On October 6 & 7 OPEN’s second international conference took place in Amsterdam: the Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research. In a sold out Mozeskerk over 400 researchers, students, therapists and scholars gathered to listen and discuss the latest psychedelic research. From brain imaging studies on psilocybin, philosophical discussions on the meaning of altered states of consciousness to a debate on the place of MDMA in psychotherapy, ICPR set the standard for future events.
Research into psychedelics is slowly being taken seriously in the Netherlands. Dutch science program Labyrint recorded interviews and shot the conference for an episode on psychedelic research. Articles on the conference in Dutch national newspapers Volkskrant (6 Oct. ’12) and Parool (13 Oct. ’12) can be clicked and read here (only in Dutch). Photos of the conference can be found here and videos of the conference are being edited and will be put on our website soon.
This lecture was first given under the title “Entheogenic Esotericism” at the First International Conference on Contemporary Esotericism, Stockholm University 2012 (link to video). The text has been published in Egil Asprem & Kennet Granholm (eds.), Contemporary Esotericism, Equinox 2013, 392-409.
ABSTRACT Contemporary esotericism is replete with references to impressive “mystical” or visionary experiences, which are typically credited with having radically changed people’s lives by bringing them into contact with a “spiritual” dimension of reality. Given the widely acknowledged fact that the contemporary neo-esoteric revival has its historical roots in the 1960s, known for its widespread experimentation with psychoactive substances such as LSD, it is remarkable how rarely specialists in this domain (including the speaker himself, in his 1996 monograph on the New Age) have seen this dimension as relevant at all.
In my lecture, I will argue that widespread experimentation with psychoactive or “entheogenic” substances is a significant factor in contemporary esotericism and should be given more attention by scholars. With some notable exceptions, such as Terence McKenna, Daniel Pinchbeck, or Alex Grey, esoteric authors and spokes(wo)men have tended to play down or deny this dimension, especially after the beginning of the “war on drugs” around 1970, and on the whole, scholars have been somewhat naïve in taking such emic denials at face value. Especially since “higher knowledge” or “gnosis” is widely seen as an important aspect of Western esotericism, the widespread claim that it may be attained or facilitated by psychoactive substances must be taken seriously in the study of contemporary esotericism.
About Wouter Hanegraaff:
Wouter J. Hanegraaff is Professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, President of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE; see esswe.org), and a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden 1996/ Albany 1998); Lodovico Lazzarelli (1447-1500): The Hermetic Writings and Related Documents (Tempe 2005; with Ruud M. Bouthoorn); Swedenborg, Oetinger, Kant: Three Perspectives on the Secrets of Heaven (West Chester 2007), and numerous articles in academic journals and collective volumes. His forthcoming monograph Esotericism and the Academy will appear with Cambridge University Press in 2012.
This talk will describe several lines of research with psilocybin conducted by our laboratory at Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, USA). Completed study results to be presented include: the effects of different psilocybin doses on mystical experience and challenging effects (“bad trips”); the effects of psilocybin in altering personality (increased openness); and the effects of psilocybin on headache. Ongoing studies will also be described, including a study examining psilocybin to treat cancer-related anxiety and depression, a study examining psilocybin to facilitate the adoption of a meditation practice, and a study examining psilocybin in addiction (tobacco smoking) treatment.
Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, US. He received a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of Vermont, and completed a fellowship in behavioral pharmacology at Johns Hopkins.
This talk will describe recently completed fMRI and MEG research with psilocybin and MDMA. I will describe the methods and main results of these studies and discuss their potential implications, both for understanding how the drugs work in the brain and how their effects may be relevant to psychiatry.