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Definition and context
According to Walsh and Vaughan, who proposed several definitions of the transpersonal field in the early 1990’s, «Transpersonal anthropology is the cross-cultural study of transpersonal phenomena and the relationship between consciousness and culture.» Charles Laughlin, a founder of the field of Transpersonal anthropology, has defined the discipline as «the cross-cultural study of transpersonal experiences, including the sociocultural evocation, interpretation, and utility of transpersonal experiences, and their involvement in defining social roles».
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.
Sheppard has noted how transpersonal anthropology can be said to have begun in the USA in the 1970s. By the mid-eighties the discipline was described as a «young and growing field» by commentators. There was, by this time, also a development at the organizational level, in the form of the Association of Transpersonal Anthropology, with its supporting publication, the Phoenix.
Central to the development of the field has been the work of anthropologist Charles D. Laughlin, who is considered to be one of the primary founders of the discipline. However, Shepard also notes the contributions of Ihsan Al-Issa, and Edith Turner, wife of the anthropologist Victor Turner.
Contributions to academic theory
One of the contributions of Laughlin to anthropological theory is a differentiation between so-called monophasic and polyphasic cultures. According to this theory polyphasic cultures are open to altered states of consciousness, and tries to integrate these experiences into their worldview, while monophasic cultures, typical of technocratical societies, are largely closed to these alternative states of mind. Laughlin has published extensively on the topic of Transpersonal anthropology, and has addresses several issues within the field, including methodology.
The work of Al-Issa has dealt with the topic of 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.
The field also includes the theories of anthropologist Dennis Gaffin whose contribution is a re-conceptualization of fairyology and the fairy-faith within the context of anthropology.
Sheppard explains how Edith Turner's interpretations of her husband's field studies among the Ndembu in Zambia also can be interpreted as belonging to transpersonal anthropology, insofar as her interpretations of their healing rituals were transpersonal.
Sheppard has published an article criticising transpersonal anthropology, at least as it has typically been practiced in contemporary scholarship. Her criticisms include its lack of a systematic conceptual base; its over-emphasis on shamanism; the difficulty in studying non-Western cultures that have been truly immune to Western influences and the question of the extent to which transpersonal anthropology has really addressed altered states of consciousness.
References and sources
- Walsh, R. and F. Vaughan. On transpersonal definitions. Journal of Transpersonal Psvchology, 25:199-207, 1993
- Laughlin, C. D. (2013). The ethno-epistemology of transpersonal experience: The view from transpersonal anthropology. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 32(1), 43–50.
- Young, David E. and J.-G. Goulet (1994) Being Changed by Cross-cultural Encounters: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experiences. Peterborough: Broadview Press.
- Sheppard, E. (2006) "Our worlds beyond." Transpersonal Psychology Review 10 ,(1):63-70.
- Valle, Ronald S. & Harari, Carmi. Current developments in...Transpersonal Psychology. The Humanistic Psychologist 11, Vol. 13, NO. 1, Winter 1985
- Hartelius, Glenn. The Imperative for Diversity in a Transpersonal Psychology of the Whole Person. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 33(2), 2014, pp. iii-iv
- Al-Issa, Ihsan . (1995). "The Illusion of Reality and Reality of Illusion." British Journal of Psychiatry 166 (3)368-373.
- Turner, Edith (1996) The Hands Feel It: Healing and Spirit Presence Among a Northern Alaskan People. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press.
- Laughlin, Charles D., McManus, John and Shearer, Jon (1983) "Dreams, Trance and Visions: What a Transpersonal Anthropology Might Look Like". Phoenix: Journal of Transpersonal Anthropology 7 (1/2):141-159.
- 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.
- Leykam, A. E. Book Review: Running with the fairies: towards a transpersonal anthropology of religion. Choice ; Middletown Vol. 50, Iss. 6, (Feb 2013): 1099.
- Butler, Jenny. Book Review: Gaffin, Dennis. 2013. Running with the Fairies: Towards a Transpersonal Anthropology of Religion. Fieldwork in Religion, 10.2 (2015), 252–254
- Sheppard, E. (2007). Anthropology and the development of the transpersonal movement: Finding the transpersonal in transpersonal anthropology. Transpersonal Psychology Review 11(1) 59-69 ISSN 1366-6991.
- Campbell, R.L. and P.S. Staniford (1978) "Transpersonal Anthropology." Phoenix: The Journal of Transpersonal Anthropology 2(1):28-40.
- 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.
- 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.
- MacDonald, J.L. (1981) "Theoretical Continuities in Transpersonal Anthropology." Phoenix: The Journal of Transpersonal Anthropology 5(1):31-47.