Experimental Mysticism:

The History and Science of Psychedelic Research

Experimental Mysticism explores the claim that psychedelic substances like psilocybin (or “magic mushrooms”) and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD, also known as “acid”) can facilitate a bonafide mystical or religious experience. We explore the rich and uncommon cultural history and science of psychedelic research—spanning the isolation of mescaline from the peyote cactus by the German pharmacologist Dr. Arthur Heffter in 1897, up through the synthesis of LSD in 1938 by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, and ending with the current “psychedelic renaissance” of research taking place at American university labs such as NYU Langone School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. We also consider contemporary religio-philosophical discourse on the nature of mystical experiences, as well as anthropological literature on ancient cultures that have a long history of using naturally occurring and plant based psychedelics in a religious context.  

Students will have the unique opportunity to meet veteran psychedelic researchers like Dr. William Richards (Johns Hopkins University), as well as religious practitioners such as James Lawer (Druid College of New York). In addition to weekly readings and film screenings, students will conduct a semester-long research project on a particular individual or “psychonaut,” from the annals of psychedelic history, who experimented with psychedelics for religious or spiritual purposes. Project Psychonaut culminates with a final paper and a TED style lecture or interdisciplinary art presentation to the class. Students also have the opportunity to expand their psychedelic education through the program of training offered by visiting fellow and psychedelic researcher, Dr. Katherine MacLean.



Buddhism and Cognitive Science

This course is designed to explore and critically evaluate the central concepts and theories that are at the intersection between Buddhism and cognitive science. Students will examine seminal books and articles from the fields of social and clinical psychology, moral philosophy, phenomenology, neuroscience, and Buddhist studies. This course will touch on themes within those disciplines such as: intersubjectivity, the empathy-altruism hypothesis, the nature of self and other, meditation, and the application of experimental methods to study of human emotions and behavior. In addition to the traditional course requirements (i.e. exams and papers), students will have the opportunity to experiment with various meditation techniques in class. This course is recommended for students with at least one LREL or LPSY course. 

Masterpieces of Western Literature and Philosophy

Masterpieces of Western Literature and Philosophy, popularly known as “Lit Hum,” offers students the opportunity to engage in intensive study and discussion of some of the most significant texts of Western culture. An interdepartmental staff of professorial and preceptorial faculty meets with groups of approximately twenty-two students four hours a week to discuss texts by, among others, Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Vergil, Augustine, Dante, Boccaccio, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Austen, Dostoyevsky, and Woolf, as well as Hebrew scripture and New Testament writings. The objective of the course is to consider particular conceptions of what it means to be human and to consider the place of such conceptions in the development of critical thought.