Wouter J. Hanegraaff, PhD

University of Amsterdam

Psychedelics as Rejected Knowledge


In this presentation I will explore the relation between two different fields of academic research that share a common focus on “rejected knowledge.” In the study of religion since the 1990s, a large and complex field of previously neglected but important and influential traditions from late antiquity to the present are studied widely today under the label “Western esotericism.” In a large study published in 2012, I showed how this field as a whole was discredited and marginalized by scholars since the Enlightenment because they perceived it as the ideological counterpart of their own ideal identity and felt it must be excluded to protect the causes of science and rationality. Today we know that in actual fact, these attitudes of rejection were themselves irrational and unscientific, causing serious damage to the historiography of Western culture, religion, philosophy, and science. I will argue that we see the same discursive strategies and dynamics at work in the modern study of entheogens or psychedelics, with similar damage done to science and scholarship. I will use two examples (the so-called Mithras Liturgy from Roman Egypt, and the famous withes’ ointment) to show how and why major and otherwise extremely capable experts overlook, ignore, or play down incontrovertible evidence found in the primary sources. At the heart of these discursive battles we find a question of eminent importance to science and scholarship: what counts as acceptable and reliable “knowledge,” and which types of experiential knowledge-claims deserve to be dismissed as “fake”?


Wouter J. Hanegraaff is Professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Alongside numerous articles and seven edited volumes, he is the author of New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden 1996/Albany 1998); Lodovico Lazzarelli (1447-1500): The Hermetic Writings and Related Documents (Tempe 2005; with Ruud M. Bouthoorn); Swedenborg, Oetinger, Kant: Three Perspectives on the Secrets of Heaven (West Chester 2007); Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (Cambridge 2012); and Western Esotericism: A Guide for the Perplexed (London 2013).



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