Manipulating the Material: Transcendence Through Drugs, Art and Religious Experience

Presented with Strand Bookstore

Michael Prettyman "Brought Forth" Oil and encaustic on canvas 2016

This is an Olio co-taught by two professors: Michael Haltenberger and Michael Prettyman.

Throughout human history people have experienced moments of non-ordinary reality through various means. Sex is a ritualistic act that induces altered states, perhaps the prototypical religious ritual. Certain mushrooms have evolved to induce a very similar experience in mammals. There are many ways people (and even animals) manipulate their bodies and environment to achieve these highly desired states. Yet, the line between drugs and medicine is often arbitrarily drawn and driven by political and economic forces. The wholesale worldwide banning of all hallucinatory drugs in 1973 should give us pause. Even more interesting is the recent explosion of research into medicinal uses of these formerly banned substances. What should our relationship be with these pervasive plants?

- Michael D. Haltenberger 

The challenge faced by artists and mystics is the description and representation of what we, for lack of a better term, call the ineffable. “The Ineffable” can be said to be the real experience witnessed when we transcend the material limits of the universe, when we go beyond the usual limits of perception. Although contemporary art is now thought of as being primarily secular, there is a more ancient standpoint from which to view art, religion and the ingestion of mind-expanding substances. For millennia, both artists and mystics have used psychoactive substances and sacred plants as a gateway. These practices have survived criminalization and marginalization for a very good reason - they work. 

- J. Michael Prettyman




Location: Strand Bookstore

828 Broadway, New York, NY 10003

The Rare Book Room at Strand Bookstore boasts an elegant venue, the walls lined with leather-bound treasures from a book hand printed in 1480 to a limited edition Ulysses signed by Henri Matisse, the illustrator, and by James Joyce. 


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