Wouter Jacobus Hanegraaff – professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy, University of Amsterdam.

Wouter J. Hanegraaff  (1961) studied classical guitar at the Municipal Conservatory at Zwolle (1982-1987) and Cultural History at the University of Utrecht (1986-1990), with a specialization in alternative religious movements in the 20th century. From 1992-1996 he was  a research assistant at the department for Study of Religions of the University of Utrecht, where he defendedhis dissertation New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought on 30 november 1995 (cum laude). From 1996 to 2000 he held a postdoctoral fellowship from the Dutch Assocation for Scientific Research (NWO), and spent a period working in Paris. On 1 september 1999 he was appointed full professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam. From 2002-2006 he was president of the Dutch Society for the Study of Religion (NGG). From 2005-2013 he was President of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE). In 2006 he was elected member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (Koninklijke Nederlandse Academie van Wetenschappen, KNAW); since 2013 he is an honorary member of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism.

The Reasonable Irrational: History of Religions and the Pathologization of Entheogenic Experience

On the basis of several case studies of entheogenic religion from late antiquity and the early modern period, I will be making some general points about the widespread tendency among scholars of religion to neglect straightforward empirical evidence for the use of psychoactive substances or dismiss its relevance. There are some perfectly understandable reasons why specialists are wary or afraid to discuss this topic seriously and prefer to avoid it. Yet, in some specific cases we have direct and irrefutable proof that impressive visionary experiences were induced by the ritual ingestion of entheogens, while in some other cases the entheogenic hypothesis has superior explanatory power in comparison to alternative interpretations. Dismissing this hypothesis without solid arguments has the effect of unnecessarily pathologizing radical visionary experiences for which we have in fact a perfectly rational explanation.