Metro professor offers free course on psychedelics and liberalism at Deer Pile

Known in the Denver music scene as a former guitarist of The Czars and record producer for Joe Sampson and Esme Patterson, Metro State University of Denver professor Roger Green will be teaching "Psychedelic Aesthetics, Literature, and the Crisis in Liberalism," a donation-based, seven-week course at Deer Pile beginning Sunday, June 8. The class is derived from Green's doctoral dissertation, "Beware of Mad John: Psychedelic Aesthetics, Political Theology and Literature," which inspired his 2013 presentation at Oxford University titled "Pacifism as Practical Mysticism in Aldous Huxley's Eyeless in Gaza"; the sessions will offer an eclectic mix of religion, economics, politics, mythology, literature and psychedelic drugs united by a common theme. Westword recently spoke with Green about the long, strange trip of this high-brow adventure. See also: Metropolitan State University of Denver lives up to its name

Westword: Where did the idea for such a dense and complex course come from?

Roger Green: It's coming from my doctoral dissertation about this thing called "political theology," which is this broad term for relationships between states and religion. It really goes back to people like St. Paul and St. Augustine, and even earlier than that.

So my work really looks at the 1960s and the psychedelic movement as a way to talk about liberalism as an economic system, and the relationship between spiritualism and the state.

What spiritual component do you see in psychedelia?

A lot of people look at the 1960s as a spiritual movement, but others see it as a moral decline and a loss of anything spiritual.

But the new-age movement that we know today came out of the '60s; everything down to yoga studios, which are all about mind, body, health -- but there's a spiritual origin, or a religious origin to these things.

And secular culture likes to discount that, while aligning itself with the democratic left. Yeah, I think a lot of people assume that if you're an atheist, you vote democrat.

That kind of thinking leads to the idea that conservatives are automatically religious, and liberals are more secular. Which gives the Christian-right the idea that they have a monopoly on spirituality.

It sounds like you're touching a lot of different time periods and subjects that aren't typically associated with psychedelic drugs.

I'm using the term "psychedelics" as a metaphor to talk about liberalism and subjectivity. The focus on psychedelic drugs and what they do to the brain will be minimal; it will show up in lectures more than it will the actual reading list.

For example, lets take the William Burroughs book The Naked Lunch, where he talks about junk and soma, and because he's very interested in anthropological discussions, he associates the soma -- which is this ancient Hindu psychedelic drink, representing the birth of religion -- with states. And junk is crass globalization.

Junk, as in heroin, right?

Yes. But Burroughs uses the term "junk" as a way to critique liberal nation states. And people who are more optimistic about liberalism, will adhere more to psychedelics, or soma.

You're putting this class together on such an ambitious scale -- why give it away for free at Deer Pile instead of utilizing it at Metro, where you already work?

There are multiple reasons. One, my position as a professor as it exists right now doesn't allow me to teach that kind of an advanced course. If I were to propose this course, it would be thought of as graduate-level work, as opposed to undergraduate. The reading list would be considered too hard for our students.

And there would be the issue that this class very explicitly seeks to explore people's dogmatic relationships to either religion or secularism. Students often come in to classes with this knee-jerk reaction to religion in school, saying we shouldn't be talking about it in school, unless it's a religious studies class.

But for me, that is, post 9/11, the discussion that must be had in the public sphere.

Roger Green's "Psychedelic Aesthetics, Literature, and the Crisis in Liberalism" will be held at 4 p.m. Sundays from June 8 through July 20 at Deer Pile. The class is officially free, but there is a suggested donation of $10 per session. Visit Roger Green's blog for more information.

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse