The Religion & Culture Web Forum
From Altered States to Altered Categories (and
Academic Method and the Human Potential Movement
J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Religious Studies
This month’s forum is drawn from Jeffrey Kripal’s new book Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, released April 1 by the University of Chicago Press. In this essay, Kripal reviews the strange history of Esalen and reflects on the connections—and they are myriad—between its metaphysical and psychical approach to religion, history, and experience, and the academic study of religion:
It is no accident, for example, that the explosion of “comparative religion” in American universities coincided exactly with the counterculture and its famous turn East. The AAR was founded in 1964, two years after Esalen and just as the counterculture was getting off the ground…Nor is it an accident that race, class, and gender have come to define much of the field. These, after all, were precisely the concerns of the 1960s via the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, the prominence of Marxist thought in the 1960s, and the definitive birth of feminist and gay consciousness in that still reverberating decade. To the extent that intellectuals still insist on placing these forms of thought at the very heart of their critical thinking, they still inhabit what is essentially a countercultural state of consciousness.
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