The Expansion of Brazilian Ayahuasca Religions: Law, Culture, and Locality

Kevin Feeney, JD

Abstract: This presentation will explore globalization, diversity, and issues of social justice by examining the global expansion of ayahuasca religions through the lens of transnationalism, and against the backdrop of international drug control. Politics have often equated cultural groups with particular national boundaries, and proceeding from this premise have made legal and cultural exceptions for groups that were seen as specifically situated geographically. The ayahuasca religions pose a particular challenge to this line of thinking, with the originally Brazilian-based religions of Santo Daime and the União do Vegetal having established a global presence with international adherents: followers who are not constrained by national boundaries and not identifiable as members of any particular ethnic categories. As these religions expand outside of their traditional regional and cultural contexts, they come to be viewed through the Western framework of the “war on drugs,” and become classified as criminal enterprises. The expansion of the ayahuasca traditions will be used as a foundation for examining issues of international human rights law and protections for religious freedom within the current global milieu of cultural transnationalism.

Kevin Feeney, JD, received his law degree from the University of Oregon in 2005, and is currently a student of Anthropology at Washington State University (USA), where he is studying the religious use of peyote in American Indian traditions. Other research interests include examining legal and regulatory issues surrounding the religious and cultural use of psychoactive substances, with an emphasis on ayahuasca and peyote, and exploring modern and traditional uses of Amanita muscaria, with a specific focus on variations in harvest and preparation practices. He is co-author, with Richard Glen Boire, of Medical Marijuana Law (2007).

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