Entheogens — Sacramentals or Sacrilege ?, Thomas Roberts, 2012

Entheogens — Sacramentals or Sacrilege ?

(a working draft for a syllabus)


in  “Roberts, B. Thomas. (editor) (2012). Spiritual Growth with Entheogens”


To most people who are even moderately experienced with entheogens, concepts such as awe, sacredness, eternity, grace, agapé, transcendence, transfiguration, dark night of the soul, born-again, heaven, and hell are more than theological ideas; they are experiences.


Introduction to Entheogens: Sacramentals or Sacrilege?

It should not be necessary to supply more proof that psychedelic drugs produce experiences that those who undergo them regard as religious in the fullest sense.

Grinspoon and Bakalar, Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered

Are we experiencing a reorganization in Western religions now, similar in some ways to the one that occurred around 1500?  Before then religious rites were the main religious activity for the ordinary person (not monks, nuns, or priests). Being religious primarily meant attending mass on Sunday; participating in church festivals, rites, and rituals; praying, and other religious activities and observances.

Democratization of text. The printing press and movable type democratized access to Biblical (and other) texts. While older religious observances of the previous period sustained, new word-centered activities such as reading texts and interpreting them overlay the older religion-as- rite. New interpretations resulted, new churches flourished, and text became a standard for judging religion. Over time, the locus of Western religious activity shifted from rites to reading, from observances to Bible, from participation to verbalization. In contrast to pre-1500, we approach religion verbally — through words: language, texts, speaking, beliefs, catechisms, dogma, doctrines, theology, mission statements, etc. This overemphasis on words shows up today in the way we describe religions — by words. To us, thoughts (cognitive processes) form religion. The older rites certainly remain but lie obscured beneath a 500-year blizzard of words.

Democratization of primary religious experience. Is a similar transition going on today? Are we moving from concept-based religion to religion based on primary spiritual experience, mystical experience? Is Western religion in the early stages of adding another layer, a layer of direct experience of the sacred on top of word-based religion and rite-based religion? Just as the printed Bible democratized access to religious texts half a millennium ago, do today’s entheogens offer to democratize access to primary religious experience (sacred mystical experience)?

Research Opportunities. What opportunities for the scientific study of religion does this putative Entheogenic Reformation offer? In this course we’ll study how entheogens reclothe religious studies’ current questions in entheogenic garb : basically, all the questions get reasked; new questions appear. Just as the democratization of printing lead to word-based religion, are entheogens leading 21st Century religions toward a mystical experience base?

Course question: After spotting what may be early indicators of this putative trend, we’ll sample a menu of questions entheogens present for current and future religious studies.


Required Texts:

Roberts, B. Thomas. (editor) (2012). Spiritual Growth with Entheogens

Smith, Houston. (2004). Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious

Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals paperback


Other recommended readings are on our course website and/or on reserve in the library.

Select 1 of the following: Your choice. You may also select a book not on this list. For additional books and dissertations, check Roberts, T. B. & Hruby, P. J. (1995+) Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments: An Entheogen Chrestomathy http://www.csp.org/chrestomathy and online booksellers.

A word to the wise: it might be a smart idea to wait to select your books until after the first class so that you’ll know your study-group’s questions and so members of each group don’t overlap their selections too much.