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Ayahuasca Religions: A Comprehensive Bibliography & Critical Essays
by Beatriz Caiuby Labate, Isabel Santana de Rose, and Rafael Guimaraes dos Santos [Trans. by Matthew Meyer]
Book Reviews
Reviewed by Jurriaan Oosterman, 6/24/2009

Thirty years ago, the ritual use of ayahuasca was known primarily among indigenous people of the Amazon, members of syncretic churches in Brazil, and intellectual and hippie seekers from the West. Over the last two decades, a body of information on ayahuasca has emerged from writers of various backgrounds. From the scientific field, there is a growing interest in the religious, spiritual, pharmaceutical and therapeutic properties of this sacred tea. Three researchers, Beatriz Caiuby Labate, Isabel Santana de Rose and Rafael Guimarães dos Santos, combined their expertise to generate a comprehensive review of the available anthropological and clinical literature on ayahuasca. Originally written in Portuguese—the language in which the majority of writings about ayahuasca religions have appeared—the book’s release in an English edition offers a reference guide that promises to stimulate further dialogue between people working with ayahuasca in ritual settings, and those from the scientific world.

The bibliography is accompanied by two substantive essays; the first gives a detailed description of the religious movements of Brazilian origin—their profiles, history and expansion in Brazil and internationally. Although it lacks a clear index of subsections, which could improve its readability, the authors have succeeded in creating a critically written overview of academic studies, as well as published books and papers on these religious movements, offering insights into their worldviews within a complex web of social and cultural beliefs.

In the second essay, the reader is presented with an evaluation of the most important pharmacological, psychiatric and psychological studies of the religious movements in Brazil and overseas, along with some preliminary anthropological reflections on biomedical investigations of ayahuasca. The authors highlight the difficulties of conducting scientific research involving the consumption of a substance where personal makeup and environment (set and setting) cannot be excluded. Accordingly, they choose to comment on the scientific rigor of studies, discussing not only the principle and beneficial findings of these studies—the positive therapeutic effects of ayahuasca—but also its limitations and challenges for further research. The book ends with, as the title implies, an impressive list of bibliographical references on the Brazilian ayahuasca religions, including documents written in nine languages besides Portuguese: Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian and Spanish.

Ayahuasca Religions: A Comprehensive Bibliography & Critical Essays casts a wide net in inventorying the multiplicity of writings about ayahuasca in its religious context, as well as summarizing their importance for the general reader. Truly an important text that brings the unique perspective of Brazilian researchers to an English-speaking audience.

Originally Published In : Portuguese as Religiões ayahuasqueiras: um balanço bibliográfico (2008)

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