The Atlantic Questions Whether Religion Evolved From Psychedelic Experiences

Pic: GreenZeb (CC)

Pic: GreenZeb (CC)

Entheogens and religious experiences discussed in The Atlantic:

Via The Atlantic.

The notion that hallucinogenic drugs played a significant part in the development of religion has been extensively discussed, particularly since the middle of the twentieth century. Various ideas of this type have been collected into what has become known as the entheogen theory. The word entheogen is a neologism coined in 1979 by a group of ethnobotanists (those that study the relationship between people and plants). The literal meaning of entheogen is “that which causes God to be within an individual” and might be considered as a more accurate and academic term for popular terms such as hallucinogen or psychedelic drug. By the term entheogen we understand the use of psychoactive substances for religious or spiritual reasons rather than for purely recreational purposes.

Perhaps one of the first things to consider is whether there is any direct evidence for the entheogenic theory of religion which derives from contemporary science. One famous example that has been widely discussed is the Marsh Chapel experiment. This experiment was run by the Harvard Psilocybin Project in the early 1960s, a research project spearheaded by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. Leary had traveled to Mexico in 1960, where he had been introduced to the effects of hallucinogenic psilocybin-containing mushrooms and was anxious to explore the implications of the drug for psychological research.

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13 Comments on "The Atlantic Questions Whether Religion Evolved From Psychedelic Experiences"

  1. nicholas p. | Dec 29, 2013 at 3:19 am |

    i learned allot about reality on shrooms

  2. Psychedelics are the only valid religious experience. All else is imitation or hallucination.

    • American Cannibal | Dec 29, 2013 at 7:38 am |

      Nah. Read WIlliam James’ Varieties of Religious Experience

      • Might have to do that.. upon reflection music and dance would also be included. I meant religion being imitation or hallucination rather than religious.

        • American Cannibal | Dec 29, 2013 at 7:59 am |

          Religious feeling is an awfully subjective experience, is it not? Read the book, you won’t regret it.

          • Indeed it is. Ill take the time to read more than a skim once i have a hard copy.

      • I feel like accepting these definitions labels about everything religious. The attempted definitions he’s offering are mostly just about being self aware of the varieties of human nature, its relation to itself , surroundings and temperament.. ya know, being a well rounded human being living life fully.
        Life may be the ultimate ‘religious’ experience, but I guess it seems silly to me to define it that way, so I’m tempted to stick with my statements, though probably lacking a few examples.
        Still some pretty good insight in there though.

    • I’m a bigger advocate of psychedelic plants/medicines than almost anyone I know but this post is invalid on many levels Jesse. They are the most immediate and perhaps the most reliable, but there is many ways to enter novel states of consciousness.

      • I don’t agree, but I suppose we’d have to find common ground on what we consider religious for this to be a productive argument.

  3. I don’t know if religion is ultimately a product of psychedelic use, so much as they help facilitate religious/spiritual/transcendent experience in a reliable way. Alan Watts has a great essay on the subject:

    Psychedelics and Religious Experience

    But, it also happens spontaneously and/or through various disciplines, with varying degrees of experience – from a Douglas Harding “On Having No Head” expansion of self to full-blown“one continuous process with God, with the Universe, with the Ground of Being, or whatever name he may use by cultural conditioning or personal preference for the ultimate and eternal reality.”

  4. jasonpaulhayes | Dec 29, 2013 at 1:36 pm |

    Reminds me of the Bill Hicks skit with the one string guitar, it only sounds good to the guy playing it because hes high as Ben Franklins kite.

  5. tbh, I’m sick of hearing this argument.

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