Several years ago I published a book titled Religion and Wine: A Cultural History of Wine Drinking in America. Whenever I spoke on the topic, people in the audience would invariably ask about how drugs other than alcohol have factored into American religious life. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much written on the topic. This is interesting given that a great deal has been written about the use of drugs in Mediterranean, South American, and Asian religion. Several scholars have examined specific examples of religiously motivated drug use, but no one had yet attempted to pull these diverse materials together into a book-length history of this enduring theme in American religious life.
The subject matter in this book is one of the most fascinating in all of religious history. It is also one of the most controversial. The fact that even a tiny amount of LSD or mescaline can trigger mystical rapture raises challenging questions. What, after all, is an "authentic" religious experience? Is it possible that religious experiences are nothing more than aberrations in our brain chemistry? Or is it possible that the Kingdom of God is truly within us, but awaiting release through whatever means we can discover? Given the widespread cultural support for our government's "war on drugs," how far can we go in tolerating drug use under the banner of religious freedom? And, legal issues aside, how can we go about assessing what may or may not be the legitimate role of moodaltering substances in the development of mature spirituality? These are all issues that have a great deal of scholarly importance. They are also issues that have a great deal of relevance to the personal and public controversies that continue to be debated in our