Psychedelic Mystical Experience: A New Agenda for Theology

When the link between psychedelic drugs and mystical states of experience was first discovered in the 1960s, Huston Smith challenged scholars in religion and philosophy to consider the implications. Very few took up his challenge. Beginning in 2006, hundreds of studies have linked psychedelics not just to mystical states of experience but to potential treatments for many mental health disorders. Regulatory approval for therapies is on the horizon, and hundreds of millions of people worldwide could be treated. Research findings challenge the underlying rationale of the War on Drugs, leading to decriminalization of specific psychedelic drugs or to authorization of their use in mental health contexts. Religious institutions are slowly adapting, with some referring to psychedelics as sacraments or as pathways to deeper spirituality. Religious leaders are also beginning to speak out publicly in support of careful use of these drugs, and some are training to become “psychedelic chaplains” to work alongside mental health professionals administering these drugs. Scholars in theology and religion are encouraged to engage these trends, to explore challenging philosophical and theological issues surrounding mystical states of experience in general, and to consider the long-term cultural impact of the most recent psychedelic research