Charles Laughlin

Charles Laughlin

Charles D. Laughlin, Jr. (1938 – ) is known primarily for having co-founded a school of neuroanthropological theory called Biogenetic Structuralism. Laughlin is an emeritus professor of anthropology and religion at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Following service in the American air force, Laughlin completed his undergraduate work in anthropology with a concentration in philosophy at San Francisco State University. He then did graduate work in anthropology at the University of Oregon, beginning in 1966. His doctoral dissertation was based on fieldwork conducted among a small tribe in northeast Uganda called the So (aka Tepeth, Tepes; see Laughlin and Allgeier 1979). Laughlin's choice of the So was influenced by conversations he had with Colin Turnbull, who had worked with nearby peoples. Laughlin completed his dissertation, Economics and Social Organization among the So of Northeastern Uganda, and received his Ph.D. in 1972 while he was assistant professor of anthropology at the State University of New York at Oswego. He continued his studies during a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute of Neurological Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania (see Laughlin's autobiographical notes)

While teaching at Oswego, Laughlin pursued his interest in the neurobiological bases of human sociality, which led to his developing, in collaboration with Eugene G. d'Aquili of the University of Pennsylvania, the theory of biogenetic structuralism—a perspective that sought to merge the structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss with neuroscience. Laughlin and his colleagues, first at SUNY Oswego and later at Carleton University, continued to develop biogenetic structuralism and applied it to gain insight into a wide range of human social phenomena, including ritual, myth, science, consciousness, transpersonal experience, and so-forth (see Laughlin 1991).

While the perspective itself is not yet used by most anthropologists, it has sparked a number of debates inside symbolic anthropology and has influenced a number of researchers (e.g., Winkelman 2000, Dissanayake 1988, Victor Turner 1983). He is also one of the founders of a discipline known as transpersonal anthropology, concerned with the relationship between culture and altered states of consciousness. His interest in this field stemmed from his own personal experiences after being exposed to meditation in various disciplines and years as a monk within the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. While a student at Oregon, a professor advised him to study Zen Buddhism. In the 1990s, he studied the state of consciousness known by the Navajo as "hózhó", and compared this with Buddhist altered states of consciousness, such as satori or kensho. He has published widely in journals on religious systems and transpersonal studies (see Anonymous 2004). Most recently Laughlin has written what may be the most comprehensive study of the anthropology of dreaming yet published (Laughlin 2011).


Anonymous. 2004. "Meet the Researcher: Charles Laughlin." Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 36(1): 91-96.

Dissanayake, Ellen. 1988. What is art for? Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Laughlin, Charles D. 1990. "Profiles in Research: Charles Laughlin." Neuroanthropology Network Newsletter, Volume 4, Number 2 Spring, 1991.

Laughlin, Charles D. 2011. Communing with the Gods: Consciousness, Culture and the Dreaming Brain. Brisbane: Daily Grail.

Laughlin, Charles D. and Elizabeth Allgeier. 1979. An Ethnography of the So of Northeastern Uganda (2 vols), New Haven, CT: HRAF Press.

Turner, Victor. 1983. "Body, Brain, and Culture." Zygon 18(3): 221-245.

Winkelman, Michael (2000) Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing. Westport: Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey.

Further reading

Laughlin, Charled D. and Eugene d'Aquili. 1974. Biogenetic Structuralism. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Laughlin, Charled D. and Ivan Brady, eds. 1978. Extinction and Survival in Human Populations. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

d'Aquili, Eugene, Charles D. Laughlin and John McManus, eds. 1979. The Spectrum of Ritual. New York: Columbia University Press.

Laughlin, Charles D., Eugene d'Aquili, and John McManus. 1990. Brain, Symbol and Experience: Toward a Neurophenomenology of Consciousness. New York: Columbia University Press.

Laughlin, Charles D. 1993. Transpersonal anthropology. In R. Walsh & F. Vaughan (Eds.) Paths Beyond Ego. Los Angeles: Tarcher.

Laughlin, Charles D. (2011) Communing with the Gods: Consciousness, Culture and the Dreaming Brain. Brisbane: Daily Grail.

Rubinstein, Robert A., Charles D. Laughlin and John McManus. 1984. Science as Cognitive Process: Toward an Empirical Philosophy of Science. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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