The Future of a Discipline: Considering the ontological/methodological future of the anthropology of consciousness, Part I

Toward a New Kind of Science and its Methods of Inquiry


  • Editor's note: This article is part one of a two-part series that explores the past, present, and future of the anthropology of consciousness as a discipline, and also how Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness might evolve to reflect these insights and methodological considerations. Our hope is that these articles initiate further dialogues about the future of our field and we encourage article submissions and letters to the editor that explore this topic.


Calling for an expanded framework of EuroAmerican science's methodology whose perspective acknowledges both quantitative/etic and qualitative/emic orientations is the broad focus of this article. More specifically this article argues that our understanding of shamanic and/or other related states of consciousness has been greatly enhanced through ethnographic methods, yet in their present form these methods fail to provide the means to fully comprehend these states. They fail, or are limited, because this approach is only a “cognitive interpretation” or “metanarrative” of the actual experience and not the experience itself. Consequently this perspective is also limited because the researcher continues to assess his or her data through the lens of their symbolic constructs, thereby preventing them from truly experiencing shamanic and psi/spirit approaches to knowing since the data collection process does not “in and of itself” affect the observer. We, therefore, need expanded ethnographic methods that include within their approaches an understanding of methods and techniques to experientially encounter these states of consciousness—and become transformed by them. Our becoming transformed and then recollecting our ethnoautobiographical experiences is the means toward a new kind of science and its methods of inquiry that this article seeks to encourage.