The AHDS Points blog has posted up a note about the Working Group on Plants and Religion’s upcoming Symposium in December. I’m excited about the conference, and really grateful to the Points blog for putting this out there for us!
The CBC will be airing this shortly, but it’s very much worth keeping an eye out for. From what I understand it should be online relatively quickly after it airs live.
From the site:
Since the publication of his award-winning book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Dr. Gabor Mate has been one of Canada’s leading thinkers on addiction and its deeper causes. The experience of making the film has had a profound impact on him: “As a physician all too aware of the limitations and narrowness of Western medicine, I have learned much from working with this plant. The Jungle Prescription took me far physically, but even further in the spiritual realm where our deepest humanity resides. The plant, and the experience with the plant, is no panacea. There are no panaceas. But as an opening to human possibility, even in the face of lifelong trauma and desperation, it offers much. Seeing people open to themselves, even temporarily, has been a teaching and an inspiration.”
Having experienced the way addiction can tear families apart first-hand, I’m very interested and excited to hear of newer, and better ways to work with those who have been hit hardest and most immediately by the disease. I very much believe that there is something qualitatively different about ayahuasca and other “hallucinogens” (however antiquated the term) from other psychoactive substances. Research in this direction has the ability to nuance our understanding of these differences, and hopefully make very real, lasting impacts for the better on people’s lives.
I’ve recently gotten involved with a group at the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Gainesville dedicated to ecospirituality and green religion. It’s a small group so far, we’ve only had planning meetings, but we’re enthusiastic about the prospects. The copy below describes the group, and lists our first few planned sessions!
Free and open to the public:
Earthkeepers: Ecospiritual Practice
Gatherings to Cultivate and Practice Ecospirituality
Kick-off: Sunday November 6
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, “Common Room”
4225 NW 34th St
Gainesville, FL 32605
Ecospirituality is the recognition of our spiritual connection to nature; includes:
- knowing and honoring the sacredness of the earth and the life it supports;
- the deep sense of place, of belonging, that comes from understanding the ways we are part of an ecological web of interdependence;
- experiences of awe, wonder, and beauty evoked by the natural world and the interdependence of its parts;
- an ethical commitment to environmental activism to preserve and protect the earth and its creatures.
Some Sundays will be indoor practice, in the “Common Room” at the UU Fellowship. Other Sundays, we have outdoor practice in various settings. Indoor practice features chalice lighting, check-in, a presented program followed by a brief walk outside, then sharing, reflection, and a closing. Outdoor practice will feature guided outdoor walking meditations and shared reflection.
Nov 6: Common Room. Facilitated by Dylan Klempner. “Going Locavore.” The main program features the Bioneers podcast about eating local – how to do it and why it matters.
Nov 13: Outdoor Practice at San Felasco County Park (not the State Park) – on NW 43rd Way, off of 43rd St. Facilitated by Rev. LoraKim Joyner. There will be ways to participate for walkers and nonwalkers. Wear suitable clothing for walking in woods if you plan on the walking option. Either way, bring a journal and pen. Begins promptly at 4:00pm.
Nov 20: Common Room. Facilitated by Rev. Meredith Garmon. “All Love Begins with Seeing: Poetry and Justice for All.” We’ll hear and discuss this Bioneers podcast about creating justice through art – and art through justice.
Nov 27: Thanksgiving holiday; no ecospiritual practice meeting.
Bia Labate sent this along, asking if friends would post it to their blogs. I’m doing so! Anyone who’s involved in this kind of research, I know they’d love to have more people show up. I’d go if I could, but I’m unfortunately too busy that week.
Phillipe Lucas, Research Affiliate at the Center for Addictions Research of British Colombia, Brian Anderson, MD Candidate at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and Bia Labate, Research Associate at the Institute of Medical Psychology, Heidelberg University, have the privilege to organize a meeting and dialogue of international ayahuasca researchers as a adjunct to the upcoming MAPS conference in Oakland (http://www.maps.org/conference/25/). The meeting will take place at the conference site (Oakland Marriott City Center) on Sunday, Dec. 11th, 2:30-4:30, and is free but will be exclusive to ayahuasca academics. Participants will be invited to share current projects, successes, and challenges, and to discuss the present and the future of the international ayahuasca research. To sign up for this Ayahuasca Researcher Dialogue, please email Phillipe (firstname.lastname@example.org) to express your interest.
What I’m posting below isn’t an academic argument. It’s not well defended, and maybe not even well thought out. And I know it needs more thorough consideration, and critique. But it struck me as worth putting down in text.
If we want a new world, we must think a new way.
A category of thought that is Green from its very beginning, its foundation.
To recognize the whole of the world as alive.
Systems are alive.
Social systems. Ecosystems. The motions of the planets. The little pressures of bureaucracy, in the politics of workday life. The wind as it makes leaves dance, of vines climbing up over powerlines. The group dynamics of dogs, cats, roaming the neighborhoods. Of flocks of birds, and schools of fish. The cityscape of streets and roads and paths. The flow of traffic. Economic systems of trade and exchange. The lightspeed flow of information. The dialogues of art, with art. The shape of the motion of tiny, virtually massless particles, with nothing more than a miniscule negative charge. The organization of ideas, of histories of thought. The shape of history itself. The shapes of it, as it changes, and is changed behind us.
Everything is alive. The patterns themselves are alive, that we trace out their forms recognizes that they are identifiable phenomena, but we forget that they are in motion. What we describe moves, it changes. And in so living, adapting, becoming, it thinks. It is minded. It has a telos of its own, an entelechy that shapes. And all of these systems, moving of their own, are that which comprise other systems, even greater. The motion is the boundedness, but is not a fundamental division between, but rather describes only unique patterns and outlines, as water in a current is not divisible from other water, but takes on shapes of intensities and momentums. These systems overlap and interplay, the self-same components in different phases of motion and movement at one and the same time, influenced and informed by so many all at once. All alive. All thinking, intending.
This is why the study of Religion is important. The study of Religion has the potential to be the new ground for a radical re-understanding of the world. To know these systems as alive means that the study of relationships will be vital.
The practice of religion must come to be understood as the human, both social and individual, reaching beyond, within, and amongst itself to know the minds, bodies, selves, and beings of that which is not, or is only sometimes, human – and even composed of the human – where there is that which is not like the human, but all the same a person possessed of its own rights, its own agency. The study of Religion has the potential to be at the forefront of this radical change in thinking. Religion as understood new and wholly different than it has been before.
It is a new picture of the study of Religion. No more just the study of particular cultural manifestations. This, too, but much more. To radically re-conceive the world as composed of living, minded systems all around us means that there must be a new way in which we approach the whole concept of knowing the world. The study of Religion is uniquely situated to being that discipline which attempts to understand the extraordinary degree of complexity with which all affects all, all effects all, and in which everything is alive, changing, moving, dynamic, and willful. A study that is inherently post-human, but nevertheless bound up inextricably with the human, and the perspective of the human, in terms of fields of investigation including linguistics, geography, politics, economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, history, physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and every other conceivable front of knowledge.
The study of religion has the potential to be the catalyst toward a change in perspective that begins to understand the agency of animals, plants, stones, places, but more, the agency of flocks, the agency of social groups, the agency of forests and ecosystems, moving out in stranger and more novel arrangements of beings at every level, not only in scales of greater and lesser degrees of composition, but moving tangentially, and in strange articulations of unexpected organizations and arrangements. This place where the agency of an individual is contextualized by the agency of the group, of the systems of motion that describe and constrain the group, such that agency at every level of composition of uniquely mobile multiplicities informs but never obliterates the agency of any and every other level or mode of composition.
We must have a new, Green way of thinking. To change the world the way in which it is necessary to be changed, in order to survive and become sustainable, we must think a whole new thought, a new Idea to reshape the world. The Green must think itself in our very bodies and bones, such that we see ourselves within the myriad motions of a living world, everything around us active, intelligent, and in motion. Every system of relationship and exchange, itself alive.
The study of religion has the potential to be where this new understanding of the world, and a radically new thought, begins.
The Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness (SAC) has put out their theme for the February conference: Plants and Religion. Given that we’re actively working on establishing a Working Group on Plants and Religion, the timing seems remarkable. I need to start drumming up a good paper topic to submit, yeah?
I’ve just joined NEIP! To quote from their website:
“The NEIP – Interdisciplinary Group for Psychoactive Studies – was founded in 2001 and is a center for study of psychoactive substances that brings together scholars in the Human Sciences affiliated with various institutions to promote joint reflection on the topic. The NEIP has functioned above all as a space for academic dialogue useful in developing our own research. “
It is headed up by Bia Labate who is one of the preeminent scholars, both in Brazil and internationally, on Ayahuasca. I am extremely honored to be allowed to join, and am very excited about the opportunity. My profile has been put up here, and a PDF of one of my essays on ayahuasca has been published over here!
Very, very exciting stuff!
I’m toying around with this as a potential MA thesis topic. I’m posting it here for possible feedback and thoughts… I’m excited about the ideas, whether they go forward in exactly this form or not!
Update – 2011/10/08 – Minor rewording
The Trees are Human: Psychoactive Plants, the Subjectivity of Nature, and an Engagement with Modernity in the Napo Runa Kichwa Culture of Ecuador
This thesis is an exploration of the intersection of three distinct areas of inquiry: the experience – shamanic, religious, mystical, or ecstatic – of psychoactive plants; worldviews that recognize and affirm subjectivity and agency in the other-than-human-persons of plants, animals, and places; and how such worldviews engage with, resist, integrate, and transform forces of globalization, in terms of neoliberal economic policy, cultural integration of technological change, and democratic forms of government and self-government. In following a set of concepts put forward by Ralph Metzner among others, this work suggests that unique responses to the ecological and psycho-social devastation currently facing the techno-scientific, capitalist-industrialist “modern” world may very well be found in the link between worldviews affirming the subjectivity of nature, and the phenomenology of the experience of psychoactive plants. This is to say that it is possible that affirming the subjectivity of aspects of the “natural” world can act as a means by which ecological factors cease to be understood only as resources for human exploitation. This thesis presents an effort to understand how Napo Runa people are able to engage with the seemingly inherent tensions between the forces of globalization and more traditional ways of understanding the world, without forcing a false dialectical synthesis. By focusing on specific ethnographic research, an effort is made to see these worldviews in context with one another as they are being actively lived and negotiated. This research focuses on understanding and communicating the complexity of lived worldviews through stories, histories, and the relating of experiences of the Napo Runa Kichwa people near Tena, Ecuador. This ethnographic research is done in an attempt to ascertain how psychoactive plants and worldviews that affirm the subjectivity of the other-than-human “natural” world are in dialogue with one another, and thereby mutually informing. Embedded within such an effort is a questioning of whether or not the “tensions” that might be perceived between these worldviews and techno-scientific ones present themselves as such for Runa people, or if such tensions are a product of putatively Western and, perhaps more explicitly, academic, categories. Shaping the aims of this research is the question of how people, both shamans and non-shamans, characterize their experience with psychoactive plants, what they draw from these experiences as personally meaningful, and how these experiences have translated into action in, and understanding of, the world. An effort is made to ensure that the immediate and personal experiences of people stand side by side with discussions of urbanization, neoliberal economic policy, and techno-scientific modernity, such that categorical contrasts are neither ignored nor erected without immediate grounding in lived experience.
I just got back from Ecuador through FLAS funding, which is directly impacted by this… The subject was most definitely on everyone’s mind while at the field school, both professors and students. This article clearly lays out why Title VI and Fulbright funding is so important for the US. While I believe that the reasons for understanding other languages and other cultures go far beyond our questions of economic competitive capacity in a global market, or even questions of national security, these are two very real, immediate, and pragmatic concerns for why these programs need to be protected and funded. As the article points out, this budget is less than two-tenths of one percent of the federal budget, counted, when fully funded, at just below $40 million. That’s virtually nothing compared to many other programs. Cutting the Title VI budget in half harms not only those of us who are engaged with programs funded by this money, but turns a blind eye to lessons so clearly learned post 9/11 about the need for intercultural communicability.