Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences



by William A. Richards

From the Publisher: In the early 1960s, scientists openly advocated for experimentation with psychedelics. This effort, however, quickly turned into a discredited enterprise involving recreational drug use. But what if a study of psychedelics was undertaken with trusted scientific rigor? William A. Richards does just that in Sacred Knowledge, the first well-documented, sophisticated account of the effect of psychedelics on biological processes, human consciousness, and revelatory religious experiences. Richards argues that, if used responsibly and legally, psychedelics have incredible potential to assuage human suffering and constructively contribute to the quality of life on our planet. His work is based on nearly three decades of legal research with volunteers aged twenty-four to eighty-one. Sacred Knowledge enriches humanities and scientific scholarship, expanding work in philosophy, anthropology, theology, and religious studies, as well as in mental health, psychotherapy, and psychopharmacology. Richards’s analysis also contributes to social and political debates over the responsible integration of psychedelic substances into modern society. His book is an invaluable resource for readers who, whether spontaneously or with the facilitation of psychedelics, have encountered meaningful, inspiring, or even disturbing states of consciousness and seek clarity about their experiences. Testing the limits of language and conceptual frameworks, Richards makes the most of experiential phenomena that stretch our concepts of reality and advances new frontiers in the study of belief, spiritual awakening, psychiatric treatment, and social well-being.

Praise for the Book: “An inspiring testament to half a century of scientific research and personal exploration into the responsible, beneficial use of psychedelic substances. William A. Richards’s work is visionary, personal, and transpersonal, instilled with kindness, deep humanity, and quiet wisdom.” — Don Lattin, author of The Harvard Psychedelic Club

“This is a great book which I highly recommend. It is an immersive experience, which provides an opportunity for those unfamiliar with nonordinary states of consciousness to catch a glimpse of their beauty and power. William A. Richards seamlessly weaves together his extensive understanding of spirituality on the one hand and academic and clinical science on the other – a rare combination. His humour, insights, and empathy shine through on every page. The topic is timely and a manifestation of the fact that the intellectual battle regarding the potential of nonordinary states of consciousness (as, in this case, facilitated by psychedelics) has been won.” — Amanda Feilding, director, Beckley Foundation

“Sacred Knowledge provides the most comprehensive overview of the actual use of psychedelics in psychotherapy and of the transformative power of mystical experiences.” — Torsten Passie, Hannover Medical School

“Richards’ Sacred Knowledge is not a tome but rather a concise work rich with personal stories, observations, and insights into a compelling topic long ignored and now garnering the attention it has long deserved. — Charles S. Grob, University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine

“A seminal work that will become required reading for anyone seriously interested in either religious experience or psychedelic research. There has not been a book in this area as valuable since William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, more than a century ago.” — James Fadiman, author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys

About the Author: William A. Richards is a clinical psychologist at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center with formal training in theology and comparative religion. Earlier in his career, he pursued psychedelic research at Spring Grove Hospital Center and the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in Baltimore. His graduate education included studies at Yale University, Brandeis University, Catholic University, the Andover-Newton Theological School, and the University of Göttingen.

ISBN-10: 0231174063    –    ISBN-13: 978-0231174060

Additional information

Weight 20.8 oz
Dimensions 9.2 × 6.3 × 1.1 in