Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Joint Ph.D. Program in Study of Religion

First Advisor

Carl Raschke

Second Advisor

Sarah Pessin

Third Advisor

Antony Alumkal

Fourth Advisor

Tink Tinker

Fifth Advisor

Clark Davis


Ayahuasca, Colonialism, Diaspora, Doctrine of discovery, Religious exemptions


‘Ayahuasca’ is a plant mixture with a variety of recipes and localized names native to South America. Often, the woody ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) is combined with chacruna leaf (Psychotria viridis) in a tea, inducing psychedelic effects among its users. While social usage varies among Indigenous Peoples of South America, during the twentieth century new religious movements in Brazil began employing the mixture as religious sacrament. Additionally, various centers for ayahuasca “healing” have emerged both inside and outside of the Amazon Rainforest, frequently with the aim of helping people addicted to other substances. As interest grew, ayahuasca use in South America attracted large numbers of tourists. Use of it also began a worldwide diaspora.

Due to the mixture’s ability to produce intense effects from Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a controlled substance in many countries, legal use of the tea varies even when the importation of the plants separately is not necessarily prohibited. Negotiating with various nations, religious groups such as the União do Vegetal (UDV) and Santo Daime have successfully been granted legal use of the mixture by appealing to state recognition of bona fide religious use as sacrament. Due to prohibitionist rhetoric surrounding “War on Drugs,” the political and economic hegemony of the United States has influenced legal reception of ayahuasca globally. In the United States, arguments for legally protected use of ayahuasca emerged as appeals for religious freedom, which necessarily interact with rationales for the exemption of peyote used as sacrament by the Native American Church (NAC). Such exemptions are imbricated within a long history of oppressive and genocidal conditions faced by Indigenous Peoples since the Doctrine of Christian Discovery.

This dissertation examines the phenomenon of the ayahuasca diaspora in light of the long history of such doctrine, arguing that appeals to religious freedom and analogies to exempt status for Native use of peyote perpetuate a long history of colonialism inherently genocidal to Indigenous Peoples. While use of ayahuasca itself may not perpetuate such history, the politics of recognition in liberal democratic society employed to determine bona fide religious use evidences the continued institutionalized and legally instrumental impulses of eurochristian political theology, even in nations that present themselves as secular. Such an analysis of ayahuasca reveals deeply problematic tendencies affecting the recognition of religion in society, ongoing Indigenous struggles, drug policies, and drug treatment.

This project is based on the premise that in order to address both the problems and the potentials of the growing ayahuasca diaspora, we must attend to the longer history of Indigenous genocide and its continued presence with respect to regimes of power in the wake of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. Because my focus is on a longer historical attention to deep framing, this is not a study of the richly diverse ways ayahuasca is used by various groups. It is, rather, a contextualization based on an interdisciplinary, Critical Discourse Analysis of the emergence of ayahuasca as a global commodity and sacrament against the Doctrine of Discovery. Liberal politics of recognition and aspirations to personal spiritual growth through ecstatic experience are often underwritten by eurochristian deep frames. In the end, I argue that pleas for the state recognition and “exemption” of ayahuasca for religious use inadvertently perpetuate colonial forms harmful to Indigenous People through the politics of recognition.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Roger K. Green


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

534 p.


Regional studies