the training procedures. Nonetheless, they illustrate that these agents have mixed effects. Recent drug discrimination studies, in which animals are trained to discriminate between amphetamine, MDMA, and placebo, have shown that these drugs are readily discriminable to animals (Goodwin and Baker 2000). Further, when classical hallucinogens (LSD and DMT) are tested in animals trained in this three-way discrimination procedure, only partial substitution for MDMA is observed. Most recently, Tancer and Johanson (CPDD 2001) have conducted drug discrimination studies in humans trained to discriminate between placebo, amphetamine, and mCPP (a serotonin agonist). When MDMA is tested in these people mixed results are again obtained. Some participants respond to MDMA as if it is amphetamine, while others respond as if it is mCPP. These results further illustrate the mixed actions of MDMA.

The widespread abuse of MDMA with case reports of lethal consequences at the so-called "raves," in conjunction with laboratory evidence for neurotoxic effects has received widespread media attention and alarmed the general public (McCann et al. 2000; Ricaurte et al. 2000). Any potential beneficial effects MDMA and related drugs may have must be weighed against their possible permanent neurotoxic effects. Similarly, in the 1960s, LSD and other classical hallucinogens were widely used by young people, many of whom were ill prepared for the psychological effects these drugs produce, often with adverse consequences. It is important to distinguish this kind of drug abuse from the use of psychoactive substances within the context of a religious ceremony. As has been shown many times in laboratory studies, set and setting are extremely important determinants of whether a drug experience results in a spiritual epiphany or a "bad trip." As is the case when considering the value of psychoactive drugs for therapeutic purposes, one must look at the risk benefit ratio. This should also be done when considering the use of psychoactive drugs for their effects on spirituality.

REFERENCES:
Beardsley, P. M.; Balster, R. L.; and Harris, L. S. (1986) Self-administration of methylenedioxy-methmethamphetamine (MDMA) by rhesus monkeys. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 18: 149-157.
Deneau, G.; Yanagita, T.; and Seevers, M. H. (1969) Self-administration of psychoactive substances by the monkey. Psychopharmacologia, 16: 30-48.
Glennon, R. A.; Titeler, M.; and McKenney, J. D. (1984) Evidence for 5-HT2 involvement in the mechanism of action of hallucinogenic agents. Life Sciences, 35, 2505-2511.
Goodwin, A. K. and Baker, L. E. (2000) A three-choice discrimination procedure dissociates the discriminative stimulus effects of d-amphetamine and (+)- MDMA in rats. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 8: 415-423.
Griffiths, R. R.; Brady, J. V.; and Bradford, D. L. (1979) Predicting the abuse liability of drugs within animal drug self-administration procedures: Psychomotor stimulants and hallucinogens. In: Advances in Behavioral Pharmacology, Vol 2. T. Thompson and P.B. Dews (Eds). New York: Academic Press, Inc. pp 163-208.
Grob, C. S.; McKenna, D. J.; Callaway, J. C.; Brito, G. S.; Neves, E. S.; Oberlaender, G.; Saide, O. L.; Labigalini, E.; Tacla, C.; Miranda, C. T.; Strassman, R. J.; and Boone, K. B. (1996) Human psychopharmacology of Hoasca, a plant hallucinogen used in ritual context in Brazil. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 184: 86-94.
Hoffmeister, F (1975) Negative reinforcing properties of some psychotropic drugs in drug-naive rhesus monkeys. J. Pharmacol. Exp. Ther., 192: 468-477.
Johanson, C. E. and Balster, R. L. (1978) A summary of the results of a drug self-administration study using substitution procedures in rhesus monkeys. Bull. Narc., 30: 43-54.
McCann, U. D.; Eligulashvili, V.; and Ricaurte, G. A. (2000) (+/-)3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine ('Ecstasy')-induced serotonin neurotoxicity: clinical studies. Neuropsychobiology, 42: 11-16.
Ricaurte, G. A.; Yuan, J.; and McCann, U. D. (2000) (+/-)3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine ('Ecstasy')-induced serotonin neurotoxicity: studies in animals. Neuropsychobiology, 42: 5-10.
Sannerud, C. A.; Kaminski, B. J.; and Griffiths, R. R. (1996) Intravenous self-injection of four novel phenethylamines in baboons. Behavioural Pharmacology, 7, 315-323.
Winter, J. C.; Fiorella, D. J.; Timineri, D. M.; Filipink, R. A.; Helsley S. E.; and Rabin, R. A. (1999) Serotonergic receptor subtypes and hallucinogen-induced stimulus control. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 64: 283-293.
Wolbach, A. B., Jr.; Isbell, H.; and Miner, E. J. (1962) Cross tolerance between mescaline and LSD-25 with a comparison of the mescaline and LSD reactions. Psychopharmacologia (Berl.), 3: 1-14.



HISTORICAL AND CROSS-CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES ON THE USE OF HALLUCINOGENS IN SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

M. Dobkin de Rios

University of California, Irvine, CA


The author, a medical anthropologist, examines the use of hallucinogenic substances derived from plants as facilitators of religious ecstasy and to permit individuals to come into first-hand contact with spirit or divinity. These substances are seen to be psychotechnologies to allow tribal elders to manage altered states of consciousness of adolescents and to utilize the properties of the plant hallucinogens as agents of deconditioning of youth and to heighten religious experiences deemed important for social survival. There is a movement historically from exoteric rituals of hallucinogenic drug use, open and accessible to all adolescents and adults, to esoteric rituals, shrouded in secrecy and limited to elite groups of society, much like the Eleusinian mysteries described in ancient Greece. These patterns are illustrated by several cultural examples: the Australian Aborigines' use of pituri in ritual context (Duboisia spp); the Fang of Equatorial African and the use of Tabernanthe iboga; the ancient Maya and the ritual use of Nymphae ampla; the Brazilian church, Unaoi do Vegetal use of ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi).

Findings show that access to supernatural power and the unitive experience were highly valued among hunter/gatherers, incipient and intensive agriculturists, and in pristine state societies of antiquity. Little, if any, abuse potential was found. Most of the plants in traditional societies were of limited availability, were given in religious ritual settings in natural environments with all the senses engaged, with elders and religious leaders present to ensure a smooth interior voyage and were laden with educational and didactic contact to reassure the individual. In traditional societies of the world, stereotypic visions were eagerly sought after to indicate that contact with the realm of the sacred had occurred.

Drug tourism throughout the Third World is a growing phenomenon in response to the demands of Western individuals seeking drug experiences abroad. Knowledgeable men and women are toured in small groups by Western tour guides to distant exotic places where they participate in drug rituals among so-called native shamans or witchdoctors. This fits the category of what has been called charlatan psychiatry, a long tradition for example, in Latin America, of non-authentic folk healers with malicious and fraudulent intention who provide hallucinogenic plant drugs in ritual settings for their personal gain. Unscrupulous practitioners exploit their victims and are conscious of the farce in which they are involved. The hallucinogenic plants in question have never been used traditionally in the way that the self-styled healers use them and there are numerous psychological casualties. The drug tourism is shrouded in special rhetoric and travel literature includes terms like "advanced shamanic training." The drug tourist is desperate to find the vanishing primitive. The westerner is not involved in a native ritual of spiritual dimensions as he has been led to expect but rather in a staged drama to turn him on and to extract his cash. There is an evil exploitative aspect of this drug tourism that is impossible to ignore. These so-called native healers are common drug dealers dressed for deception. They provide the exotic setting and prepare the tourist to have an authentic personal experience.

Throughout history, societies recognized that the power of the mind-altering plants was acknowledged to belong to special realms constrained with taboos and rituals, and a pathway to the spiritual. Anyone who entered those portals had to be properly prepared for the journey.

REFERENCES:
Dobkin de Rios, M. (l996) Hallucinogens: Cross-cultural perspectives. Prospect Hts., IL: Waveland Press.
Dobkin de Rios, M. (l984) Visionary vine: Hallucinogenic healing in the Peruvian Amazon. Prospect Hts., IL: Waveland Press.
Dobkin de Rios, M. (l973) The non-western use of hallucinogenic agents. In: Drug use in America: Problem in perspective. 2nd Report of the U.S. National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse. Washington, DC. U.S. Govt. Printing Office.
Dobkin de Rios, M. (l993) Twenty-five years of hallucinogenic studies in cross-cultural perspective. In: Newsletter, Anthropology of consciousness, 4:l:l-8. American Anthropological Association.
Dobkin de Rios, M. (l992) Drug tourism in the Amazon. Omni Magazine. Fall.
Dobkin de Rios, M. (l977) The function of drug rituals in human society: Continuities and changes. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 9:3:269-276.
Grob, C. and M. Dobkin de Rios (l992) Adolescent drug use in cross-cultural perspective. Journal of Drug Issues, 22:l:l2l-l38.
Dobkin de Rios, M., Grob, C. and Baker, J. (submitted for publication). Hallucinogens and redemption.



CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES ON THE USE OF HALLUCINOGENS IN SPIRITURAL PRACTICES

Robert Jesse

Council on Spiritual Practices, San Francisco, CA


Hallucinogenic plants and chemicals can sometimes give access to an unusual set of mental states, variously called transcendent, mystical, or unitive. The term "entheogen" (literally, "giving rise to divinity within") has been coined to emphasize this special property, which appears to act most frequently under conditions ("set and setting") designed for that purpose.

Numerous cultures throughout history have made religious use of entheogenic plants, giving rise to traditions from which some contemporary entheogen uses follow directly. Living examples include the use of peyote in the Native American Church, the religious uses of ayahuasca in South America, and the ritual use of psilocybin mushrooms in Mesoamerica. Other contemporary uses have resulted from individuals and groups incorporating entheogens into religious traditions that do not otherwise use them. Walter Pahnke's 1962 Good Friday Experiment in a Christian chapel stands as the most thoroughly documented and measured instance of the capacity of certain psychoactives to greatly increase the probability of profound religious experience.

Probably most contemporary entheogen use takes place with no explicit religious or ritual context, though distinctly religious experiences have sometimes occurred, nonetheless, as illustrated by writer Aldous Huxley, religion scholar Huston Smith, and Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W.

The modern psychology of religion has characterized religious experience in terms such as unity (direct perception of connectedness or oneness), transcendence of time and space, and sense of sacredness, with emotions ranging from awe (fascination and terror) to deeply felt positive mood. Valid and reliable psychological instruments are now available to measure these phenomena.

Entheogen experiences, in and out of formal religious contexts, are sometimes credited with providing profound insights. Huxley's claim is not atypical in its enthusiasm: "The mescaline experience is, without any question, the most extraordinary and significant experience available to human beings this side of the Beatific Vision. To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and inner worlds, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large - this is an experience of inestimable value to anyone." In religious language, such experiences are epiphanies, theophanies, moments of illumination, states of grace, and so forth.

Acting in combination with other individual and social factors, such episodes have long been linked to positive, and sometimes enduring, changes in emotional well-being, beliefs, values, and behaviors. Knowledge of these factors has been accumulated anecdotally, but the area has not much been studied scientifically. The immediate effects of an entheogen and the long-term consequences of the experience are likely to vary with characteristics of the ingestor, preparation and intentions of the ingestor, the substance and dose, and the social surround. The social surround includes the behavior of formal or informal "guides," the existence and nature of rituals and communities of seekers that help contain the experience and form its meaning, ongoing contact with guide(s) and community, and the nature and intensity of pressures from the wider society.

Were it not for the legal classification of most entheogens as Schedule I drugs, it would go without saying that the examples of entheogen use given earlier bear virtually no resemblance to the patterns of abuse and addiction frequently seen with drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, and heroin. Entheogens do present characteristic risks, including unwise drug-induced behavior and (rarely) lasting psychological distress. Virtually all of the documented cases of harm have come from haphazard use, rather than entheogenic ceremonies such as those of the Native American Church.

More subtle harms can follow when entheogens are put to less than their "highest and best use" (a term borrowed from land use planning). For the individual, lesser uses carry an opportunity cost, insofar as the same investment of time and substance could have yielded greater outcomes. For the community, trivialization of the substance, its use, or the consequent experiences lowers collective expectations and hence may work to the detriment of future use outcomes. Opposite to trivialization, it is also possible to expect too much of the entheogen itself. In religious language, these are, respectively, the profaning of a sacrament and idolatry. In addition, profound religious experiences themselves carry risks of inducing grandiosity or, in religious terms, spiritual pride.

For some 35 years, there has been a near-embargo on scientific research using these substances in humans. A few studies are now being mounted, though the aim of most is to investigate possible applications of the substances to treat mental disease. Thus, an opportunity remains: to study in healthy volunteers the states of consciousness that entheogens can bring about, the determinants of those states, and their short- and long-term consequences, individual and social.

Walter Houston Clark offered in his book The Psychology of Religion (1958) a framework for appraising religion. Its first key feature is the inner experience of an individual when he or she senses a "beyond" - what is taken to be a more fundamental aspect of the universe than is ordinarily sensed. The second feature is the effect of such experience on behaviors as one actively attempts to live one's life in accord with values derived from that inner experience. The application of Clark's framework to the use of entheogens constitutes a research program of significant potential fertility.

REFERENCES:
Alcoholics Anonymous (1984) Pass it on: The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world. New York: A.A. World Services.
Clark, W. H. (1958) The psychology of religion: An introduction to religious experience and behavior. New York: MacMillan.
Clark, W. H. (1969) Chemical ecstasy. New York: Sheed & Ward.
Hill, P. C. and Hood, R. W. Jr., editors (1999) Measures of religiosity. Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.
Hofmann, A. (1983) LSD: My problem child. Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher.
Hood, R. W. Jr., Spilka, B, Hunsberger, B. and Gorsuch, R. (1996) The psychology of religion: An empirical approach (2nd. ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
Huxley, A. (1954) The doors of perception. London: Chatto & Windus.
James, W. (1902) The varieties of religious experience. New York: Longmans, Green, & Co.
Maslow, A. H. (1964) Religions, values, and peak-experiences. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
Pahnke, W. N. (1963) Drugs and mysticism. (doctoral dissertation). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
Pahnke, W. N. and Richards, W. A. (1969) Implications of LSD and experimental mysticism. J. Transpersonal Psychology, 1(2).
Smith, H. (2000) Cleansing the doors of perception: The religious significance of entheogenic plants and chemicals. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.
Stace, W. T. (1960) Mysticism and philosophy. Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher.
Strassman, R.J. (1997) Biomedical research with psychedelics: Current models and future prospects. In: Entheogens and the future of religion, R. Forte (Ed.). San Francisco: Council on Spiritual Practices.
U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Natural Resources. American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994 (report HR 103-675). Washington, DC.
Wulff, D. M. (1991) Psychology of religion: Classic and contemporary views. New York: John Wiley & Sons.



APPLICATION OF SCIENTIFIC METHODS TO THE STUDY OF SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE

R. W. Hood Jr.

University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, TN


The study of spiritual experience has until recently been the twice removed step child of psychology. Among the founders of psychology, especially in America, it was widely assumed that religious experiences could be reductively explained by neurophysiological processes. Psychological explanations were offered as reductive interpretations of religious phenomena, including not only transcendent experiences but persistently related experiences such as supposed paranormal and spiritual experiences (Coon 1992; Hood 2000). Interest in religion and religious experience rapidly declined in the face of the assumption that psychology had adequately explained most religious phenomena of interest, many which were declared to be pathological.

A re-emergence of interest in the psychology of religion beginning in the 1960s can be partly attributed to the influence of a few investigators who insisted that the proper description of religious phenomena defied purely naturalistic or neurophysiological explanations. Never doubting that neurophysiology is involved in experience, the investigation of religious experience suggested that reductive explanations were insufficient and that more sophisticated scientific studies of religious experience were needed. The necessary advance came when investigators began not simply to apply measurement paradigms to the psychology of religion, but to derive and focus their measurements with phenomenological and other theoretical perspectives (Gorsuch 1984).

The contemporary psychology of religion has developed reliable and valid measures of religious phenomena on par with constructs in any mainstream area of modern psychology (Hill and Hood 1999). It is widely accepted that religious experience is neither necessarily pathological nor inherently immune to scientific study. While correlational methods dominate the field, experimental and quasi-experimental methods are not uncommon (Hood et al. l996). Among the religiously devout, the report of religious experience is associated with an intrinsic religious orientation; among the non-religious, similar experiences occur but without a religious interpretation. Generally the report of religious experience is related to openness to experience, and to a variety of indices of well-being. Religious experience can be facilitated by a variety of practices and situations, including prayer or meditation, solitude, and entheogens (Hood 1995). Set and setting factors are especially relevant in determining whether or not experiences are given a religious interpretation.

While the psychology of religion is still fairly described as mainstream psychology's stepchild, recent research in psychology has shown a demonstrative movement to focus upon the study of spirituality as opposed to religion making spirituality a stepchild of the modern scientific study of the psychology of religion (Pargament l999). The well-documented emergence of a significant group of persons who identify themselves as "spiritual but not religious" has turned attention to the nature of experiences that often have been interpreted or even reified in religious traditions but need not be. While those who identify themselves as "equally spiritual and religious" can be documented to have spiritual and religious experiences for which their religious beliefs provided them adequate expression and even explanation, those who reject religion can be shown to have similar experiences for which they reject the religious interpretations. Thus, a dominant paradigm in the study of religious and spiritual experience assumes that experience can be distinguished from interpretation, allowing for a common core of identical experiences to be differentially interpreted. Among those who support this common-core position are researchers who have sought to identify a limited range of experiences that can be scientifically identified as uniquely spiritual, but not necessarily religious. Among the major contenders are mysticism (typically identified as an experience of union) and perhaps more generally, transcendence (in which the individual directly experiences an interconnectedness with all of reality). Both mysticism and transcendence are best understood as multidimensional constructs and have been reliably measured as such (MacDonald et al. 1999a,b). This approach allows for experience to be separated from interpretation, implying that, whatever the role of language and culture in shaping experience, there is enough commonality in the underlying determinants of mystical and transcendent experience to suggest both a universal neurophysiological basis for such experiences. Perhaps more controversially, it suggests an ontological basis that is transcendent to a purely neurophysiological explanation (Austin 1999, d'Aquil and Newberg 1999).

Thus, whether the psychology of religious experience or spirituality is the focus, the application of scientific methods has shown that the experiences can be both measured and scientifically manipulated. Whatever their final explanation might be, they are a proper focus of scientific investigation. That suggests that these experiences are not forever fated to be stepchildren but shall find their proper home. If this home is not in psychology, it surely will be under a multidisciplinary canopy of investigators whose common commitment is to the rigorous application of scientific methods to reality not simply as it is, but as it appears to be for those who have these experiences.

REFERENCES:
Austin, J. H. (1999) Zen and the brain: Toward an understanding of meditation and consciousness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Coon, D. J. (1992) Testing the limits of sense and science: American experimental psychologists combat spiritualism, 1880-1920. American Psychologist, 47, 143-151.
d'Aquil, E. G. and Newberg, A. B. (1999) The mystical mind: Probing the biology of mystical experience. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress press.
Gorsuch, R. L. (l984) Measurement: The boon and bane of investigating religion. American Psychologist, 39: 228-236.
Hill, P. C. and Hood, R. W., Jr. (Eds.) (1999). Measures of religiosity. Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.
Hood, R. W. Jr. (Ed) (1995). The facilitation of religious experience. In: Handbook of religious experience, R. W. Hood, Jr. (Ed.). Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.
Hood, R. W. Jr. (2000) American psychology of religion and the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 39: 531-543.
Hood, R. W. Jr. ; Spilka, B.; Hunsberger, B.; and Gorsuch, R. (1996) The psychology of religion: An empirical approach (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
MacDonald, D. A.; Friedman, H. L.; and Kuentsel, J. G. (1999a) A survey of measures of spiritual and transpersonal constructs: Part one - Research update. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 31: 137-154.
MacDonald, D. A.; Kuentsel, J. G.; and Friedman, H. L. (1999b) A survey of measures of spiritual and transpersonal constructs:
Part two - Additional constructs. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 31: 155-177.
Pargament, K. I. (1999) The psychology of religion and spirituality? Yes and no. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 9: 3-16.



HALLUCINOGENS AND RELIGION: HISTORICAL TO SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVES - DISCUSSANT

Herbert D. Kleber

Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY


Research into hallucinogens was prematurely terminated in the 1960s, when some of the drugs became street drugs of abuse. Research into these agents can be described as high risk with potential high gain. While these agents can produce substantial behavioral toxicity, they also have the potential to lead to useful insights, positive behavioral change, and increased knowledge of the brain. Research could include studies on the nature of the hallucinogen-induced experience itself, the role of set and setting, behavioral changes that ensue and the neuroscience aspects involved, e.g. neuroendocrine and imaging studies. The key question from a policy point of view is: How should the conflict between the country's compelling need not to interfere with religious practice and the equally compelling need to protect our people, especially the vulnerable young, be resolved? This is a difficult and cloudy issue. However, the current position that permits bonafide members of the Native American Church to use peyote in a controlled communitarian setting may serve as a useful model and could be expanded. The use by individuals in a non-communitarian setting creates too much risk at this time as does permitting use by pseudo-religious groups whose only purpose is the drug use.

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