Philosophy

The controversy surrounding Leo Strauss

August 24, 2007
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The controversy surrounding Leo Strauss

This week’s Chicago Reader features a front page story titled “Defending Strauss” in which contributor Julie Englander delivers a comprehensive report on the long-running controversy surrounding the former University of Chicago professor of philosophy, Leo Strauss, who died in 1973. As Englander explains, Strauss’s name and work have become closely associated with the political practices of some of the neoconservative architects of the war in Iraq, like former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and high-ranking Pentagon official Abram Shulsky, based partly on their association at the University of Chicago. Englander writes: Straussians agreed with their guru, a scholar of Plato, that there are “truths can be comprehended only by a very few, and would be misunderstood by the masses.” Thus the “noble lie” (a phrase from Plato’s Republic that Strauss liked to use) that told the American public: Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, and we’ve got to go in there, whatever the cost. But as Englander notes, several writers have recently come to Strauss’s aid, arguing that his work has been misinterpreted and misappropriated in the context of America’s current political woes: Figuring enough was enough, in 2006 . . .

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Review: Kripal, Esalen

July 2, 2007
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Review: Kripal, Esalen

The current issue of the Atlantic Monthly is running a great review of Jeffrey Kripal’s new book Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. The review begins by describing Esalen as “equally a phenomenon and an institute” responsible for fostering many of the revolutionary ideas of the 1960s counterculture and playing host to its most notable figures—people like Kerouac, Leary, and Ginsberg, just to name a few. The review goes on to praise Kripal’s new book for managing a rather lucid investigation of this counter-cultural hothouse, despite his psychedelic subject matter: Kripal, a religious-studies professor at Rice University, examines Esalen’s extraordinary history and evocatively describes the breech birth of Murphy and Price’s brain child. His real achievement though is effortlessly synthesizing a dizzying array of dissonant phenomena (Cold War espionage, ecstatic religiosity) incongruous pairings (Darwinism, Tantric Sex), and otherwise schizy ephemera (psychedelic drugs, spaceflight) into a cogent, satisfyingly complete narrative. The he reconciles all this while barely batting an eye is remarkable; that he does so while writing with such élan is nothing short of wondrous. Read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Press Release: Stafford, Echo Objects

June 22, 2007
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Press Release: Stafford, Echo Objects

Barbara Stafford is at the forefront of a growing movement that calls for the humanities to confront the brain’s material realities. In Echo Objects: The Cognitive Work of Images she argues that humanists should seize upon the exciting neuroscientific discoveries that are illuminating the underpinnings of cultural objects. In turn, she contends, brain scientists could enrich their investigations of mental activity by incorporating phenomenological considerations—particularly the intricate ways that images focus intentional behavior and allow us to feel thought. As precise in her discussions of firing neurons as she is about the coordinating dynamics of image making, Stafford locates these major transdisciplinary issues at the intersection of art, science, philosophy, and technology. Ultimately, she makes an impassioned plea for a common purpose—for the acknowledgment that, at the most basic level, these separate projects belong to a single investigation. Read the press release. . . .

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Review: Santner, On Creaturely Life

June 7, 2007
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Review: Santner, On Creaturely Life

Eric Santner’s new book On Creaturely Life: Rilke, Benjamin, Sebald, recently received an enthusiastic review by Ross Wilson in the Times Literary Supplement. Wilson’s review begins: What is life? What kind of beings are human beings? Despite their forbidding enormity, these questions have received sustained scrutiny in contemporary political theory, philosophy, literary theory, and criticism.… Eric L. Santner’s fascinating, difficult book is a significant contribution to this attempt to specify what is human about human life and, indeed, what is meant by “life” to begin with. Ross not only praises Santner’s book as “the most urgently relevant sort of intellectual history” but explains its relation to the work of the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, and provides a lucid gloss of its main arguments: “Creaturely life” is not simple biological life, then, but the “zero degree of social existence”; it is that minimum of human life, closest to animal life, which is caught up in the antagonisms of the political.” Two years ago we posted an essay by Santner that offered a highly topical rehearsal of these ideas—an account of Terry Schiavo and Abu Ghraib as “two faces of the state of exception in which political power takes a direct hold . . .

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Jeffrey Kripal interviewed in San Francisco Chronicle

May 23, 2007
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Jeffrey Kripal interviewed in San Francisco Chronicle

Monday’s San Francisco Chronicle featured an interview with author Jeffrey Kripal on the topic of his new book Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. In his interview with the Chronicle‘s David Ian Miller, Kripal discusses “Esalen’s contributions to the evolution of religion, the state of spirituality today, and the importance of maintaining many paths to enlightenment.” Situated on the edge of the pacific coastline, the Esalen institute has long been a world leader in alternative and experiential education, as well as an influential player in the creation of the American counterculture. Popularized by such luminary figures as Aldus Huxley, Ram Das, and Ansel Adams—all of whom either lived at or visited the institute—Esalen has had a long and fascinating intellectual and spiritual legacy that continues to influence American culture to this day. To learn more about Esalen and its legacy check out Kripal’s interview on the SFGate website. We also have an excerpt from the book. Kripal was also featured Tuesday, May 22, on KQED radio’s Forum with Michael Krasney. Get the audio here. . . .

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Review: Brague, The Law of God

May 10, 2007
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Review: Brague, The Law of God

Yesterday’s New York Sun features a review of Rémi Brague’s new book The Law of God: The Philosophical History of an Idea. Comparing Brague’s newest work with his fascinating cultural history of cosmology, The Wisdom of the World, reviewer Adam Kirsch writes: In The Law of God, Mr. Brague undertakes another journey through the buried continent of the ancient and medieval mind. But his topic this time—the idea of divine law, as it was understood from the ancient Greeks through the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish middle ages—does not seem nearly so remote. Humanity has long conceded that the structure of the inanimate world is the province of science. But most of us continue to believe that the moral law has other, deeper sources. … That is why The Law of God strikes the reader with more intimate force than The Wisdom of the World. Mr. Brague’s earlier book was archaeology, the digging up of something dead and buried; his new one is genealogy, tracing the descent of ideas that are still living. … Brague’s sense of intellectual adventure is what makes his work genuinely exciting to read. The Law of God offers a challenge that anyone concerned with today’s religious . . .

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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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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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