Reproduced by kind permission of Charles D. Laughlin.
Transpersonalism is a movement in science toward the recognition as data of experiences that in some sense go beyond the boundaries of ordinary ego-consciousness. Roger Walsh and Frances Vaughan in their book, Beyond Ego, use the term transpersonal to "reflect the reports of people practising various consciousness disciplines who spoke of experiences of an extension of identity beyond both individuality and personality" (1980:16). When we take the whole range of human cultures into account, there seems to be a welter of such experiences.
The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology lists a number of these in the preface to each issue: transpersonalism may be said to encompass "transpersonal process, values and states, unitive consciousness, meta-needs, peak experiences, ecstasy, mystical experience, being, essence, bliss, awe, wonder, transcendence of self, spirit, sacralization of everyday life, oneness, cosmic awareness, cosmic play, individual and species-wide synergy, the theories and practices of meditation, spiritual paths, compassion, transpersonal cooperation, transpersonal realization and actualization; and related concepts, experiences and activities." In a more theoretically concise way, Kenneth Ring (1974, 1976) has developed a typology of transpersonal experiences, grouping these into expanding concentric rings from normal waking consciousness in the middle (the most narrow field of human experience), through what he terms preconscious, psychodynamic, orthogenetic, trans-individual, phylogenetic, extra-terrestrial, and superconsciousness, to void consciousness at the periphery (progressively more expansive fields of experience; see also Boucouvalas 1980, Wilber 1980).
Typological definitions of "transpersonal" certainly have their uses, particularly as goads for scientists to pay closer attention to extraordinary experiences. But typological approaches also tend to emphasize dramatic experiences like out-of-body experiences, ecstatic states, paranormal phenomena, etc., to the exclusion of more subtle, but no less transpersonal experiences. I prefer to define "transpersonal" in a more processual way -- one that is relative to the cognized-self: Transpersonal experiences are those experiences that bring the cognized-self into question. That means that whether or not an experience is transpersonal depends upon the state of the experiencing individual's self-knowledge. It also means that, as different cultures encourage the development of a cognized-self in relation to different domains of experience, what constitutes a transpersonal experience in one culture may not be so in another culture. Thus lucid dreaming may be a transpersonal experience for a normally dream-impoverished Euroamerican ego, but will not be so for an Australian Aborigine who has grown up to understand that the Dream Time is the ultimate reality and that dreams are a major domain of the lifeworld.
Moreover, typological approaches to defining transpersonal experiences tend to ignore the question of maturation. That is, there is a developmental dimension to the transpersonal relative to the process of individuation this influences how dramatic or subtle experiences may be. For children, whose egos are quite labile, a variety of transpersonal experiences may arise daily. Because their perceptual and cognitive systems are changing rapidly, almost any experience may be transpersonal. By contrast, an adult with a very stable, perhaps concrete self-concept, an experience may have to be particularly intense and dramatic to bring the cognized-self into question and bring about a change in ego structure. However, for the spiritually mature adult, transpersonal experiences may be quite subtle. An experience that for the concrete ego may be interpreted as quite mundane, or perhaps even missed altogether, may for the mature contemplative lead to a significant transformation of ego. Indeed, it is common for contemplatives to report that dramatic, "wow" experiences punctuated their early periods of exploration, but that the "wows" fell away after a period of time, giving way to ever more subtle perceptions and comprehensions.
TRANSPERSONAL ANTHROPOLOGY AS A DISCIPLINE
As an organized field of study, transpersonal anthropology dates to the mid-1970s. Anthropologists and others interested in paranormal phenomena joined forces in a loose-knit organization that called itself the Phoenix Associates and produced a biannual journal entitled Phoenix: New Directions in the Study of Man. The journal, founded by people like Philip S. Staniford, Ronald L. Campbell, Joseph K. Long and Shirley Lee, published articles of considerable significance to the development of transpersonal anthropology, especially some of the more well-thought-out theoretical pieces (e.g., Campbell and Staniford 1978, MacDonald 1981).
Because of the apparent interest in transpersonally related topics signalled by two well-attended sessions at the 1978 American Anthropological Association annual meetings on anthropology and the paranormal chaired by Joseph K. Long, Geri-Ann Galanti started the Newsletter for the Anthropological Study of Paranormal and Anomalistic Phenomena (or NASPAP) in 1978 independently of the Phoenix group (Galanti 1993:36). But these two networks did coalesce in 1980 to become the Association for Transpersonal Anthropology with NASPAP continuing as their newsletter and Phoenix: The Journal of Transpersonal Anthropology as their journal (Lee 1980).
Due to a rift among its members over whether they should follow a more humanistic or a more scientific orientation, the more scientific wing became the Association for the Anthropological Study of Consciousness (AASC) in 1984, and later the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness (SAC) when it became a unit of the American Anthropological Association in 1990. SAC's quarterly journal is currently entitled The Anthropology of Consciousness.
Some members of our own group of "biogenetic structuralists" also became interested in transpersonal-related phenomena in the mid-1970s and developed many of our ideas in ignorance of the Phoenix group and NASPAP. And of course our theoretical orientation was different. Our primary interest was in coming to understand the neuropsychological processes involved in ceremonial ritual, which we began to study in earnest after the publication of Biogenetic Structuralism (Laughlin and d'Aquili 1974), and which led to such publications as d'Aquili and Laughlin (1975), d'Aquili, Laughlin and McManus (1979) and Laughlin, McManus, Rubinstein and Shearer (1986). We also became interested in the relationship between symbolism and states of consciousness (see Laughlin 1988, 1990a, 1994, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990, Laughlin and Stephens 1980, MacDonald, Cove, Laughlin and McManus 1988 and Webber and Laughlin 1979) -- especially in the use of masks in rituals (Young-Laughlin and Laughlin 1988, Webber, Stephens and Laughlin 1983), and games and sports as ritual (Laughlin 1990b, 1993a). Our group became aware of the ATA group in the early 1980s and published two theoretical pieces in Phoenix just before the Association split and the journal ceased publication in 1985 (see Laughlin, McManus and Shearer 1983 for a piece originally presented before the 1978 meetings of the Canadian Ethnological Society, and Laughlin, McManus and Webber 1985 for a paper presented at the 1979 meetings of the same society).
Transpersonal anthropology is simply the cross-cultural study of the psychological and sociocultural aspects of transpersonal experiences. "Transpersonal anthropological research is the investigation of the relationship between consciousness and culture, altered states of mind research, and the inquiry into the integration of mind, culture and personality" (Campbell and Staniford 1978:28). Transpersonal anthropology embraces nothing short of what William James (1976:22 ; see also Taylor 1993) called a "radical empiricism."
To be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced. For such a philosophy, the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as "real" as anything else in the system.
There is at least the tacit recognition in transpersonal anthropology that a science of culture must be grounded, not only in the experiences of the fieldworker, but also in the full range of experiences considered by our informants to be significant. It is quite obvious from the ethnographic literature that the ranges of experiences considered significant by the fieldworker and the informant merely overlap -- they are rarely, if ever, coterminous.
Although transpersonal anthropology is only two decades or so old as an organized discipline, interest in the full range of the native's experiences dates back to the nineteenth century and the work of both Edward Tylor who is often considered the "father of anthropology" and who was very interested in dreaming and the origins of religion, and Andrew Lang who was interested in the psychology of the paranormal. Andrew Lang was in fact one of the founding members of the Society for Psychical Research in England, an organization that later drew the interest of both Jung and Freud.
TRANSPERSONALISM IN ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH
Anthropologists have routinely reported or discussed extraordinary beliefs and experiences described by informants, as well as religious institutions and ritual practices associated with such experiences (see Lincoln 1935, Barnouw 1946, Aberle 1966, Bourguignon 1973, 1976, Bharati 1975, Furst 1976, Halifax 1975, Long 1977, Jilik 1982). All the same, some researchers have argued that western science does not pay enough attention to the importance of such experiences to the study of psychology and culture, and a number of these have even suggested that there exist universal structures resulting in similar transpersonal experiences among peoples all over the world.
A few ethnographers have undergone spontaneous transpersonal experiences while in the field. Geoffrey Gorer for instance reported such an experience in his book, Africa Dances. He found himself in a large gathering of people that included a famous Dahomeyan shaman. At one point he met the shaman's gaze: "I felt that for some reason it was necessary for me to meet his gaze and I continued staring at him across a space of about thirty yards til all the surrounding people and the landscape became an indistinct blur and his face seemed preternaturally distinct and as it were detached from his body and nearer to me physically than it was in reality. I wondered whether I was being hypnotized..." (1935:131).
More recently, Bruce Grindal (1983) has reported a profound experience which occurred to him while attending a Sisala funeral in Ghana in 1967. After undergoing several days of arduous privation involving fasting, loss of sleep, physical ordeal, and the like, Grindal entered a state of consciousness in which he perceived the corpse come alive and dance and play drums, as well as seeing radiant energy streaming from the corpse and other people attending the rite. According to him, this experience also occurred to some of the Sisala.
However, looking back over the history of ethnology, few fieldworkers have actually made a serious effort to produce alternative states of consciousness in themselves; this despite evidence that people in many, if not most, human cultures believe in cosmic realms the reality of which is commonly verified via experiences in alternative states of consciousness. It may well be argued that this oversight on the part of anthropologists is not accidental, but in fact is due to a bias born of enculturation to what we may call "monophasic" consciousness characteristic of Euroamerican societies. Is it not interesting that while ethnographers are trained to participate in native activities and observe their significance from the intimate stance of "insider," so few have found it worthwhile trying to enter the alternative states of consciousness so important to many peoples?
Despite this bias, a few fieldworkers have attained, or attempted to attain alternative states of consciousness in order to advance their understanding of the cultural institution or symbolic phenomenon being researched: these include Coult (1977) who attempted in the 1960s to establish a field he called "psychedelic anthropology;" Harner (1973) who worked on hallucinogens and religion; Chagnon's (1977:154ff) experiment with shamanic dance and chanting; and David-Neel's (1971) work among Tibetan lamas that involved extensive meditation.
Some fieldworkers like Katz (1982:6ff) have reported participating in ritual practices intended to produce such experiences, but without attaining the intended state (or failing to report it if it was attained). Others, such as Carol Lederman (1988:805-806) have reported successful participation in such rituals during her research on Malay healing practices. During her fieldwork among the Malay, Lederman ran across the concept of angin ("Inner Winds"), a native concept which labels an experience that sometimes occurs during healing rituals. She mentions that her informants declined to define the concept for her, insisting instead that she would have to experience angin herself in order to know what it means. When she finally gave-in and undertook the healing ritual herself, she experienced the angin "like a hurricane" inside her chest. Thereafter, Carol was able to evaluate the meaning of the "wind" metaphor from direct experience. Angin ceased to be merely a belief and was appreciated as a metaphorical description of a real and profound experience.
The relative poverty of attempts to enter alternative states of consciousness recorded in the ethnographic literature, and the seemingly paradoxical current interest in our own society about such states, underscores the importance to anthropology of developing a more substantial and enduring approach to such phenomena. It is hard to predict the future of transpersonal research in ethnology in any detail. But publications in the field over the last decade and a half (e.g., Dobkin de Rios 1984, Dobkin de Rios and Winkelman 1989, Turner and Bruner 1986, Winkelman 1982, 1992, Peters 1982, Peters and Price-Williams 1980, Rouget 1985, Noll 1985) indicate that a change for the better is in the wind and the discipline of anthropology is now more open to a serious consideration of these issues (see e.g., Young and Goulet 1994).
In addition, the current critique of ethnographic methods leading to a greater emphasis being placed upon the native "telling their own story" has created a climate ripe for more phenomenologically rich accounts of native experiences (see e.g., Young, Ingram and Swartz 1989). Moreover, I suspect that the field of transpersonal anthropology has gradually reached a level of sophistication and healthy scepticism where such simplistic renditions of native religions such as Carlos Casteneda's "ethnographic" novels (see de Mille 1980), or Kilton Stewart's (1954) Malay "dream cult" (see Faraday and Wren-Lewis 1984) will no longer fool researchers and theorists interested in transpersonal experiences.
The down-side of the current zeal for the "postmodern" critique of anthropology is that there is often a de-emphasis, or downright denial of any structural basis for transpersonal experiences. There is little basis for comparison among cultures because there is little recognition of transpersonal experiences in one cultural context being a transformation upon universal structural properties operating in all, or many other cultures (Laughlin 1993b). To counter this extreme form of cultural relativism, our group has spent a lot of effort emphasizing the importance of a neurophenomenological approach to transpersonal experience (see Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990). Neurophenomenology is a perspective that combines a direct exploration of transpersonal experience with a grounding in the neuroendocrinological processes mediating consciousness. It is thus a perspective that emphasizes both the culturally and personally variant details of transpersonal experiences, and the underlying, universal structures that produce those experiences. It is of some importance that many of the world's mystical traditions also recognize both a structural and a developmental basis for the unfolding of experiences and self-awareness that is reflected in their sequences of ritual and initiation into mysteries.
Because most "postmodern" theorists credence only historical influences upon cultural values and practices, and upon personal experience, there is no room for a consideration of universal attributes to experience. So, although access to native descriptions of transpersonal experiences is now greater than ever, transpersonal anthropology remains as a kind of "natural history" of the experiential exotica of cultures, but has yet to develop the theoretical sophistication necessary to explain those experiences transculturally. And if the history of other sciences is any indication, transpersonal anthropology will continue in this state until some form of structural paradigm is developed that will offer a coherent view of the relationship between biology, culture and extraordinary experiences.
 Charles Laughlin is professor of anthropology in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada K1S 5B6. He is the co-author of Biogenetic Structuralism (1974), The Spectrum of Ritual (1979), and Brain, Symbol and Experience (1990). He is the current editor of The Anthropology of Consciousness. The author wishes to thank Susan Sample for her insightful critique of an earlier version of this review.
 Subscription information about The Anthropology of Consciousness may be obtained from the Membership Department, American Anthropological Association, 4350 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 640, Arlington, VA 22203.
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