Religion

Review: Kripal, Esalen

May 7, 2007
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Review: Kripal, Esalen

In the May 6 New York Times Book Review, Diane Johnson reviewed Jeffrey Kripal’s new book Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. NYTBR also has an excerpt from the first chapter. Johnson recognizes the Esalen Institute’s powerful social and political influence as one of the American counterculture’s leading centers for alternative and experiential education, as well as its noting its hedonistic reputation: People of a certain age will remember Esalen, the famous (or infamous) spa in Big Sur on the California coast, founded in the 1960s as a center of the human potential movement. In his book Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, Jeffrey J. Kripal describes it as “a utopian experiment creatively suspended between the revelations of the religions and the democratic, pluralistic and scientific revolutions of modernity.” In 1990, someone painted graffiti (unprintable in its entirety here) at the entrance: “Jive … for rich white folk.” Both descriptions are justified, it turns out. It won’t escape any reader of this interesting book that almost all the players are good-looking and rich, but we learn that along with the sex and drugs with which it was synonymous, the Esalen Institute, as it was formally known, . . .

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Esalen gets four bunnies

April 20, 2007
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Esalen gets four bunnies

The current issue of Playboy reviews Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal and gives it a four-bunny rating. Not bad for the J. Newton Rayzor Professor in Religious Studies at Rice University. Playboy advises: Esalen Institute … was ground zero of the 1960s social revolution: the sweaty hot-tub commingling of free love, tantric yoga, Buddhist meditation and Gestalt therapy—as well as the academy for the propagation of the human-potential movement. Outlaw all-stars like Aldous Huxley, Allen Ginsberg and Hunter S. Thompson felt the pull of the place. Now scholar Jeffrey Kripal has produced the first all-encompassing history of Esalen: its intellectual, social, personal, literary and spiritual passages. Kripal brings us up-to-date and takes us deep beneath historical surfaces in this definitive, elegantly written book. At least, we think it’s in the current issue of Playboy. We combed the website for the magazine for several hours—it’s a distracting place—but we didn’t find it. If you see it, let us know, OK? Read an excerpt from the book. And have a good weekend. . . .

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Jeffrey Kripal on The Religion of No Religion

April 11, 2007
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Jeffrey Kripal on The Religion of No Religion

Jeffrey Kripal has an interesting essay in the current Chronicle of Higher Education touching on some of the topics of his new book Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. Among other things, the essay examines the intellectual and spiritual roots of the Esalen Institute—the world-famous center for alternative and experiential education that is the focus of Kripal’s book. Kripal points out that the “secular mysticism” cultivated at the institute is a spiritual trend that can be traced deep in the history of American culture—back to nineteenth-century American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. According to Kripal, Emerson was a believer in a “democratic, individualized form of spirituality that is fundamentally open to present and future revelations, not just past ones”; a system of belief which the institute’s founders, Michael Murphy and Richard Price, also embraced in a “secular mysticism that is deeply conversant with democracy, religious pluralism, and modern science.” The fame of Esalen, however, bloomed in the the 1960s and ’70s when Esalen was made one with American popular culture, becoming more sensational than mystic: People of all ages come from all over the world to learn, heal, explore, chant, dance, drum, massage, and meditate, and many of them . . .

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Sex, Spirituality, and the Esalen Institute

March 27, 2007
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Sex, Spirituality, and the Esalen Institute

The March 21st issue of Publishers Weekly contains an intriguing article by Donna Freitas on Jeffery J. Kripal and his latest work Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. The article leads off with Kripal claiming, “All of my books are about sexuality and sprituality.” Freitas goes on to unpack Kripal’s alluring statement: This chair of religious studies at Rice University is explaining why he chose Esalen—the eclectic spiritual retreat in California’s Big Sur region—as the subject of six years of research and his most recent book, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. Freitas continues: Kripal said what he discovered there was “an American mysticism that allowed the body and spirit to form a unity of erotic and spiritual energies. At Esalen, the Western religious traditions’ rules about a male divine didn’t apply anymore. The divine is anything at Esalen. There is no creed. There is no orthodoxy. If anything, it’s a pantheistic worldview which opens up hundreds of possibilities for images of divinity… Esalen was born during the civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements, so it integrated these into its history and intellectual life. All of the battles you see going on today in Western . . .

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Press Release: Glaude, In a Shade of Blue

March 13, 2007
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Press Release: Glaude, In a Shade of Blue

John Dewey once said that every generation has to accomplish democracy for itself, because social justice is something that cannot be handed down from one person to another: it has to be worked out in terms of the needs, problems, and conditions of the present moment and its distinct challenges. In this impassioned and inspirational work, Eddie S. Glaude Jr. puts Dewey’s idea into the service of his fellow African Americans. According to Glaude, black politics have grown increasingly stagnant and even ineffectual because of their basis in the sufferings and indignities of the past instead of the real-live obstacles of the present moment. To remedy this, Glaude here dislodges black politics from the dogmas and fixed ideas of the Civil Rights movement and points them in the direction of more pragmatic solutions rooted in the here and now. Poor health, alarming rates of imprisonment, drugs, and the advanced concentration of poverty in our nation’s cities warrant a form of political engagement that steps out of the shadows of the black freedom struggles of the 1960s and rises to the complexities of the 21st century with more innovative thinking, a greater emphasis on responsibility and personal accountability, and a fuller . . .

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Review: Kripal, Esalen

March 8, 2007
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Review: Kripal, Esalen

Situated along the picturesque coastline of Big Sur California, the Esalen institute has long been a world leader in alternative and experiential education—on the cutting edge of everything from Zen to hallucinogenics. Attracting such luminaries as Henry Miller, Joseph Campbell, Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Hunter S. Thompson, the institute has had a profound influence on the American counterculture ever since it was first conceived by maverick intellectuals Michael Murphy and Richard Price in the early ’60s. Forthcoming from author Jeffery Kripal, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion is a highly readable and entertaining account of the institute and the unique synthesis of religion, science, and philosophy envisioned by its leaders. Here’s an excerpt from an advance review in last month’s Publishers Weekly to whet your appetite for Kripal’s revealing new look at one of the most important hothouses of America’s counterculture: Many readers will probably not have heard of Esalen—but that doesn’t mean they wont find its history fascinating. Kripal, a professor of religious studies at Rice University, tells the story of this beautiful retreat in California’s Big Sur region—its history at once sexy, salacious, intellectual, and political—with reverence and playfulness, alternating between the hushed . . .

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Eddie Glaude on the Tavis Smiley Show

March 7, 2007
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Eddie Glaude on the Tavis Smiley Show

Eddie S. Glaude Jr., author and Princeton University professor of religious studies, was featured on the Tavis Smiley Show last weekend discussing “how his new book, In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America, offers a starting point for examining the upcoming election season through the eyes of African Americans.” You can listen to archived audio from the program online at the Tavis Smiley Show website. With In a Shade of Blue Glaude, one of our nation’s rising young African American intellectuals, makes an impassioned plea for black America to address its social problems by recourse to experience and with an eye set on the promise and potential of the future, rather than the fixed ideas and categories of the past. Heady, inspirational, and brimming with practical wisdom, this timely book is a remarkable work of political commentary on a scale rarely seen today. To follow its trajectory is to learn how African Americans arrived at this critical moment in their history and to envision where they might head in the twenty-first century. Read an excerpt. . . .

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Borscht belt with a PhD

February 21, 2007
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Borscht belt with a PhD

Ruth Fredman Cernea, editor of The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate, was interviewed in the February 20 edition of the Jewish Ledger, a Connecticut weekly. In her conversation with staff writer Judie Jacobson, Cernea talks about the genesis of the University of Chicago’s famous Latke-Hamantash debates, some of its notable participants, and the meaning—or lack thereof—in its annual deliberations. From the interview in the Ledger: Q: When and why did the debate get started? A: It began more than 60 years ago as an inspired “lark” by three people at the University of Chicago—Professor Sol Tax, an anthropologist; Professor Louis Gottshalk, a historian, and Rabbi Maurice Pekarsky. They were worried about the intellectual and social climate at the university for the numerous Jewish faculty and students there. This was a time when it was not professionally advisable to advertise your ethnic background on campus, when being an objective scientist meant burying the “yid” inside. In fact, many of the faculty had been brought up in homes rich in Eastern European Jewish culture: they knew Yiddish, ate the traditional East European foods, and went to “cheder.” In another world they might have become Talmudists. … The Tax-Gottshalk-Perkarsky spur-of-the-moment idea? A shmooze in the . . .

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Press Release: Taylor, Mystic Bones

February 20, 2007
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Press Release: Taylor, Mystic Bones

In a December 2006 New York Times editorial (which we reprinted online), Mark C. Taylor wrote that his current manner of thinking and teaching “cultivate a faith in doubt that calls into question every certainty.” This philosophy is on elegant display in Taylor’s newest book, Mystic Bones. By combining images of weathered bones with philosophical aphorisms, Taylor refigures death in a way that allows life to be seen anew. These haunting photographs speak to themes of ruin, mortality, and ritual, and to a theology based on immanence rather than transcendence. At once a fine art book of great originality and a profound spiritual meditation, Mystic Bones is Taylor’s most personal statement yet of after-God theology. See the press release. . . .

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Review: Scafi, Mapping Paradise

December 21, 2006
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Review: Scafi, Mapping Paradise

A recent review penned by the distinguished historian and scholar Anthony Grafton has much to say about Alessandro Scafi’s new book Mapping Paradise: A History of Heaven on Earth. Writing for The New Republic Grafton praises the book’s detailed historical account of the various attempts—made throughout the Middle Ages to the Renaissance—to chart the geographical location of paradise. Grafton writes: becomes a sort of erudite Virgil, leading the reader on an extraordinary journey through thousands of texts and maps—a journey that ends up teaching many lessons not only about the visions of the world but about tradition and how it operates.… Scafi’s patient and scrupulous exegeses tease out the meanings of icons and symbols, and record the immensely varied visual and verbal conventions that the mapmakers devised, and make clear the extraordinary conceptual richness and density of the maps of paradise. Mapping Paradise is itself a masterly map of concepts and images whose logic has been lost with time.… Mapping Paradise does honor to its author and his teachers, as well as to the generations of scribes and miniaturists, exegetes and theologians, whose colorful world it charts with lucidity and insight. . . .

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