Dependence upon religiously interpreted state of consciousness (RISC) is dangerous and can be used to justify fanaticism and psychosis. Dreams, trances, and near death experiences are commonplace in human experience and often are interpreted as prophesies and new revelations says religious scholar Alan F. Segal.
In Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Religions of the West Segal thoroughly examines in his chapter Religiously Interpreted States of Consciousness new revelations, altered-states of awareness, and near death experiences.
Let us peek into Segal’s expose´ of Religiously Interpreted States of Consciousness.
Altered states of consciousness (ASC) or religiously altered states of consciousness (RASC), and religiously interpreted states of consciousness (RISC), all refer to the same phenomena in different guises.
- RASC stress that an altered state of consciousness is claimed by the adept;
- RISC recognizes this claim but does not specify that any actual altered state needs to be achieved,
- only that the behavior is considered to be consonant with RASC, thus the behavior is being interpreted religiously.
- RISC is an analytic term, giving recognition to the difficulty in measuring exactly what ecstasy or trance is. p 323
The native understanding of the phenomenon in Jewish culture is not so much “rapture” as explicitly “ecstasy” in its technical sense (ek + stasis, meaning “standing outside”), as the narrator states his soul has fled. p 331
There is RISC in meditation, mindfulness, and yoga training and practices–that is, we find practitioners claiming ecstasy or nirvana, raising conscious awareness above “self”, transcending ordinary mind or ego, and sensing being “outside” of self. These altered states of awareness from meditation could be interpreted as ecstatic or psychotic, depending upon the person experiencing. [See my infographic of Depersonalization and Derealization]
The difference between deafferentation [the elimination or interruption of sensory nerve impulses] and disinhibition [temporary loss of inhibition] and a detailed mystical ascent to heaven is the long mystical training of the adepts who learn both techniques for achieving the physical states and the culture’s social and cultural lore about what the state means. p 336
Not surprisingly, we have seen that every group in society normally searches for a transcendent justification for its religious position, lifestyle, and political position. p 697
In contemporary Western society we find that meditation, mindfulness, and yoga are frequently used to justify an individual’s and group’s quest to transcend, to stand “outside” of, ordinary states of human awareness–to self-realize and to experience religiously interpreted states of consciousness (RISC). Nothing wrong with notions of transcendence, but when we try to validate RISC as infallible (exempt from error) these notions can be dangerous.
Dangers of believing in RISC
It is fanatical and dangerous, concludes Segal, to depend upon the validity of religiously interpreted states of consciousness (RISC).
Can we really privilege our ecstatic experience…? Granting that seductive premise is essentially arrogating to ourselves the same legitimacy we want to deny Osama bin Laden.
To believe in the validity of all such experiences is surely dangerous. It can justify fanaticism and psychosis. Science should seek understanding, not infallibility. p 711
Religiously interpreted state of consciousness (RISC), altered states of consciousness (ASC) or religiously altered states of consciousness (RASC) all refer to the same phenomena in different guises, says Alan F. Segal, religious scholar and author of Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Religions of the West, in his chapter on Religiously Interpreted States of Consciousness.
Trance or ecstatic (ek + stasis, meaning “standing outside”) states implies that human ego, mind, or self has fled ordinary conscious awareness or that the soul has fled from the body. Every group in society normally searches for a transcendent justification for its religious position, lifestyle, and political position, reminds Segal. Relying upon religiously interpreted states of consciousness (RISC) for validity can be dangerous and could be used to justify fanaticism and psychosis. Fallible humans ought to seek understanding first, not infallibility.