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{Transpsy}} 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 (Young and Goulet 1994).

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.


Shepperd (2006) has noted how transpersonal anthropology can be said to have began in the USA in the 1970s. She refers to the work of one of the leaders of the discipline, Charles D. Laughlin, and also to works by Al-Issa (1995) and Edith Turner (1996), wife of the anthropologist Victor Turner. Shepperd 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.

Al-Issa's work[]

Al-Issa's (1995) 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.

Visual hallucinations appear to be common in some African communities, whereas in a culture such as the United Kingdom hearing voices appears to be more common. This is certainly the case for patients diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Related Sites[]


Al-Issa (1977) "Social and Cultural Aspects of Hallucinations," Psychological Bulletin 84 167-176.

Al-Issa, A. (1995). "The Illusion of Reality and Reality of Illusion." British Journal of Psychiatry 166 (3)368-373.

Barnouw, Victor (1946) "Paranormal Phenomena and Culture." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 40:2-21.

Bourguignon, E. (1973) Religion, Altered States of Consciousness, and Social Change. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press.

Campbell, R.L. and P.S. Staniford (1978) "Transpersonal Anthropology." Phoenix: The Journal of Transpersonal Anthropology 2(1):28-40.

Coult, Allan D. (1977) Psychedelic Anthropology. Philadelphia: Dorrance.

Dobkin de Rios, M. (1984) Hallucinogens: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Dobkin de Rios, M. and M. Winkelman, eds. (1989) Shamanism and Altered States of Consciousness. Special issue of the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 21(1).

Furst, Peter (1976) Hallucinogens and Culture. San Francisco: Chandler and Sharp.

Grindal, Bruce T. (1983) "Into the Heart of Sisala Experience: Witnessing Death Divination." Journal of Anthropological Research 39(1):60-80.

Halifax, Joan (1975) Shamanic Voices. New York: Dutton.

Harner, Michael J. (1973) Hallucinogens and Shamanism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Katz, Richard (1982) Boiling Energy: Community Healing Among the Kalahari Kung. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Laughlin, Charles D. (1985) "On the Spirit of the Gift". Anthropologica 27 (1-2): 137-159.

Laughlin, Charles D. (1988) "Transpersonal Anthropology: Some Methodological Issues." Western Canadian Anthropology 5:29-60.

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.

Laughlin, Charles D. (1994) "Transpersonal Anthropology, Then and Now." Transpersonal Review 1(1): 7-10.

Laughlin, Charles D. (1994) "Apodicticity: The Problem of Absolute Certainty in Transpersonal Anthropology." Anthropology & Humanism 19(2): 1-15.

Laughlin, Charles D., John McManus and Eugene G. d'Aquili (1990) Brain, Symbol and Experience: Toward a Neurophenomenology of Consciousness. New York: Columbia University Press.

Laughlin, Charles D., John McManus and Eugene G. d'Aquili (1993) "Mature Contemplation." Zygon 28(2): 133-176.

Laughlin, Charles D., John McManus, Robert A. Rubinstein and Jon Shearer (1986) "The Ritual Transformation of Experience." Studies in Symbolic Interaction 7 (Part A) (Norman K. Denkin, ed.), Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Laughlin, Charles D., John McManus and Jon Shearer (1983) "Dreams, Trance and Visions: What a Transpersonal Anthropology Might Look Like". Pheonix: Journal of Transpersonal Anthropology 7 (1/2):141-159.

Laughlin, Charles D., John McManus and Jon Shearer (1993) "The Function of Dreaming in the Cycles of Cognition." in The Function of Dreaming (ed. by A. Moffitt et al.). Albany: SUNY Press.

Laughlin, Charles D., John McManus and Mark Webber (1985) "Neurognosis, Individuation and Tibetan Arising Yoga Practice." Phoenix: The Journal of Transpersonal Anthropology 8 (1/2): 91-106.

Laughlin, Charles D. and C. Jason Throop (2003) “Experience, Culture, and Reality: The Significance of Fisher Information for Understanding the Relationship Between Alternative States of Consciousness and the Structures of Reality.” International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 22:7-26.

Lederman, Carol (1988) "Wayward Winds: Malay Archetypes, and Theory of Personality in the Context of Shamanism." Social Science and Medicine 27(8):799-810.

Lincoln, J.S. (1935) The Dream in Primitive Culture. London: The Cresset Press.

Long, Joseph K. (1976) "Shamanism, Trance, Hallucinogens, and Psychical Events: Concepts, Methods, and Techniques for Fieldwork among Primitives." In Realm of the Extra-Human. A. Bharati (ed.), p. 45. The Hague: Mouton.

Long, J.K., ed. (1977) Extrasensory Ecology. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

MacDonald, George F., Charles D. Laughlin, John McManus and John Cove (1988) "Mirrors, Portals and Multiple Realities." Zygon 23 (4):39-64.

MacDonald, J.L. (1981) "Theoretical Continuities in Transpersonal Anthropology." Phoenix: The Journal of Transpersonal Anthropology 5(1):31-47.

Noll, R. (1985) "Mental Imagery Cultivation as a Cultural Phenomenon: The Role of Visions in Shamanism." Current Anthropology 26:443-451, 457-461.

Peters, L.G. and D. Price-Williams (1980) "Towards an Experiential Analysis of Shamanism." American Ethnologist 7(3): 397-413.

Shepperd, E. (2006) "Our worlds beyond." Transpersonal Psychology Review 10 (1):63-70.

Turner, Edith (1996) The Hands Feel It: Healing and Spirit Presence Among a Northern Alaskan People. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press.

Turner, Victor and E.M. Bruner (1986) The Anthropology of Experience. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Winkelman, Michael (1982) "Magic: A Theoretical Reassessment." Current Anthropology 23(1): 37-66.

Winkelman, Michael (1986) "Trance States: A Theoretical Model and Cross-Cultural Analysis." Ethos 14: 174-203.

Winkelman, Michael (2000) Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing. Westport: Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey.

Young, David E. and J.-G. Goulet (1994) Being Changed by Cross-cultural Encounters: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experiences. Peterborough: Broadview Press.

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