Psychoactive plants: literary perspectives
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleLET-HLCS-LS07
Credits (ECTS)5
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Faculty of Arts; Graduate School;
PreviousNext 1
prof. dr. B.Y.A. Adriaensen
Other course modules lecturer
prof. dr. B.Y.A. Adriaensen
Other course modules lecturer
Contactperson for the course
prof. dr. B.Y.A. Adriaensen
Other course modules lecturer
prof. dr. B.Y.A. Adriaensen
Other course modules lecturer
A.L. Camacho Puebla
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2023
PER 1  (04/09/2023 to 05/11/2023)
Starting block
Course mode
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesNo
Waiting listNo
Placement procedure-
By the end of this course, you will:
  • Be familiar with various historical and contemporary perspectives on psychoactive plants in literature and art more broadly;
  • Have a better understanding of and the capacity to critically engage with theories and philosophies of psychoactive plants;
  • Be able to describe, analyse, and critique representations of psychoactive plants in various forms of literature; 
  • Have experience participating in discussions in English on the value of various approaches to psychoactive plants from an interdisciplinary perspective;
  • Be able to apply a theory or set of theories related to psychoactive plants to the analysis of literary texts or performances. Have developed the skills to formulate a research question that allows for a convincing analysis of a relevant case study;
  • Have improved the English academic language skills (written and oral) that are needed to contribute to academic debates in the field of the Humanities.
From the Greek "psyche," meaning "mind," and the Latin "actus," meaning "a doing," psychoactive plants are species that contain chemicals capable of altering an individual's consciousness, mood, or perception. Although these plants have been used for thousands of years in various indigenous cultures for spiritual, medicinal, and recreational purposes, in the late 20th century, the research into their therapeutic potential was largely suppressed due to their classification as narcotic or psychotropic substances. These plants can be seen as mirrors of the societies that operate them, creating cultural representations that reveal prevailing ideological attitudes towards the alteration of consciousness. The contrasting  literary, and more broadly, cultural perceptions of these plants - as medicinal, spiritual, or hallucinogenic- mirror the complexity of their effect on human societies, and hint toward the philosophical and ethical issues surrounding them.
This course will examine the cultural, social, and historical significance of different psychoactive vegetal species and their derivates, focusing on ayahuasca, peyote/mescaline, and coca/cocaine by exploring literary and artistic portrayals of psychoactive plants and engaging with relevant interdisciplinary approaches such as the ethnobotanical, philosophical and the historical perspectives. We will delve into different sources related to psychoactive plants (chronicles from the colonial era, visual art from indigenous communities, ethnographic accounts, medical accounts (Sigmund Freud), and literary travel writing (Antonin Artaud, William Burroughs, Wade Davis or NĂ©stor Perlongher). The course encourages you to reflect critically on the cultural attitudes towards psychoactive plants by applying the humanities' theoretical tools. It will address relevant issues, such as the relationship between the cultural perceptions of these species and coloniality from an intersection perspective, integrating race, class, and gender. The course will delve into the connections of indigenous perspectives with posthuman thinking and the material turn.
Research MA
Presumed foreknowledge

Test information

Required materials
Title:Digitalised texts, made available through blackboard.

Instructional modes
Attendance MandatoryYes

Test weight100
Test typeProject
OpportunitiesBlock PER 1, Block PER 2

Minimum grade