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Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences Hardcover – December 8, 2015

4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Sacred Knowledge is not only timely and relevant to a whole host of current social/legal issues but also addresses, with seemingly effortless ease, many of the deeper/subtler metaphysical implications of psychedelics―their therapeutic and spiritual potential. Richards's clear prose makes articulating such difficult topics look easy.

(G. William Barnard, Southern Methodist University)

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)

In this wonderfully sensitive, critical, and confessional history one of the foremost clinicians and scholars of presents his own experience with psychedelics and with guiding others in studies to occasion mystical experiences using entheogens. Neither addictive nor toxic, these drugs whatever called surely can under the right set and setting reveal the God within us all. This book is the best accessible overview by someone who knows by experience, and can guide others whether they choose to be involved with entheogens personally or seek to simply to understand others who do. Regardless of choice, this loving man should be your guide.

(Ralph W. Hood Jr. , University of Tennessee)

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)

This is a wonderful book and couldn't have been launched at a more auspicious time. As William A. Richards has portrayed so beautifully, psychedelics provide an experience of total sanity and give a glimpse of a deeper, more heart-centred, and universal spiritual reality. In my opinion everyone should read this book, not just researchers, theologians, and philosophers but also the ordinary person in society. As society becomes more and more degraded, the planet more and more polluted, and the natural world destroyed, the truth of what the great mystic Krishnamurthy said, 'It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society,' will become ever more apparent. Increasingly I find more and more people are asking at a deeper level 'why am I here? 'What is this life about? What is it all for'? The sane answer to many of these questions is to be found in this book.

(Ivor Browne, University College Dublin)

A practitioner and professor, Richards writes as a guide into the depths of psychedelic spirituality in an attempt to bring entheogens―substances that 'generate the divine within'―back into the mainstream.

(Publishers Weekly)

Richards is a generous and gregarious writer, who avoids platitudes for a mix of hard evidence, anecdotal stories, and memoir-like ruminations... Timely.

(Baltimore City Paper)

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.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (December 8, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231174063
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231174060
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #123,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Instead of Tuning In and Dropping Out, SacredKnowledge by Williams takes a good long look at Tuning In and Staying In by riding the wave of a serious mushroom trip. Decades ago, when such study was possible, he began to study of the healing aspects of psychedelics, mostly the active ingredient in ‘shooms, but also other similar drugs. He advocates further study in how these chemicals can aid in mental illness, addiction and spiritual growth and exploration. He isn’t suggesting a weekend high, but a guided trip through he conscious with the goal of working with and through the images and sensations presented in the presence of a trainer guide.

The intersection of faith and the sacred, psychedelics, science and psychology is fascinating. I really enjoyed the book and have already recommended it to several people. It is well annotated and there is a fine endnotes sections. Publish date 12/8/15

An honest review in exchange for an ARC via netgalley.com 12/3/15

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an incredible book. It describes how a variety of mind-influencing substances, many used by indigenous peoples or in sacred activities, can inspire awe about the universe and transform a person's life. Dr. Richards is extremely knowledgeable about both the sacred and the profane effects. The book is based on extensive, legitimate clinical research in a variety of settings. He discusses a variety of therapeutic and educational uses at great length. I was particularly moved by use of these substances in hospice care at the end of life, and to help individuals with cancer and other major conditions better deal with existential issues.
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Format: Hardcover
Many people associate the term 'psychedelics' with LSD, hippies, and the sixties. But these drugs have a long and controversial history outside of that context, including the MK-Ultra secret government mind control experiments. This class of drugs' history fascinates me, and so I was looking forward to reading about the religious and ceremonial uses throughout history.

The author has worked in research for many years, directly with psychedelics. He has also taken psychedelics on several occasions, experiencing the trip for himself. He clearly knows his topic. In this book, he shares many stories from his research. We meet the people, who are all quite ordinary, and we learn about what the psychedelic trips were like for them, as well as how the experience impacted their lives.

I was a little disappointed that Richards didn't cover more of the history of using psychedelics for religious purposes. Instead, his approach here mostly concerns modern use, as a method of religious or spiritual enlightenment. He also touches on research for using psychedelics in the treatment of medical issues such as alcoholism and depression.

At times Richard's exuberance is a little much, as if psychedelics are the ultimate panacea. Still, he does not advocate going out to your neighborhood drug dealer and buying a bunch for personal use. He advises caution, emphasizing the right state of mind, setting, and a trusted escort for your psychedelic journey.

This book offers some fascinating insight into a class of drugs that has yet to give up all of its secrets.

*I was provided with an ebook copy by the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.*
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Books about sacredness (enlightenment) and psychedelics have been and will continue to be published. Very interesting net site discussions will continue to emerge regarding the same subject matter. Among all these, this book is the most significant. It is historical.
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