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Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion Paperback


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Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion + The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the Human Potential Movement: The First Twenty Years + On the Edge of the Future: Esalen and the Evolution of American Culture (Religion in North America)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 594 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226453707
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226453705
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Many readers will probably not have heard of Esalen—but that doesn't mean they won't find its history fascinating. Esalen is a legendary sacred place, but legendary among the privileged few like Aldous Huxley, Henry Miller and Joseph Campbell, for whom Esalen was a spiritual playground. 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 of partaking in Esalen's infamous sinful delights. The community itself, Kripal explains, is centered around the idea of a "religion of no religion," which provides "a kind of American Mystical Constitution" for its visitors and "a spiritual space where almost any religious form can flourish." 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. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"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 "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 and Esalen a worthy subject (a kind of Us Weekly for the discerning intellectual)." - Publishers Weekly "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"

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Thomas B. Roberts on June 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2007). Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. University of Chicago Press. xiv + 573 pages. Includes bibliography and index. Cloth and paper.

I always like to see a topic that interests me embedded in a larger context. A wider context describes how the topic of my interest (psychedelics in this case) fits into historical events and into a more global collection of ideas (the human potential movement, in Esalen). By following the movement of ideas and people through Esalen Institute, Kripal constructs an intellectual and personal history of the Esalen as one spring whose waters both nourished and reflected the 60's, but more than that, of the 70s, 80s, 90's and 21st Century too.

He readily alerts readers that his story must omit some items that others would deem important, and that his organizing ideas track his attention to selected Esalen events. His four organizing idea-themes are: the religion of no religion (alternately, the religion of all religions), altered states of history, the tantric transmission, and the enlightenment of the body. "Esalen," as he describes it, "has dedicated itself to the fusing or synthesizing of the spiritual and scientific, of wonder and reason, of what an academic might call the humanities and the sciences." (page 13). He recognizes these significant aspects of Esalen, rather than the misleading garden of delights for hippies and upper middle class hangers-on that the popular press dwells on.

By tracking Esalen people as a history, Kripal gives not only a history of the place, but also a history of the human potential movement. Esalen combines both an adventurous think tank and a location for experiments in human interactions, where mind and body were not separated, but used to enhance each other.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Bob Isaacson on April 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was fortunate enough to have spent this past weekend at Esalen picked up a copy of Jeffrey Kripal's book and I could not put it down! This book is a must read for those wanting to know more about this amazing place and it's impact on American culture and the future of the planet. Esalen: America and The Religion of No Religion chronicles the history of an unique experiment conceived by two visionary men, Michael Murphy and Richard Price. Esalen is one of a kind place that sits at the edge of the American frontier both geographically and intellectually. The land and it's hot springs have a long history as a place of ceremony and healing for the Esselen Indians and other indigenous people who lived there for thousands of years. In 1910, Dr. Henry Murphy, Michael's grandfather, purchased the property to make the curative waters of the hotspring available for his patients. It is on this magical land that the Esalen Institute now resides. The list of people who have visited and taught there over the years is a veritable who's who of some of the greatest minds of the 20th Century. It is a place that has a history of encouraging intellectual and spiritual diversity and different approaches to exploring the full range of human potential. Esalen has been and continues to be one of the most important cultural and spiritual centers of the world that is dedicated to the exploration of human possibilities. We live in world that is in desperate need of a vision of a positive future. Esalen is a place where this vision is likely to emerge.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Dean on February 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The author sometimes has trouble with choppy writing, and overly long sentences. However, for the most part his subject matter is interesting enough that the issues of writing can be overlooked, However, what was annoying to me was his impression or conviction that everything and everybody "really" were experiencing Hindu Tantric experiences. This occurs despite the fact that no one he writes about saw themselves that way, used the terms, or followed that path. However, the author has followed that path - and that's all that matters. If he was a Christian no doubt everything would "really" be about Christ's manifestation at Esalen. I have no trouble with the concepts of Tantra - I practice Buddhist Tantra - but we cannot impose our own business or spiritual position on the subject matter when proposing the write a history.

Other than this issue - which was more annoying than anything else - the book is pretty good. Upstart Spring might be better.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By S. Krasa on February 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Loved this book! For a work of non-fiction, it was a surprising page-turner. I was fascinated to learn that many of our common (and some rather uncommon) conceptions sprung from this mystical think tank on the California coast. This book embodies the spirit of Esalen; and hopefully other readers will find themselves having delightful "textual synchronicities" as I did! This is a "must read" for anyone interested in the human potential movement, mysticism, and modern psychology.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Alan F. Zundel on October 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is more than simply a history of Esalen--as fascinating as that story is in itself--it is also a history of American culture and modern spirituality told with deep insight, charm and intelligence. A beautiful book--masterfully written, meticulously researched, and beautifully designed.

One of Kripal's ongoing themes has been that of the writing and reading of texts as a mystic practice. Here this is true; reading this book thoughtfully will touch your heart and mind and move them toward the mysterious human potential for conscious evolution that Esalen was all about.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in spirituality, mysticism, American culture, psychology, literature, psychedelics, the counterculture, sexuality, modern American history, psychic phenomena--my gosh, for anyone who has any intellectual curiosity about anything of importance in these times.

--Alan F. Zundel, The HeartAwake Center
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