Queen Mary, University of London

Reconfiguring Christian Experience with LSD

The emergence of the Psychology of Religion in the work of philosopher William James was in part predicated on his experiences with psychoactive substances, particularly nitrous oxide and mescaline. Placing them within the context of mysticism, he believed no account of religious psychology would be complete without taking into account the effects of certain visionary plants and substances. In the 1950s and 60s a large-scale engagement with this thesis was undertaken by psychologists, psychotherapists and philosophers researching d-Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
Paying particular attention to a Christian context, this paper explores LSD’s role as a form of experimental heresy, which took religious claims about the mystical experience seriously while attempting to use a secular, scientific approach. Of particular interest is the Marsh Chapel experiment, the writings of Adelle Davis, and countercultural approaches within Christian communities. Utilizing a historical and literary approach, this paper explores these experimental heresies as a boundary that deterritorialized both scientific and religious orthodoxy during the mid-twentieth century.

Robert Dickins