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Title: Mild everyday altered states of consciousness
Author: Sheppard, Eileen
ISNI:       0000 0004 5354 6592
Awarding Body: London Metropolitan University
Current Institution: London Metropolitan University
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis presents an ethnographic study of altered states of consciousness (ASCs). Such states have been of interest to some writers in social anthropology (Turner 1992, Bourguignon 1989) and in some areas of psychology, especially transpersonal psychology (Beischel et al 2011:114, Vaughan 1993:160). But these literatures reveal a focus on rather extreme experiences not found in everyday life. There has been very little interest in milder altered states which are very common in our experience. These became the focus of the project. A literature review begins with an appraisal of writing in mainstream psychology on consciousness. A lack of study of ASCs is identified. The work of William James is reviewed as an important theorist for this thesis in his study of consciousness, particularly his 'stream of consciousness' (James 1950:239). James is seen to form a bridge between mainstream psychology and the development of trans personal psychology, a central theoretical perspective for this thesis. The development ofthe transpersonal psychology movement is explored. The transpersonal concerns 'those experiences which allegedly enable the individual to see beyond the conditioned ego and to identify some deeper and more enduring sense of self (Fontana & Slack 2005:7). The work of Maslow, Stanislav Grof and James is reviewed, particularly James's work on mystical states (James 1982, 1911). Key theoretical issues are identified: the problem of belief, universalism/relativism debates, validity of spiritual experience, and the 'participatory' in the work of Jorge Ferrer. Transpersonal anthropology is a sister movement and forms the second key theoretical perspective. Anthropological study of religion and spiritual beliefs and practices is traced through its early history in the work of Lucien Levy-Bruhl and Emile Durkheim. The Literary Turn in anthropology and also the participatory as a method are seen to open up the study of trans personal experience on its own terms. The work of Victor and Edith Turner forms a key reference point in this review. Key issues explored in transpersonal psychology are revisited here. A short consideration of literature on ASCs as healing is also presented, as well as literatures specific to each group studied. The methodology used draws on theoretical and practical debates around dialogic anthropology, and also participant observation. The history and development of ethnography is explored, particularly the 'Writing Culture' debates. Ethnographic fieldwork was carried out over a period of three years. Groups of individuals were chosen whose activities were ASC-inducing. These were members of a Hindu temple and a Lubavitch Jewish synagogue, members of a sport training group, users of a local forest , a musical instrument-maker group who were also musicians, and various excessive viewers of television. Fieldwork revealed patterns and types of ASCs, many of which are not found in the literature: absorbed, daydream and transcendent types; mindful/mindless ASCs; 'top-up' ASCs; a sport triple ASC; a total 'Lifeworld' ASC, a dialogue between positive and negative ASCs, and ASCs reaching beyond the self. The therapeutic value of these are highlighted in the lives of participants. Wider patterns are also discussed, such as sacred experience in secular contexts, collective ASCs and 'communitas' (Turner 2012), and challenges to boundaries of so-called 'reality out there' and fantasy.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available