Cloth $32.00 ISBN: 9780226453699 Published April 2007
Paper $20.00 ISBN: 9780226453705 Published November 2008

Esalen

America and the Religion of No Religion

Jeffrey J. Kripal

Jeffrey J. Kripal

594 pages | 31 halftones, 1 color plate | 6 x 9 | © 2007
Cloth $32.00 ISBN: 9780226453699 Published April 2007
Paper $20.00 ISBN: 9780226453705 Published November 2008
Jeffrey Kripal here recounts the spectacular history of Esalen, the institute that has long been a world leader in alternative and experiential education and stands today at the center of the human potential movement. Forged in the literary and mythical leanings of the Beat Generation, inspired in the lecture halls of Stanford by radical scholars of comparative religion, the institute was the remarkable brainchild of Michael Murphy and Richard Price.
 
Set against the heady backdrop of California during the revolutionary 1960s, Esalen recounts in fascinating detail how these two maverick thinkers sought to fuse the spiritual revelations of the East with the scientific revolutions of the West, or to combine the very best elements of Zen Buddhism, Western psychology, and Indian yoga into a decidedly utopian vision that rejected the dogmas of conventional religion. In their religion of no religion, the natural world was just as crucial as the spiritual one, science and faith not only commingled but became staunch allies, and the enlightenment of the body could lead to the full realization of our development as human beings.
 
 “An impressive new book. . . . [Kripal] has written the definitive intellectual history of the ideas behind the institute.”—San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Kripal examines Esalen’s extraordinary history and evocatively describes the breech birth of Murphy and Price’s brainchild. 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.”—Atlantic Monthly
 
“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.”—Playboy

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Deepak Chopra

“This is it: the definitive history of the original American human potential center and the people who first envisioned it and made it work. A truly astonishing story of spiritual inspiration, global vision, political adventure, and delightful humor, and just at the right time. A genuinely hopeful vision of what we yet could be in the mirror of what we have been. Stunning.”

Robert B. Reich

“In this engaging book, Jeffrey Kripal assesses one of the world’s most engaging places, and finds in Esalen a perfect metaphor for America’s unique creed of science and religion. Here—literally on the western edge of the North American continent—the European enlightenment meets Asian spirituality, Einstein confronts Walt Whitman, Calvinism takes on mysticism, and secularism encounters the divine. It’s a wild ride, filled with ironies and tensions, but it’s also America at the start of the twenty-first century, and perhaps the future of the world.”

Publishers Weekly
"Kripal 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. . . . He 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."—Publishers Weekly
Library Journal
“In this history of the institute, readers will take a spellbinding journey through art, pop psychology, Tantric sex, Cold War physics, psychedelic drugs, and, of course, religion. Kripal becomes a raconteur of stories involving a cast of characters—from folk singer Joan Baez and Gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson to gay bathers, Hell’s Angels, and others attracted to the coast of California’s Big Sur country. Kripal explains the institute’s mixing of popular and political culture with the transformative spiritual practices of humanistic alternative education; its embodiment of East/West philosophies and dedication to the continual exploration of human potential. Upon finishing this book, readers will feel compelled to visit this remarkable place, where all are accepted.”—Library Journal
Don Lattin | San Francisco Chronicle
"An impressive new book ... [Esalen] is, by many accounts, the birthplace of the human potential movement, which advocates the raising of spiritual consciousness, human functioning, mystical awareness, and interpersonal connection. [Kripal] has written the definitive intellectual history of the ideas behind the institute."—Don Lattin, San Francisco Chronicle
Playboy

"Esalen Institute is a combination alt-think tank, academic community and sensual retreat perched on the Pacific-facing cliffs of Big Sur, California. Its thinkers formed the leading edge of American culture for decades. Here 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."—Playboy

Atlantic Monthly

“Kripal examines Esalen’s extraordinary history and evocatively describes the breech birth of Murphy and Price’s brainchild. 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. That 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. This essential volume achieves what Esalen itself ultimately couldn’t sustain: a true gestalt.”

New Yorker
"This history of the Esalen Institute describes how the Big Sur hot springs became a crucible for a brand of secular metaphysics known at 'the religion of no religion.' Founded in the early 1960s, Esalen drew eccentrics and artists like Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Henry Miller, and Joan Baez, and soon became a sort of sybaritic commune, where life consisted, according to Kripal, of 'sodomy in the baths, glossolalia in the lodge, fistfights in the parking lot, folk music in the cabins, and meditation in the Big House.' ".—New Yorker
Choice
"Although several memoirs by participants and popular histories of Esalen and its creative role in American culture are available, this book is nothing less than the gold standard. Essential."
Harvey Cox | The Sixties
"I savored every page of this exquisitely crafted book. . . . Wisely, Kripal--having given the fairest and most comprehensive account of the Esalen story we will probably ever see--does not make any judgment."
Olav Hammer | History of Religions
"Kripal's documentary style is eminently suited to decribing the events and people that have made the Esalen Institute a place like no other. This makes his book an engaging read. . . . A well-crafted chronicle that will be of great interest to anybody curious about the emergence of the counterculture and of contemporary 'alternative' religion."
Contents
Illustrations
Acknowledgments, Sins, and Delight

ONE: Openings

TWO: Geographic, Historical, and Literary Orientations (1882-1962)

THREE: The Empowerment of the Founders (1950-1960)

FOUR: The Outlaw Era and the American Counterculture (1960-1970)

FIVE: The Occult Imaginal and Cold War Activism (1970-1985)

SIX: Crisis and the Religion of No Religion (1985-1993)

SEVEN: Before and After the Storm (1993-2006)

(In) Conclusion

Abbreviations
Notes
On Rare Things: The Oral, Visual, and Written Sources
Index
For more information, or to order this book, please visit http://www.press.uchicago.edu
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