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Promises and Perils of the Psychedelic Renaissance: A Critical Perspective from the Humanities

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The 21st century has seen the development of the “psychedelic renaissance” (Kotler, Sessa), manifested in the resurgence of clinical research with psychedelic and empathogenic substances, which coexists with an increasing proliferation of retreats and healing practices that use these same substances in a more or less clandestine manner.  This “renaissance” has also led to a type of tourism centered on the consumption of so-called master, sacred, or medicinal plants, which has both economic and environmental implications for the receiving communities. For example, tourism in indigenous communities in Mexico for the consumption of psilocybin mushrooms or peyote, or in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Costa Rica in search of ayahuasca retreats.

Moreover, since the publication of Michael Pollan’s best-selling How to Change Your Mind in 2018, positive spotlighting of psychedelic substances by celebrities and internet media personalities and even some wider audience media, such as the documentaries Fantastic Fungi (2021) or the adaptation of Pollan’s book (2022) on Netflix, have led to mainstreaming and increased interest in experiences that used to be termed “countercultural” or beyond the limits of socially acceptable behavior.  At the same time, mass media products are now producing normalizing representations of the drug experience (and very particularly the psychedelic experience) that turn away from typical “law and order” or moralizing framings that characterized earlier representations.

These developments warrant a critical engagement from the Humanities, addressing not only the representation of the psychedelic experience in contemporary cultural artifacts, but also a deeper theoretical engagement with the promises and potential impacts of psychedelic therapies and practices in their interplay with the environment and society.  Thus, we invite an exploration of questions and topics such as:

—The interplay of perception and cognition with culture and social discourse, as mediated by psychedelic substances

—Epistemological and cultural underpinnings of the concept of “psychedelic therapy”

—Convergences between the biomedical and the cultural in the psychedelic experience

—21st century literary, artistic, and media representations of the psychedelic experience

—The Other in psychedelic spaces: exclusions along class, gender, and racial lines

—Gender, queer, and sexual expression in psychedelics

—Neocolonial psychedelia: environmental impact, cultural appropriation, and/or biopiracy in current psychoactive and medicinal practices

—The politics of psychedelia, from “cognitive liberty” to “acid communism.”

—Contemporary philosophies of psychedelics

—Spiritual, mystic, and/or naturalistic expressions in psychedelic discourse

—Repression and prohibitionism of psychedelics and legislative challenges

—Activism, harm reduction, and drug user unions


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