Breaking Convention: A Meeting of Science and Shamanism

This August, over 1,500 psychedelic enthusiasts will gather in London for one of the largest psychedelic conferences in the world, and the largest of its kind in Europe.

Breaking Convention, now in its eighth year, is a biennial conference attracting over 150 speakers from around the world. Its unique blend of mainstream research with mystical perspectives and contemporary issues make it a truly all-encompassing gathering of the Western psychedelic renaissance.

We spoke with Dr David Luke, co-founder and co-organizer of Breaking Convention, and an expert in altered states of consciousness. We wanted to find out what sets Breaking Convention apart, and where Luke sees the psychedelic movement taking us.

Luke says that Breaking Convention’s success was somewhat surprising: “It’s grown rapidly. In terms of how we situate ourselves in the community, the first conference seemed radical. Then we realized there wasn’t much resistance, and in fact a lot of inherent support for it.”

The format of the conference is mostly short talks of under thirty minutes, to allow the conference to offer a wide variety of perspectives. Luke describes this format as “intellectual speed dating,” and the many informal events and spaces alongside the main conference will certainly give everyone a chance to make deeper connections.

Several indigenous voices can be seen in this year’s schedule, and the organizing committee has made sure to give shamanic wisdom its own considerations. “A lot of indigenous people require longer talks, to allow for them to go deep enough into their perspective, and of course to accommodate their translators. This year, we are planning a talking circle where indigenous people can share their experiences in a more open format.”

Diversity is certainly important for Luke, whose latest book Psychedelic Mysteries of the Feminine, co-edited with Maria Papaspyrou and Chiara Baldini, tries to bring a discussion about femininity into an arena that has mostly been dominated by white middle-class men. “The aim of the book is to increase the discussion around gender, identity, and inclusivity, and to raise the profile of women’s voices in psychedelia.”

Some contentious issues will be discussed at Breaking Convention, such as the corporatization of psychedelic therapy, and the appropriation of traditional cultures. Luke thinks it’s important to get involved in these divisive issues: “If we’re not engaging in these conversations, they’ll just go on without us. We should engage with these things as a community before they become more problematic. There are difficulties in tackling these topics, but it’s vital we do so.”

Breaking Convention has always had big name speakers, but Luke is especially excited to be inviting Gail Bradbrook, one of the founders of Extinction Rebellion, to the conference: “The climate and ecological crisis is the most important issue that humanity is facing right now. I’m looking forward to hearing Gail speak about her own experiences with psychedelics, and how they influenced the formation of the Extinction Rebellion movement.”

Alongside Gail are other big names such as ethnobotanist Jonathan Ott, psychedelic researcher Robin Carhart-Harris, and legendary anthropologist Christian Rätsch. One of the conference’s main sponsors, The Beckley Foundation, will be headlining Amanda Fielding to present their groundbreaking microdosing research, while another Beckley member Sam Gandy will be discussing how psychedelics can change our relationship with nature.

And it’s our relationship with nature that David Luke believes will be a constant theme at the conference: “The climate and ecological crisis is a matter of consciousness – our attitudes and behaviors. Psychedelic-type experiences can have a large role in changing attitudes; the natural tendency is for these experiences to move people in a more ecological direction.”

The potential of psychedelics to change our attitudes will also be addressed by Akua Ofosuhene, who will consider whether psychedelics could change our racist world order, and perhaps confront the concerning lack of racial diversity in the psychedelic community. As an ongoing effort to redress this imbalance, organizer Darren Springer has curated a pan-African symposium with speakers including Kilindi Iyi, Sanae Orchi, Akua Ofosuhene and Nzambe Divanga.

The wide variety of talks, from neurobiological research to cultural and anthropological perspectives, has been a mainstay at Breaking Convention. But it’s also long had a foot in the technical realm: “We’ve always tried to keep at the cutting edge of technology, especially regarding altered states. VR has been a part of Breaking Convention since our second conference. This year we’ve got more technological ‘extended reality’ exhibits than ever before.”

The growing interest in psychedelics that has led to the success of Breaking Convention is remarkable. Luke, having given public lectures in the UK for around 15 years, has witnessed this expansion himself: “At first, my talks were among the only talks about psychedelics in London. I was talking to the already converted – a very psychedelic crowd. Now, the majority of my audiences have never taken psychedelics, but have a huge thirst of interest. It’s a promising trend. There are now often numerous psychedelic talks and events going on in London every night of the week.”

If there’s any place in the world to feel excited about the future of the psychedelic movement, it’s at Breaking Convention. Thousands of psychedelic adventurers and professionals convening in the sunshine in the shared desire to make the world a better place, and face the issues both within and around us. We hope to see you there!

Breaking Convention 2019 will be held from 16-18th August, at the University of Greenwich, London, UK. Click here for tickets!

David Luke is the Senior Lecturer for Psychology at the University of Greenwich, and has published several books. He regularly gives talks in London and elsewhere in the UK about psychedelics and psychedelic research.

About Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is a biologist and writer who has been working in the psychedelic community for several years. Twitter: @rjpatricksmith

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