Transpersonal anthropology

Transpersonal anthropology is a subdiscipline of cultural anthropology. It studies the relationship between altered states of consciousness and culture.

As with transpersonal psychology, the field is much concerned with altered states of consciousness (ASC) and transpersonal experience. However, the field differs from mainstream transpersonal psychology in taking more cognizance of cross-cultural issues—for instance, the roles of myth, ritual, diet, and texts in evoking and interpreting extraordinary experiences.[1]

Topics such as ASC in the traditional teachings of indigenous people, shamanism and ASC, ASC in response to ingestion of traditional hallucinogenetic herbs, etc., may be of interest to transpersonal anthropologists. Also, the role of culture in laying the foundations for, in evoking, in cultivating or thwarting, and in interpreting ASC is seen as fundamental to understanding the incidence and function of transpersonal experiences among the planet's many and varied societies.


Sheppard [2] has noted how transpersonal anthropology can be said to have begun in the USA in the 1970s. She refers to the work of Charles D. Laughlin, and also to works by Al-Issa [3] and Edith Turner,[4] wife of the anthropologist Victor Turner. Laughlin, who may be considered to be one of the founders of the field, has published extensively on the topic of Transpersonal Anthropology.[5][6][7][8][9]

Sheppard[2] explains how Edith Turner's interpretations of her husband's field studies among the Ndembu in Zambia can be interpreted as belonging to transpersonal anthropology, insofar as her interpretations of their healing rituals were transpersonal. More recently, Sheppard [10] has published an article criticising transpersonal anthropology, at least as it has typically been practiced in contemporary scholarship. Her criticisms include its lack of a systematic conceptual base; its over-emphasis on shamanism; the difficulty in studying non-Western cultures that have been truly immune to Western influences and the question of the extent to which transpersonal anthropology has really addressed altered states of consciousness.

Al-Issa's work

Al-Issa's [3] paper dealt with hallucinations, and the cultural aspects of them. Here, Al-Issa notes how not all cultures have negative views on hallucinations. Cross-cultural differences are noted by Al-Issa in sensory modalities most commonly encountered in hallucinations.

See also

References and sources

  1. Young, David E. and J.-G. Goulet (1994) Being Changed by Cross-cultural Encounters: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experiences. Peterborough: Broadview Press.
  2. 1 2 Sheppard, E. (2006) "Our worlds beyond." Transpersonal Psychology Review 10 (1):63-70.
  3. 1 2 Al-Issa, A. (1995). "The Illusion of Reality and Reality of Illusion." British Journal of Psychiatry 166 (3)368-373.
  4. Turner, Edith (1996) The Hands Feel It: Healing and Spirit Presence Among a Northern Alaskan People. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press.
  5. Laughlin, Charles D., McManus, John and Shearer, Jon (1983) "Dreams, Trance and Visions: What a Transpersonal Anthropology Might Look Like". Phoenix: Journal of Transpersonal Anthropology 7 (1/2):141-159.
  6. Laughlin, Charles D. (1988) "Transpersonal Anthropology: Some Methodological Issues." Western Canadian Anthropology 5:29-60.
  7. Laughlin, Charles D. (1994) "Psychic Energy and Transpersonal Experience: A Biogenetic Structural Account of the Tibetan Dumo Practice," in Being Changed by Cross-cultural Encounters: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experiences (ed. by D.E. Young and J.-G. Goulet). Peterborough: Broadview Press, pp. 99–134.
  8. Laughlin, Charles D. (1994) "Transpersonal Anthropology, Then and Now." Transpersonal Review 1(1): 7-10.
  9. Laughlin, Charles D. (1994) "Apodicticity: The Problem of Absolute Certainty in Transpersonal Anthropology." Anthropology & Humanism 19(2): 1-15.
  10. Sheppard, E. (2007). Anthropology and the development of the transpersonal movement: Finding the transpersonal in transpersonal anthropology. Transpersonal Psychology Review 11(1) 59-69 ISSN 1366-6991.
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