10/23/2020 - Harvard Divinity School: Religion in Contemporary Psychedelic Trials
Amid the so-called psychedelic “renaissance” in science, researchers at Johns Hopkins University, New York University, and elsewhere report that they can occasion “mystical-type experiences” among trial volunteers being treated for depression, addiction, end-of-life anxiety, and other conditions. Many studies correlate the strength of this experience with the therapeutic outcome. Other recent studies administer psychedelics to religious professionals without a clear therapeutic aim. In this case, an experience that might be assumed to be accessible to religious clergy through non-chemical means is administered within a “secular” biomedical framework. This panel brought together two psilocybin clinical trial participants, Rachael Petersen (Visiting Fellow, CSWR) and Rita Powell (Harvard Episcopalian Chaplain) in dialogue with the historian of religions Jeffrey J. Kripal (Rice University) to explore issue raised by these contemporary psychedelic trials: namely, what happens when the clinical becomes religious and the religious becomes clinical? How are religion, mysticism, and spirituality invoked, studied, and understood within psychedelic clinical contexts? What unspoken ontological and theological claims are at work?