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Archive for the 'Psychology' Category

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Writing The Diagnostic System

The Diagnostic System

“On the one hand, many people would point out what a success the DSM has been, how it had consolidated an otherwise unmanageable scholarly field. Even when offering some qualifications about certain diagnostic criteria, these folks were clearly supportive. On the other hand, it was not uncommon for me to encounter people who vigorously criticized the DSM, root and branch, finding very little validity in its definitions or even much of value to the manual as a whole. To them, we might do just as well to get rid of it altogether and replace the DSM with something else.

It seemed to me they both had a point. ” — Jason Schnittker

This week, our featured book is The Diagnostic System: Why the Classification of Psychiatric Disorders Is Necessary, Difficult, and Never Settled, by Jason Schnittker. Today, we are happy to present part two of an excerpt from the book’s introduction. You can read part one here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Diagnostic System!

Writing The Diagnostic System
By Jason Schnittker

I wrote this book as a way to understand something I regularly encounter at academic meetings. I study psychiatric disorders, including what causes them, what consequences they have, and what people believe about them. The DSM has long played an important role in my life as a scholar, just as it has for virtually everybody else in the field. I provides us with a sort of lingua franca. I attend meetings with sociologists, like myself, but I also attend meetings with psychiatrics, physicians, and historians. We all study the same thing and have similar interests, but it was not uncommon for me to encounter two very different kinds of voices when it came to the DSM. On the one hand, many people would point out what a success the DSM has been, how it had consolidated an otherwise unmanageable scholarly field. Even when offering some qualifications about certain diagnostic criteria, these folks were clearly supportive. On the other hand, it was not uncommon for me to encounter people who vigorously criticized the DSM, root and branch, finding very little validity in its definitions or even much of value to the manual as a whole. To them, we might do just as well to get rid of it altogether and replace the DSM with something else.

It seemed to me they both had a point.

So I wanted to write a book that took a step back and asked why the classification of psychiatric disorders was always so fraught, and to offer arguments for why and how it might be controversial when we get around to writing DSM 6, 7, or 8.

The latest edition of the DSM is DSM-5. As with the editions before it, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the latest edition. What I think is especially remarkable about DSM-5, though, is how much more information its authors had in front of them when they wrote it. We know a lot more about psychiatric disorders today than we did in the 1970s, around the time DSM-III was being written. We know more about what causes psychiatric disorders, what psychiatric disorders look like at a neurological level, and some of the genes that put people at risk of developing a disorder. We also know a lot more about basic demographic patterns, including age and sex differences. DSM-5 was written by real experts. With all this as background, it was possible DSM-5 could have been a revolutionary change. But it really wasn’t. And, at least to me, it’s unclear how we can parlay our immense scientific knowledge about psychiatric disorders into better diagnostic criteria. (more…)

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

The Contested Ontology of Psychiatric Disorders, Part Two

The Diagnostic System

“This book seeks to answer three related questions: why the classification of psychiatric disorders is so difficult, why it is necessary to classify in the first place, and what problems (and solutions) follow from the kinds of classifications we create.” — Jason Schnittker

This week, our featured book is The Diagnostic System: Why the Classification of Psychiatric Disorders Is Necessary, Difficult, and Never Settled, by Jason Schnittker. Today, we are happy to present part two of an excerpt from the book’s introduction. You can read part one here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Diagnostic System!

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

The Contested Ontology of Psychiatric Disorders, Part One

The Diagnostic System

“Perhaps because the symptoms of mental illness are so common and explanations so easy to grasp, the concept of mental illness invites controversy. When everyone knows something about sadness—about what it feels like, about what causes it—claims of authority, even with respect to official diagnosis, can appear unnecessary or dubious.” — Jason Schnittker

This week, our featured book is The Diagnostic System: Why the Classification of Psychiatric Disorders Is Necessary, Difficult, and Never Settled, by Jason Schnittker. Today, we are happy to present part one of an excerpt from the book’s introduction.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Diagnostic System!

Monday, July 31st, 2017

Book Giveaway! The Diagnostic System

The Diagnostic System

“In an area too often marked by advocacy and polemic, The Diagnostic System provides a well-informed, judicious, and, in fact, invaluable guide to a complex body of scholarship and controversy. Perhaps most important, it addresses those complex interrelationships between individual experience and the social, cultural, and institutional circumstances that in part constitute that experience. It is an important book on a foundational if elusive set of questions.” — Charles E. Rosenberg, Harvard University

This week, our featured book is The Diagnostic System: Why the Classification of Psychiatric Disorders Is Necessary, Difficult, and Never Settled, by Jason Schnittker. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

Exciting Times in Brain Science

Genes, Brains, and Human Potential

“Far from confirming what was expected, the research results, in fact, are suggesting something else: no less than a fundamental re-appraisal of many of our basic concepts. They indicate that expectations – the models framing research – have been more based on ideological assumptions that objective science. This is what happens when social experiences, such as class-structure or conventional gender roles, come to shape the concepts upon which scientific research is based – and which scientific research is then expected to reinforce.” — Ken Richardson

This week, our featured book is Genes, Brains, and Human Potential: The Science and Ideology of Intelligence, by Ken Richardson. Today, we are happy to present an article by Richardson on why the mountains of new data about particulars of brain activities have failed to construct a coherent model of overall function – what the brain is really for.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Genes, Brains, and Human Potential!

Exciting Times in Brain Science
By Ken Richardson

“These are exciting times in…” That’s a well-worn cliché, of course. But in two fields of science, at least, it’s not so trite. Advances in genetics over the last twenty years or so have been remarkable. Now DNA can be sequenced, and genes, even their molecular components – and who has them, or not – can be identified.

So the scene has been set for discovering genetic associations with complex diseases, or even individual differences in potential for traits like intelligence or education. And maybe that information can be used for selecting individuals for careers or as a basis for precision treatments in schools or families. In streams of exhortations, educators everywhere are now being told to think “genetically”.

Likewise with the brain: we’re enjoying a period of terrific breakthroughs, teeming with details about structure and function. New methods, particularly in “brain imaging”, have even produced speculation that the true nature of intelligence itself – and, again, who has it, or who does not – can be worked out “in the brain”. So teachers and educators are also being encouraged to be “brain scientists”.

But vaulting claims and promissory notes are one thing, reality another. High hopes about pinpointing genes are turning to disappointments. For well-defined medical conditions even weak genetic correlations have been difficult to establish. The difficulties are hugely magnified for traits like intelligence, for which there is not even agreed definition (quite apart from falling into the trap of automatically treating correlations as causes). (more…)

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

Introducing Genes, Brains, and Human Potential

Genes, Brains, and Human Potential

“Whatever powerful new technologies are applied [to questions about the causes of variation in human potential], we will still only get slightly more sophisticated expressions of essentially the same message. That is because the concepts themselves are really only veneered expressions of a very old—albeit often unconscious—ideology, rooted in the class, gender, and ethnic structure of society: a ladder view of a social order imposed on our genes and brains.” — Ken Richardson

This week, our featured book is Genes, Brains, and Human Potential: The Science and Ideology of Intelligence, by Ken Richardson. To kick the feature off, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s preface.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Genes, Brains, and Human Potential!

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Book Giveaway! Genes, Brains, and Human Potential, by Ken Richardson

Genes, Brains, and Human Potential

“In his latest book, Genes, Brains, and Human Potential, Richardson has again creatively illuminated the bases and limitations of genetic reductionist accounts of human intelligence, showing how cutting-edge research provides a valid alternative to such counterfactual and egregiously flawed models. Informative and inspiring, he convincingly counters these failed accounts of intelligence, forwarding a new relational theory of human development.” — Richard M. Lerner, Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science and Director, Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development Tufts University

This week, our featured book is Genes, Brains, and Human Potential: The Science and Ideology of Intelligence, by Ken Richardson. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

What the Election of President Trump May Mean for Mental Health Policy

Losing Tim

This is part of an ongoing series of posts in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Paul Gionfriddo, author of Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia, discusses how mental health policy will be affected by a Trump presidency:

What the Election of President Trump May Mean for Mental Health Policy
By Paul Gionfriddo

The election of Donald Trump as President will influence mental health services in America. We just don’t know how.

We have generated significant positive momentum for mental health system reform during the past two years. The federal government has begun to lay a new foundation for a modern, community-based system of mental health services.

This has been no small feat. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, federal policymakers initially could come to no consensus about how they should respond. Some argued for more deep-end services for individuals who were a danger to themselves or others. Others wanted stricter gun control laws to keep weapons out of the hands of most people with serious mental health conditions.

The earliest ideas did not consider the bigger picture – that mental illnesses are most frequently diseases of childhood, and seldom manifest in violent or dangerous acts.

Losing Tim helped change those perceptions. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA), the leading House proponent of mental health reform legislation, cited the narrative as one of the reasons he changed his approach in the legislation he authored. And Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted that his companion Senate proposal was “for the countless people like Tim” who, he argued, deserve a mental health system that works.

My own organization, Mental Health America, made prevention, early intervention, integrated services, and recovery the pillars of our work. We argued that by applying a “danger to self or others” standard as a trigger to treatment for mental illnesses, we made them the only chronic diseases that we wait until Stage 4 to treat – and then often inappropriately through incarceration.

We argued that we needed to act sooner to help children and young adults, and developed a multi-faceted educational campaign promoting early identification and intervention built around the hashtag “B4Stage4.”

The established mental health advocacy community organized itself around a common set of the principles we shared and around the more comprehensive legislative proposals that evolved. The House and Senate bills gained bipartisan traction and momentum. As election day came, we were poised to celebrate the Lame Duck session passage of the most significant federal mental health legislation since President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Centers Act back in 1963, and to build on this in 2017.

Now there is a sense of uncertainty about what will come next.

I do not believe that there will be a seismic shift in the mental health policy landscape in the coming years that will undermine the progress we have made.

For one thing, the President-elect experienced the death of his older brother Freddy at the age of 43 from a substance use disorder, and knows first-hand the toll behavioral illnesses take on families. For another, Vice President-elect Mike Pence worked to improve mental health services in his state during his time as Governor of Indiana.

Also, the newly elected Congress looks very much like the Congress that came before it, with many strong proponents of mental health reform remaining in positions of leadership and influence. Finally, the advocacy community was prepared to continue to work together no matter what the election outcome.

Still, there are many issues that surfaced during the campaign that may have a profound effect on people with mental illnesses.

One is the move to amend the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

ACA made mental health benefits “essential health benefits” that had to be covered by all insurers. It also enabled the expansion of Medicaid to support single adults with chronic diseases, including mental illnesses. In requiring insurers to offer coverage despite pre-existing conditions, it also made sure that when children with serious mental illnesses became adults, they did not become uninsured.

President-elect Trump has said that he favors retention of the pre-existing condition provision. But if the essential health benefits are changed or insurers can pay out less for those with pre-existing conditions, it could take the teeth out of that commitment.

President-elect Trump also proposed block-granting Medicaid. This would not be hard, because the federal Medicaid program is already fifty different state Medicaid programs operated under a common set of federal rules. If the payments were bundled and some of those rules were left in place, that could be a good thing.

States might use the flexibility they are granted to innovate to cover housing, employment supports, and peer support services that people with mental illnesses need.

However, if dollars are reduced when they are blocked together – as happened in the 1980s and led in part to the inadequate state systems of care that persist today – then people will get less access to services and supports, not more.

President-elect Trump has also said that he will be “tough on crime.” People in jail and prison are significantly more likely to have mental health and substance use disorders than people who are not incarcerated. If being tough on crime means putting more people with mental illnesses into the criminal justice system, then that would just accelerate the revolving door of hospitalization, frequent incarceration, and chronic homelessness that characterizes our system today.

Meanwhile, several more states also legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use. Marijuana has often been called a gateway drug. For many people with serious mental illnesses, it is a gateway to jail.

As state policies become friendlier to people who self-medicate, they could mitigate tougher federal sanctions.

This is why we must be vigilant. It will take some time for everything to sort itself out.

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Why Do We Overeat at Thanksgiving?

Neurogastronomy

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we are examining one of the darker traditions of the holiday: overeating. Sure, the food is delicious and plentiful, but we should know better. Are there scientific factors that can explain why we stuff ourselves every Thanksgiving?

The following is an excerpt from Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters, by Gordon Shepherd. In this excerpt, Shepherd begins by taking a close look at fast food and then moves on to some of the neurological reasons for why we overeat at Thanksgiving and other times of the year.

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Is Not Ours The Most Exhausted Age in History?

Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

We continue our week-long feature on Exhaustion: A History, by Anna Katharina Schaffner, at the beginning with the introduction to the book (see below).

Schaffner argues that while today’s world might seem particularly stressful or pressured, we have felt exhausted throughout history. The introduction lays out some of the key questions she considers in the book:

There is no doubt that the specter of exhaustion shapes both public debates and lived experience in the early twenty-first century, chiming eerily with our weary zeitgeist. Is not ours the most exhausted age in history? And does the current epidemic of exhaustion not threaten the very future of the human animal? There are many who believe this to be the case.9 Yet before simply assenting to this assessment of our times, there is another question that needs to be asked: What do we really mean when we speak of exhaustion? In spite of the ubiquity and the metaphorical potency of the term, and its many applications in medical, psychological, economic, and political debates, exhaustion is a slippery concept, one that borders on, and often overlaps with, various others. How can we define exhaustion, and how can we demarcate it from related ideas and diagnoses? Is exhaustion a state that we can quantify scientifically, or is it a wholly subjective experience? Is it primarily a physical or a mental condition? Is it predominantly an individual or a wider sociocultural experience? Is it really the bane of our age, something that is intimately bound up with modernity and its discontents, or have other historical periods also seen themselves as the most exhausted?

Schaffner also examines the central contradiction that makes exhaustion so central and difficult to avoid both as a state and a concept, particularly in today’s world:

Finally, exhaustion is bound up with two contradictory desires: the concept chimes with us because, on the one hand, we all long for rest and the permanent cessation of exertion and struggle. A part of us wishes to return to an earthly paradise, from which work is banished—a state that resembles childhood, in which we are relieved of all responsibilities, and where everything revolves around pleasure. Yet, on the other hand, work is crucial not only for our survival but also for the shaping of our identity. It is bound up with self-realization and autonomy. In our age, moreover, work is particularly overdetermined: boundaries between public and private selves, between work and leisure, and profession and calling, are becoming ever more blurred.

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “Exhaustion: A History”

This week we are featuring Exhuastion: A History, by Anna Katharina Schaffner.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Exhuastion: A History to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, July 15th at 1:00 pm.

Edward Shorter, author of How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown, writes, “Exhaustion is fluently written and brilliantly argued, and it will provoke thoughtful minds with the suggestion that exhaustion has a history.”

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Debunking the Myth That Lincoln Was Gay

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“I’d been working on Lincoln since 1973. But he’s such a profound man with such a wonderful sense of humor, so appealing, so he draws you in. He’s such a brilliant writer. Every story about Lincoln, whether it’s in the oral history, whether it’s something he wrote, it’s always interesting. He’s just an appealing human being. I don’t think he was so modest. On the other hand, he wasn’t wildly grandiose. There’s a difference. He was aware of his own greatness.” — Charles Strozier

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. Today, for the final day of the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt of Strozier’s interview with Ronald K. Fried at The Daily Beast. Read the interview and accompanying article in full on The Daily Beast‘s website.

[Ronald K. Fried] spoke with Strozier at his Greenwich Village psychoanalytical office. The following is an edited version of [their] conversation.

RKF: How common was it for men to share the same bed during Lincoln’s time?

Charles Strozier: Very common. One guy has counted 14 people—men— Lincoln slept with before he slept with Speed. Inns at the time were really just homes where they finished the loft. They weren’t hotels like we have now. They were just hostels, where you have the men over here and the women over there. But individual biography is not always congruent with social custom. The fact that it was common for men to sleep together doesn’t mean that it was of no significance that Lincoln at this crucial moment in his life slept for nearly four years with his absolute best friend. The question is, what does it mean?

Friendship between men in Lincoln’s time was very different, right?

I think the historical context is really important to understand. Now where homosexuality is so much more accepted, legitimated, and even affirmed as it should be in gay marriage, we accept males loving one another and being sexual with one another. But in the 19th century, the taboo of homosexuality is absolutely rigid. Whitman was gay. He had to stay in the closet. Sodomy, buggery, was illegal and severely prescribed. But friendship, intimate, loving friendship like that between Lincoln and Speed, was not only accepted but encouraged as the long as the boundary against sexualization was rigidly and absolutely maintained.

But couldn’t you say that homosexuality was so severely punished that Lincoln—if he were gay—would have had to hide it?

Of course. It’s a perfect reasonable question, and that’s why I had to look at the evidence for whether or not it was legitimate. And, of course, it’s hard to answer a negative. First of all, Herndon [Lincoln’s eventual biographer], who lived in the same room for two years [with Lincoln and Speed], not only never mentioned it, he never had a clue. And no one would have been more interested in anything homosexual about Lincoln. Not a single person Herndon talked to mentioned it. (more…)

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Introducing “Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln”

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“Nearly every detail of the narrative arc in Lincoln’s life between 1837 and 1842 has been hotly debated; in fact, it is fair to say that, while books will undoubtedly continue to be written about all facets of Abraham Lincoln’s life, the meaning of these years represents the last area of real disagreement about Lincoln’s identity and character.” — Charles Strozier

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. Today, we have excerpted Strozier’s Preface to Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln:

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

The New World of Male Friendship

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“All kinds of theories have been offered to explain Lincoln’s action, most mutually exclusive, from his supposed sexual love for Speed; to his infatuation with the beautiful Matilda Edwards who arrived in Springfield in November; to his sense of inadequacy with the lordly Todds; to Mary actually taking the decisive action. The evidence, most of it contradictory, supports none of these theories altogether, and the reason for the broken engagement has remained an enigma for most of the last century and a half.” — Charles Strozier

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. Today, we are happy to present a guest post from Strozier, in which he gives an overview of the close male friendship between Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, and explains why that friendship has become such a touchstone for controversy.

The New World of Male Friendship
Charles B. Strozier

Men talk of bromance and a new kind of buddy system, of searching for soul mates, even love, but not in the context of sex. That is the point in this new world of male friendship. It is relatively new, and very old, at the same time. In fact, the most interesting example of close male friendship in American history may be Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed.

Lincoln struggled as a young man with issues of intimacy and depression. He was always moody, but in his late 20s and early 30s, and only then, he was twice suicidal: first after the death of his betrothed, Ann Rutledge, in 1835 in New Salem, and then six years later after he broke off his engagement with Mary Todd.

He was saved, in a very real sense, through his friendship with Joshua Speed. That friendship unfolded in its most important phase between 1837, when Lincoln arrived in Springfield, Illinois, at 28 years of age, and ended up living with Speed, then 22 years of age, above Speed’s dry goods store on the west side of the square and sleeping with him in the same large, double bed for nearly the next four years. All the (good) historical evidence suggests the relationship was loving but not sexualized. (more…)

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“Lincoln was the hub of an important wheel of political and social life, and Strozier has repaired the missing spoke that is Joshua Speed. He has done so in part by re-connecting Speed to Lincoln’s other friends and acquaintances, to provide as full a picture of these young American men’s interior lives as we are likely to get. His use of often-ignored archival sources is brilliant.” — James M. Cornelius, Lincoln curator, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, June 3rd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Dharma and Drugs

Altered States

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In the final post of the week’s feature, we are happy to share Douglas Osto’s conversation with Erik Davis on the Expanding Mind podcast as they talk perennialism, experiential narratives, the limits of reason, and Altered States.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

A Neuropsychological Model of Altered States of Consciousness

Altered States

“Since the feeling of being transported to “somewhere else” in an altered state appears to be a cross-cultural, psychological universal, possibly related to the physiological hardwiring of the human brain, one could hypothesize the existence of certain naturally occurring chemicals in the brain, like DMT, that can act in similar ways as LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline.” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s post,

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Douglas Osto on the relationship between Buddhism and psychedelics in America

Altered States

“I wrote this book because I was interested in a question, and the question was, ‘what’s happened in the relationship between Buddhism and psychedelics since the 60s?’” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s video, Osto details some of the questions that led him to write, the methods he used in his research, and the structure of the book itself.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Buddhism, Psychedelic Spirituality, and the Religious Landscape of America

Altered States

“These altered states by their very nature exceed the bounds of reason and challenge existing paradigms. We as human beings tend to fear the novel, strange, weird, and extraordinary. Thus it is not surprising that the status quo often is highly suspect of new religious movements, or “cults,” and generally attempts to suppress them, often with extreme prejudice. However, fear is not our only instinct, and hopefully not our strongest.” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s post, excerpted from the book’s preface, Osto explains that he hopes to tell “the story of how Buddhism and psychedelic spirituality coemerged, mutually influenced each other, and forever changed the religious landscape of America.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

“Man’s greatest dread is the expansion of consciousness.”
—Henry Miller, Time of the Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud

This book does not promote breaking the law of any land; nor does it demonize, denigrate, or dismiss anyone’s religious/spiritual beliefs or practices. As an American born and bred, I have a strong conviction in the individual’s right to freedom of religion. As far as my political views concerning the use of psychoactive substances, I describe myself as libertarian. I believe every adult individual’s body is her own sovereign domain; thus every rational person has a right to do whatever she wants to her body without the interference of a paternalistic government legislating what is in her best interests. Also, in regard to morality, my Catholic upbringing has convinced me of the supremacy of one’s individual conscience. And legality and morality are clearly different things. For example, many today (myself included) would regard the persecution of someone for his sexual orientation or possession of another human being as someone’s property to be immoral acts. However, in the United Kingdom, for example, homosexuality was punishable as a crime until 1967, and slavery was legal in parts of the Empire until 1843.

It should be clear from the above comments that I am not against the use of psychoactive substances for religious/spiritual purposes, regardless of whether such use is deemed “illegal” by some governments. Since I believe an individual’s freedom to religion, absolute sovereignty of her own body, and individual conscience each trump any current laws of the land, I find arguments against the religious use of psychoactives based on the legal status of these substances unconvincing. Moreover, claims that someone should not practice his religion because it could be “dangerous” to his health are equally unconvincing. First, the real health risks of the classic psychedelics appear minimal when compared to the risks of using legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Second, legislating against a person’s or group’s religion out of concern for their health is paternalistic in the extreme. Early Christianity was both illegal and hazardous to your health if you lived in the Roman Empire. And yet, as Tertullian wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” In other words, without the outlawed and dangerous activities of the early Christians, Christianity would not be a world religion today. (more…)

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America

Altered States

Altered States genuinely moves forward in laying a path for new, insightful, and valuable information on the American Buddhism that is developing in our global society. Osto’s groundbreaking research will be appreciated by scholars, and his accessible style will be enjoyed by non-academic readers.” — Charles Prebish, Utah State University

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Altered States. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, May 13th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!