The Varieties of Religious Leaders' Experiences: The NYU Clinical Trial on the Effects of Psilocybin-Generated Mystical Experience in Religious Leaders
Anthony P. Bossis, Ph.D.
This presentation will review FDA-approved psilocybin research with religious leaders being conducted at NYU School of Medicine and at Johns Hopkins University Medical School. The Psilocybin for Religious Leaders Study investigates the utility of a psilocybin-generated mystical experience upon religious leaders representing the major world religions. Subjective features of a mystical experience include unity, sacredness, self-transcendence, ineffability, and a greater connection to deeply felt positive emotions including that of love. Perennial philosophy proposes that at the core of the world religions lies a universal, fundamental, mystical truth regarding the nature of self, consciousness, and ultimate reality. This study enlists the assistance of religious leaders in describing their experience from psilocybin sessions with the expectation that clergy, given their interests, unique training, and life experience, will be able to make nuanced descriptions of their experiences, thus contributing to the understanding of the phenomenology of mystical or religious experience. Study goals also evaluate the effect of psilocybin-generated experience on their work as clergy and in their spiritual practice utilizing myriad measures and questionnaires. Additionally, this study potentially seeks to highlight the common ground of religions and offer implications for promoting inter-religious and inter-spiritual dialogue. Rationale, research design, study objectives, and implications along with a brief overview of the mystic core of the major religions will be presented.
Anthony P. Bossis, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. He is the Lead Investigator and primary session guide for the NYU Psilocybin Religious Leaders Study and a founding member of the psilocybin research group at NYU. He was Director of Palliative Care research, Co-Principal investigator, and a session guide for the NYU Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Study, a completed clinical trial that investigated the efficacy of a psilocybin-generated mystical experience upon existential and psycho-spiritual distress in persons with cancer. Dr. Bossis is the co-founder and former Co-Director of the Palliative Care Service at Bellevue Hospital and served on the Chaplains Clinical Pastoral Education Advisory Committee. He is a clinical supervisor of psychotherapy in the psychology training program at Bellevue Hospital and a Diplomate of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management. He has a long-standing interest in comparative religion, consciousness research, and the interface of psychology and spirituality. He maintains a private psychotherapy practice in NYC.