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Tomorrow, I’m speaking at an online event organized by my friend Mark Vernon, called ‘Beyond Flatland’. The event features various interesting thinkers including Angela Voss , who edited a book called ‘Re-enchanting Academia’; Jeffrey Kripal, a professor of the ‘mystical humanities’; and Geoffrey Cornelius, professor of the faculty of astrology.

Albus Dumbledore is the keynote. Then me, adjunct professor of ecstasy.

I happen to be reading a book of Kripal’s at the moment, his history of Esalen, where he’s the director of the Centre for Research.

There’s a line in that book — ‘Esalen existed in the liminal space between academia and the counterculture’ — which made me think of the conference tomorrow, and my own relationship to academia. …

Have you ever read books in totally anomalous contexts? I remember, for example, reading Plato’s Republic in a hotel in Las Vegas. I also read Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, at the Wild Wadi Waterpark in Dubai. This week, I found myself sitting on a beach in Costa Rica, reading Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Burke is that rare thing — a conservative philosopher. Not an egomaniac, like Ayn Rand, or a Whig economist like Adam Smith. A genuine conservative, who sings the benevolent power of tradition, custom, precedent, and conventions and the rashness of revolutions. …

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In 2015, I got the chance to interview the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, for my research on spiritual ecstasy. It was an informal conversation, and it was very kind of the Bishop to give me the benefit of his time and wisdom. I thought he’d be a good interviewee because of his interest in contemplative practices and in Christian mystics like Thomas Traherne. And he was! He’s retired from the Bishopric and now sits in the House of Lords. …

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What causes ecstatic experiences — God, society, neurology, our own expectations…or all of the above? I spent the last few years trying to answer this question. During that search, I joined a charismatic Christian church and converted to Christianity after a powerful, full-bodied ‘holy spirit encounter’, which I wrote about here. Sadly my Christian faith dissipated and I wondered to what extent my Holy Spirit experience was the product of crowd contagion or mass hypnosis. I discussed this topic with Derren Brown, the world-famous hypnotist and mentalist. …

I want to discuss the difficult question: to what extent can one cleanly distinguish a ‘spiritual emergency’ from other psychotic experiences.

Spiritual emergency’ is a term introduced by two transpersonal psychologists — Stanislav and Christina Grof — in 1989, to describe a disturbing spiritual experience which has some aspects of psychosis, but which should not be treated as ordinary mental illness. Instead, insist the Grofs, a ‘spiritual emergency’, if properly handled, can ‘have tremendous evolutionary and healing potential’.

As Tehseen Noorani has noted, there are issues with this attempt to draw a clean line between ‘spiritual emergency’ and other forms of psychosis. …

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A scene from the TV show Penny Dreadful

Yesterday evening I went to a demonstration at the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain. This was the first time I’ve been to such an occasion — I’m not really into psychics, seances, ouija, Tarot, all that jazz. But I’ve been reading the work of a pioneering late Victorian psychologist and psychical researcher, Frederic Myers, and he was very into all of that.

Spiritualism is not a big religious movement in the west today — do you know anyone who’s a Spiritualist? or who’s been to a seance? — but it was huge in the second half of the 19th century, at one point attracting eight million followers in the US and UK. As Ann Taves has written, it was one of several forms of radical Protestantism which emphasized ‘religious experience’, like Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventism, Pentecostalism, the Emmanuel Movement and the New Thought movement. Historians usually suggest the movement began in 1848 with the three Fox sisters, who started to hear ‘rappings’ when they were teenagers living outside New York. …

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‘There are decades where nothing happens’, said Vladimir Illyich Lenin, ’and there are weeks where decades happen’.

Clearly, we’re in one of those moments where a lot happens quickly, where old systems are breaking down, empires are tottering, and new ways are emerging bawling from the womb.

This decade will be the most disruptive of any in human history, according to a book I read this week called Rethinking Humanity, from the think-tank RethinkX.

That’s probably not what you want to ready on a wet October day, after seven months of a pandemic, and a decade of economic and political crises. …

A new best-seller suggests the roots of classical civilization and early Christianity were psychedelic drugs. It shows the risk of hype and reductionism in today’s psychedelic boom.

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It’s not every day you see the psychedelic mystery cults of ancient Greece discussed on CNN, but then, it’s 2020. The occasion was the publication of a new book, The Immortality Key by Brian Muraresku, which explores the ‘secret psychedelic religion’ that connects the ancient Greeks to the early Christians, and which Brian says is now being revived in the psychedelic renaissance.

Brian was also a guest on the Joe Rogan Podcast, along with Graham Hancock, and their conversation has several million views and listens, instantly propelling Brian’s book to the top of the bestseller list. …

Why Christopher Lasch is one of the most important and prophetic writers for our polarised time

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This week I read a book published in 1996, which seemed so relevant to this historical moment I ended up with over 30 pages of notes.

The book is The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, by American historian Christopher Lasch. I’m not alone in seeing its prescience — both Ross Douthat of the New York Times and Ed West of Unherd highlighted it as a key text to understand the era of Trump and Brexit.

Lasch died in 1994, and the book was published posthumously thanks to the work of his daughter, historian Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn. In it, they warned of the growing chasm between the liberal elite of university-educated knowledge-workers, and the more traditional working class. …

Dear Jules,

I have been going through a really rough time lately and it is quite similar to your experience. I was quite a happy go lucky person through life until I had a bad terrifying trip on weed (my first time trying) I took way too much and freaked out and that traumatised me — having very anxious scary thoughts like what if I harm my self, what if I harm others — what is the meaning of life and what’s the point of it all.

Like you I thought I ruined my brain chemistry forever. I still have the strange belief that everything in life is so insignificant and now I’m applying this to my daily routine — why bother getting dressed, why bother looking well in-front of people…strange thoughts like that and even when I give myself a sensible answer to this I boil down to WHAT’S THE POINT IN LIFE?


Jules Evans

Fellow @ Centre for the History of the Emotions. Author of Philosophy for Life, Art of Losing Control, and new book Breaking Open

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