Dr. Deborah Pruitt, PH.D., a cultural anthropologist, testified about what constitutes a religion and the differences between faith based and experience based religions. Below is a draft copy of her affidavit filed with the court.
Resume of Deborah J. Pruitt, Ph.D. (80.00 Kb)
DEBORAH PRUITT, PH.D. declares under penalty of perjury: I am a cultural anthropologist serving as tenured faculty member at Laney College at 900 Fallon Street, Oakland, CA, 94607. I also serve as an associate faculty member at the Western Institute for Social Research, 3220 Sacramento Street, Berkeley, CA. I was awarded the Ph.D. in Anthropology from University of California at Berkeley in 1993. My doctoral research was conducted in Jamaica, 1989-1991, during which I worked with numerous NGOs and community groups working on community development. These groups included two Rastafarian associations. One established a basic school and the other developed a crafts producers' collective. Peer reviewed publications include research on the cultural impact of tourism in Jamaica, women and family law in Jamaica, ethics in teaching anthropology, and ethics and cultural pluralism in professions. For the past seven years, I have taught courses on the anthropology of religion. These courses include a survey of the religious use of drugs from anthropological studies spanning the past century. For this reason I have been asked to explain the cultural context of the use of mind altering substances for religious purposes to the court. This declaration represents the perspective drawn from cross-cultural and pan-historical accounts of the use of psychotropic substances. This issue deserves much more attention than is possible in this declaration. This declaration is intended to be a summary and guide to decades of intensive research and insight into Page 1 the common uses of psychoactive substances for direct access to sacred forces and healing in the universal quest for a better life. I have provided references for further investigation into this very complex issue. I begin with a short explanation of what constitutes religion as a universal human phenomenon. What is religion? Religion is often mistakenly identified with established institutions. But religion is more accurately understood as a set of beliefs and practices that address the relationship between people and sacred, mystical forces. Every society of people has explained their existence as originating in mystical times and circumstances and have sought ways to reconnect and/or influence those forces from which they come (Eliade, 1949). Thus religion manifests in many forms in different societies and may include formal doctrine and institutions but often does not. The basis of what we call religion then, is the fact that humans universally are driven to seek experiences of unity with spiritual forces (Eliade, 1949; Harris, 1989). As I will explain below, people have employed numerous methods to do so. That pursuit leads to what are commonly called â€œreligious experiences.â€ A religious experience is a subjective state that has emotional and psychological elements that may involve fear, a general sense of well-being, or a profound sense of connection with a spiritual force. (Clark, 1958) It always involves an experience of something that exists beyond the individual and that is understood to be an essence of the universe ordinarily out of awareness. Clarkâ€™s definition of religion included the effect such an experience has on behaviors while one attempts to live her or his life in accord with the values derived from that inner experience. There is an important distinction to be made between religions based on faith (that doctrine or sacred scripture speak truth) and religions based on experience. Religions based on faith rely on full-time specialists to serve as intermediaries to spiritual realms and seek to influence the gods through prayer and ritual (Turner, 1972). Through special training they become the legitimated voices for the religious beliefs and practices, interpreting god's will for the populace. Religions based on experience revolve around creating the circumstances in which members can directly experience the numinous aspect of life. This is the ecstasy, or state of grace described in every major religious system and may include direct contact with spirits or deities. Adherents are sometimes referred to as "mystics." Examples include the magical rituals of Wicca, the spirit possession of vodun, Sufi trance dancing, or the healing journey of the shaman. Slotkin (1955:65) quotes a Comanche peyotist as saying "The white man talks about Jesus; we talk to Jesus." Gnostics fall in the category of religion based on experience (knowledge) - seeking direct experience of God and the divine nature within. As such, they comprise a mystical segment of Christianity analogous to Muslim Sufis, or Jewish Qabalists. Historically, we see that as religions became more formal and codified within doctrines and institutions, they became more faith based and reliant upon specialists. Established institutions show great concern over maintaining consistency of teachings and their doctrine. Competing interpretations are not allowed. Direct mystical experience is de-emphasized as more emphasis was placed on specialists and their roles as intermediaries between humans and the spirit realm. As doctrine is institutionalized, those groups that continue to emphasize direct experience of mystical realms and promote individual enlightenment are considered threatening to newly emerging order and are identified as heretical by the church authority, thus marginalized, and sometimes persecuted. Page 2 Early Christian history is a prime example. During the first century of Christianity there were many competing ideas and beliefs. Gnostics represented a substantial branch of Christianity at the time. Historians identify theologian St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon during much of the second century, as a prominent figure in establishing the early Christian canon and attacking Gnosticism as heresy. Their numbers quickly diminished and Gnostics have carried that legacy sense. Methods of Pursuit of the Sacred Cross-culturally, a myriad of methods have been employed for transcending ordinary everyday experience to enter into a sacred realm. These vary widely with cultural tradition and purpose. â€¢ Meditation may be passive or active. In active meditation, commonly used by shamans, the mind is focused on an object or sound such as rattling or drumming in a monotonous rhythm. â€¢ Spirit possession involves offering the self as a vessel for a spirit to enter and communicate with people on the earthly plane, bringing spiritual information and sometimes healing. â€¢ Isolation and sensory deprivation such as experienced through fasting, vision questing, or prolonged meditation are frequent modes of transcendence. We see these among the vision quests of Native American tribes as well as Buddhist and Christian monks. â€¢ Sleep deprivation is sometimes a component of altering consciousness, employed over a period of several days along with prayer and meditation. â€¢ Pain, usually self-inflicted, is a common form of worship and transcendence. Common across South Asian groups (where it is sometimes combined with spirit possession), present in the Native American Sun Dance, and Christian self-flagellation originating in 11th Century Italy and practiced across the world to this day. â€¢ Psychoactive substances are commonly used throughout the world. Religious use of Psychoactive Substances: The use of drugs for pleasure exists everywhere, however, religious purposes are the dominant use. Not all societies depend on psychoactive plants, but where they exist they are embedded in the culture and spiritual practices, playing important roles in the belief systems, social organization and economic behavior (Dobkin de Rios, 1990). They are seen everywhere to be sources of divine inspiration. Robert Forte (1997) writes, "Entheogens . . . alter consciousness in such a profound way that, depending on the set and setting, their effects can range from states resembling psychosis to what are perhaps the ultimate human experiences union with God or revelation of other mystical realities." Many studies by anthropologists, psychologists, religious scholars, and theologians have confirmed the spiritual significance of entheogens. Examples include Ralph Metzner (1968) Harvard psychologist; Walter Houston Clark (1969) professor of psychology of religion at Andover Newton Theological Seminary; Harvey Cox, a Harvard theologian; Huston Smith (2000) MIT theologian and comparative religion scholar; David Toolan (1987) Jesuit scholar; ethnopharmacologists Terrence and Dennis McKenna (1976); and anthropologists Peter Furst, (1972, 1990) Michael Harner (1973); Francis Huxley (1970); Jeremy Narby (1998) just to name a few. Commonly cited and well-studied examples are: Huichol peyote, Yanomamo ebene, Jivaro ayahuasca, Native North and South American tobacco, Rastafarian marijuana, Psilocybin Page 3 mushrooms in Mesoamerica, Arawak coyaba, Ancient Maya ritual enemas, Ancient Hindu soma, Aztec ololiuhqui (morning glory seeds), Eleusinian Mystery rites in ancient Athens, Australian Aborigines pituri, the Fang of Equatorial Africa and the use of Tabernanthe iboga, and many more. In summary, we can say that indigenous people across Russia, Africa, Mexico, South American, North America and Asia use a variety of psychoactive sacramentals (Jesse, Robert "Testimony of the Council on Spiritual Practices, 1995) The types of drugs most commonly used, called hallucinogens, are also frequently called â€œentheogensâ€ (from Greek roots meaning â€œto realize the divine withinâ€) to mark the use of substances for spiritual purposes. Researchers have identified the chemical and psycho-neural properties of entheogens as distinct from products such as cocaine and heroin that serve to prohibit addiction. â€œWere it not for the legal classification of most entheogens as Schedule I drugs, it would go without saying that the examples of entheogen use... bear virtually no resemblance to the patterns of abuse and addiction frequently seen with drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, and heroineâ€ (Schuster, 2001). This aspect, along with ritual setting are seen to generate the healing and enlightenment properties of drug use and preclude the damaging addictive effects of purely recreational use. Studies regarding the use of psychoactive substances for spiritual purposes identify a clear distinction between spiritual uses and recreational use of drugs. Key here is (1) the spiritual intent of its use and (2) the ritual context of its consumption - what we call â€œset and setting.â€ (Huxley, 1970, Schuster, 2001). The religious use of drugs everywhere is distinguished by the desire to achieve direct access to alternative realities for the purpose of spiritual insight and healing. This "set" of intention is distinct from secular drug use for recreation or escapism. The â€œdrugâ€ must be placed in service of an idea and consumed in a manner that provides for spiritual communication. Ritual provides the "setting," creating a structure for establishing an altered state of consciousness. Ritual is understood to be necessary to generate spiritual results and to protect from madness - from getting lost, losing touch with reality, or sliding into addictive use. Universally, the religious use of drugs is bound in ritual context, often with the guidance of a religious specialist referred to in the anthropological literature as a shaman. Those who are skilled in the use of psychoactive substances as a method through which to contact the spirit world in service to their communities and bring them physical and spiritual healing and spiritual guidance are called shamans. Shamanic traditions include an immense knowledge of plants and their properties - knowledge that science has barely begun to assess. The intention for the use of these substances is understood to affect the outcome of the experience. These plants are sacred in their native cultures for a reason - they are known to be powerful and will cause serious problems if abused (Narby, 1998). For instance, members of the Native American Church are emphatic that peyote should not be taken outside the ritual setting. The healing and spiritual wisdom available from peyote will not be available (Slotkin, 1955). Another revealing example from Native American cultures is that of tobacco. While tobacco is consumed by many people in the US habitually, it has a spiritual meaning in indigenous American cultures and is used to heal (Narby, 1998). The meaning and experience of drugs is culturally mediated. The fact that South American shamans can use tobacco to achieve spiritual visions and healing, while many habitually smoke dozens of cigarettes a day with no spiritual significance illustrates this. The substances that are considered sacred by most people in the world are prohibited in the US. The legal classification and prohibition of substances traditionally used for attaining spiritual enlightenment has further disconnected these entheogens from their spiritual context (Schuster). Page 4 The disciplined practice of transcending the material realm and the ego mind in order to connect with larger sources of knowledge and insight is a time honored tradition in every culture. Seeking direct access to and connection with the life giving forces bring wisdom and perspective to daily life. Psychoactive substances have played an important role in that pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. In fact, the use of psychoactive substances for religious purposes is so common throughout the world that it can be said that it is not the act of using a substance such as marijuana or peyote that is unusual or exceptional, rather it is the prohibition of such use that is peculiar. Prohibition of psychoactive substances has only occurred in very recent state organized societies that use their monopoly on power to constrain the population and guarantee its allegiance. Such prohibition can be seen as the ultimate limit to freedom - the freedom to make spiritual connections as one understands them. New Religious forms: From the view of mainstream religious institutions, new religious groups are generally seen as strange "cults", or even as charlatans. But new religious groups form all the time in response to new insight or something perceived as lacking in existing religious institutions. Thus, by definition, they are viewed as suspicious or even threatening by established religions. This does not make them any less â€œreligiousâ€ or sincere however. These were the beginnings of all religious institutions viewed as "mainstream" today. It could be argued that new religious forms necessarily spring from a highly genuine and sincere spiritual pursuit because of the effort it takes to articulate and develop a practice (or in the case of Gnostics, to revive one) rather than to follow an established conventional path. In addition, they must do so in the face of skepticism, sometimes ostracism, and at times, persecution. This is especially true in the U.S. when psychotropic substances are involved. The religious rhetoric surrounding their use is often dismissed as rationalization for getting an exemption from the laws that prohibit their use. This is likely due to lack of recognition of the distinction between recreational and religious use of drugs. DECLARED UNDER PENALTY OF PERJURY THIS 25th DAY OF APRIL, 2006 AT SAN FRANCISCO, CA /s/ Deborah Pruitt, Ph.D.