Psychedelics in Society and Culture: Announcing the Inaugural Flourish Fellows and Scholars

headshots of 10 Flourish Scholars and Fellows
May 15, 2024

The UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics (BCSP) and the Center for Interdisciplinary Critical Inquiry (CICI) have announced the first cohort of the Psychedelics in Society and Culture program—an initiative aimed at expanding psychedelic research and dialogue across the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The program, in collaboration with Harvard University’s Mahindra Humanities Center,  is a major scholarly inquiry into the cultural, historical, and societal implications of psychedelics. It is made possible thanks to generous support from Flourish Trust.

The inaugural cohort of UC Berkeley Flourish Scholars and Fellows, whose proposals have been awarded funding from the Psychedelics in Society and Culture Program, begin a diverse range of research projects that encompass the evolution of psychedelic cultural movements, the spiritual dimensions of mysticism, the ecological and cultural effects of psychedelic tourism, the diversity of psychedelic art and literature, the wisdom of psychedelic elders and the role of ancestral practices in healing intergenerational trauma.

The Psychedelics in Society and Culture program explores the roles of psychedelics across diverse histories, cultures, and geographies. A core goal is to recognize, explore, and contextualize contemporary psychedelics within the rich cultural history and Indigenous traditions that have stewarded these substances, acknowledging the debt that contemporary scientific research owes to these practices and knowledge. 

“I’m especially pleased by this initiative’s focus on the role of the arts, humanities, and humanistic social sciences, which are crucial for understanding the histories of psychedelics, their invitation for us to sense the world, make meaning, and perhaps even understand “the human” differently,” said Debarati Sanyal, Director of CICI. “The groundbreaking projects supported by this inaugural fellowship cycle explore how psychedelics have produced—and continue to produce—knowledge and inspire critical thought as well as creative expression.”

Flourish Trust — an organization committed to catalyzing the healing and regeneration of humanity and the planet — has generously donated $1 million to support research in the program over three years. 

“When Michael Pollan and Brian Muraresku brought us the opportunity to support this research, we were inspired by what we had learned in their respective books, Your Mind on Plants, and The Immortality Key,” said Christiana Musk, Co-founder and Director of Flourish Trust. “Humanity’s relationship with mind-altering plants and fungi is ancient. Just as it’s important to better understand the promise and risks of psychedelics in mental health treatments, it is also important to understand how these compounds may have shaped meaning-making systems throughout time and across cultures and how they might be contributing to that today These initial grantees offer an inspiring contribution to this nascent field.”

Renowned author Michael Pollan who co-founded the BCSP and is well-known for his book How to Change Your Mind, has long advocated for expanding psychedelic research into the humanities.

“The Psychedelics in Society and Culture Program highlights the immense potential of humanistic studies to deepen our understanding of the roles psychedelics have historically played—and continue to influence—in various societies,” Pollan said. “It is a privilege to welcome the inaugural Flourish Scholars and Fellows, whose pioneering research promises to significantly enhance our knowledge of the intricate dynamics between culture, consciousness, and psychedelics.”

Harvard University’s Mahindra Humanities Center also announced its inaugural cohort of researchers as part of Harvard’s Study in Psychedelics in Society and Culture, funded by the Gracias Family Foundation. Sixteen projects have been awarded grant funding at Harvard in addition to awardees at Berkeley, with both universities supporting cross-campus collaboration and discussion between cohorts to advance and develop their work.

Flourish Scholars are distinguished graduates and undergraduates who focus on smaller-scale, in-depth research-forward projects centered on historical and cultural exploration. Flourish Fellows, comprising faculty, lecturers, and a graduate student, are involved in larger, research-forward projects that include creative and cultural exploration, symposia, and public events.

UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics

Meet the Flourish Fellows and Scholars

While spotlighting lead investigators and distinguishing specific Fellows and Scholars, Flourish Trust, along with BCSP and CICI gratefully acknowledge the invaluable contributions of Indigenous project participants, among others, whose efforts significantly enrich this initiative and exemplify reciprocity and community engagement.

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Beatrice De Faveri—Flourish Scholar

Beatrice De Faveri is a third-year PhD student in the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures at UC Berkeley, specializing in Egyptology. Her project, “Psychotropic Substances in Ancient Egypt Ritual Practices,” seeks to enhance understanding of the use of psychotropic substances in ancient Egyptian rituals. It will focus on researching the ritualistic use of the lotus flower and mandrake within the contexts of funerary, magical, and religious texts.

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Charles Hirschkind—Flourish Fellow

Charles Hirschkind is a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley. His Flourish Fellowship project, “Sensorium, Embodiment, and Modes of Perception: a Case Study of a Psychedelic Church,” contrasts spiritual and material perceptions of psychedelic experiences within the Ayahuasca religion Santo Daime in Brazil and the U.S. The initiative studies perceptual modes and body techniques through fieldwork and ethnographic filmmaking.

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Kyle Jackson—Flourish Scholar

Kyle Jackson is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at UC Berkeley. Exploring the roots of psychedelic subcultures in urban Americas, his project, “Searching for Psychedelic Experiences in Nineteenth-Century Cities,” involves preliminary research in New Orleans, laying the groundwork for a broader transnational study comparing psychedelic movements across Western Hemisphere cities.

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Patricia Kubala—Flourish Fellow

Patricia Kubala is a PhD candidate in socio-cultural anthropology at UC Berkeley. Her project, “Psychedelic Reckonings: Ancestry, Inheritance, and Intergenerational Transmission in Contemporary Psychedelic and Plant Medicine Practices in the United States,” examines how ancestry and intergenerational transmission shape contemporary psychedelic practices, how diverse communities use plant medicines to address historical and intergenerational trauma, and the issue of cultural appropriation. The project team is honored and grateful to work with esteemed project collaborator Juliana Willars.

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Darian Longmire—Flourish Fellow

Darian Longmire, an assistant professor of art practice at UC Berkeley, is a mixed-media artist whose work explores time, space, and techno culture. The Flourish Fellowship project Elastic Magazine, a magazine of psychedelic art and literature, is a multidisciplinary and cross-functional collaboration between UC Berkeley and Harvard, with Hillary Brenhouse serving as editor-in-chief. This biannual print magazine will publish a diverse and expansive body of contemporary psychedelic art and writing while also paying tribute to an overlooked archive of psychedelic work by radically innovative artists, writers, and thinkers of color.

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Maria Mangini—Flourish Fellow

Mariavittoria Mangini, PhD, FNP, has written extensively on the impact of psychedelic experiences on the lives of her contemporaries and is one of the founders of the Women’s Visionary Council. The “Women’s Visionary Council: Elders’ Oral History Project” aims to recognize and preserve the contributions of psychedelic elders to contemporary psychedelic exploration. The project involves bringing together psychedelic elders and underground guides to record oral histories and document their experiences and practices.

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Liam McEvoy—Flourish Scholar

Liam McEvoy is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Middle Eastern Language & Culture and Race and Law. Liam’s project, “A Blooming Investigation into the Egyptian Blue Lotus,” will explore the psychoactive properties of Nymphaea Caerulea and its relatives, assessing variations within the genus, differences from marketed wellness products, and changes through processing methods, highlighting comparisons with ancient Egyptian techniques.

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Diana Negrín da Silva—Flourish Fellow 

Diana Negrín da Silva, PhD is a geographer, educator, and curator who currently teaches in the departments of Geography and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. Her initiative, “Psychedelic Cultures and  Extractivism in Sacred Territory,” seeks to document the impact of global entheogen commodification on sacred Indigenous lands caused by agro-industrial expansion and peyote tourism with a focus on the preservation of Indigenous rights and the defense of ancestral lands against extractive practices.

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Sandra Pacheco—Flourish Fellow

Dr. Sandra M. Pacheco earned her PhD in psychology from UC Santa Cruz. Guided by Indigenous elders, her project, “Sacred Medicines: Connecting the Wisdom of Indigenous Healers with Western Hearts,” plans a unique ceremonial conference to address issues of commodification, appropriation, and extractive research and to share practices and insights from ancestral and nature-based healing frameworks. The project team is honored and grateful to work with esteemed project collaborators Solei Sarmiento, Francisco Lopez Rivarola, Oseas Barbarán Sánchez, and Camille MacDonald.

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Poulomi Saha—Flourish Fellow

Poulomi Saha is an associate professor of English and co-director of the Program in Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. This initiative, “Towards Re-enchantment: Mysticism, Psychedelics, Reimagining Critical Theory,” explores the intersections of mysticism, psychedelics, and critical theory from spiritual, psychoanalytic, and sociological perspectives. It aims to rejuvenate the emancipatory potential of critical theory through the lens of psychedelic experiences.