Psychedelic medicine is a rapidly growing, billion-dollar industry poised to transform mental health care by incorporating spiritual experiences into clinical psychiatry. Ethical Substance brings together perspectives from anthropology, psychiatry, philosophy, theology, and religious studies to explore the incorporation of mystical experience into the lives of secular Americans and their therapeutic practices. Why have nonreligious Americans turned to psychedelics as spiritual technologies to cultivate new ways of being-in-the-world, and how does this phenomenon complicate our understanding of secular forms of life? How will the therapeutic use of “entheogenic” substances transform the secular field of psychiatry, and how might this interaction challenge us to rethink the relationship between science and spirituality? What impact will the increasing use of psychedelics among the nonreligious have on the lives of secular Americans, and how might access to psychedelically-occasioned mystical experiences serve to address spiritual yearning among secular Americans?
To answer these research questions, the research team will conduct ethnographic research in a clinical trial for psilocybin-assisted palliative care, in psychedelic “churches” where the spiritually curious heal trauma with “entheogens,” in a psychedelic-assisted therapy training program, and in psychedelic science conferences. In a cultural context defined by secular individualism, Ethical Substance will explore the personal, social, and spiritual impact of psychedelic practice and psychedelic experiences of ego dissolution, boundlessness, and “oneness” with the world. Deliverables include an academic conference on spiritual yearning, preparation of scholarly and popular articles, production of podcast episodes, a public workshop, and the preparation of an ethnographic book manuscript.