Review: Kripal, Esalen

March 8, 2007
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EsalenSituated 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 tones of awe and the glee in partaking in Esalen’s infamous sinful delights.… Kripal jumps among a wide range of historical moments, from Esalen’s alleged relationship to the collapse of the Soviet Union to the idea of the disembodied erotic. Readers shouldn’t be scared off by the book’s heft. Kripal is an engaging storyteller, Esalen a worthy subject (a kind of US Weekly for the discerning intellectual), and it’s as easy to jump from the introduction to chapter 14 as it is to continue in order.

Esalen is currently scheduled for publication in mid April of 2007 and will release in a couple of weeks. We have an excerpt from the book.

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