Since Michael Murphy read my Kali’s Child in the early summer of 1998 and called me late one night in a state of extreme enthusiasm, “armed with a glass of wine and a cell phone,” as he likes to put it, I have enjoyed an increasingly profound relationship to Mike and, through him, to the Esalen Institute. It is impossible to overestimate Mike’s influence on and support of my professional and spiritual lives. Indeed, it was out of this professional and
personal—I dare say metaphysical—relationship that I wrote Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. And it is out of the same relationship again that I have co-directed or directed dozens of symposia involving hundreds of scientists, historians of religions, anthropologists, philosophers, and experiencers through Esalen’s Center for Theory and Research, which I also help lead with Mike now.
THE CENTER FOR THEORY AND RESEARCH
The Center for Theory and Research is the research arm or think-tank of the Esalen Institute. It hosts around eight private symposia each year on topics ranging from Russian-American relations, political polarization within the U.S., and the “Spiritual But Not Religious,” to the anthropology of extreme experience and quantum physics and the new real. Generally, we try to host and encourage conversations around topics and ideas that are often, but not always, “too much” for traditional religious and academic institutions. For descriptions of CTR and its symposia, go to http://www.esalenctr.org/
Esalen’s longest standing symposia series was called Sursem (for either “[Big] Sur Symposium” or “Survival Seminar”). These meetings consisted of a collective of scientists, philosophers, scholars of religion, and human potential figures dedicated to the rigorous study and analysis of psychical and paranormal phenomena, particularly as they pertain to the question of post-mortem survival. For the two major volumes that came out of the Sursem series, both led by the neuroscientist Ed Kelly and his colleagues, see Irreducible Mind and Beyond Physicalism. For an essay I wrote on the history and spirit of Sursem, see my “Mind Matters: Esalen’s Sursem Group and the Ethnography of Consciousness,” for Ann Taves and Courtney Bender, eds., What Matters? Ethnographies of Value in a (Not So) Secular Age. Scott Jones of Jones Cinema Arts and I are presently working on a film series on Esalen largely focused on CTR called “Supernature: Esalen and the Human Potential.” I discuss this film project immediately below, under “The Public Humanities.”
THE SUPER STORY SERIES
This is a private symposia series sponsored by the Esalen Institute and generously supported by the Hummingbird Foundation dedicated to the exploration of the formative role that the sciences are playing in reshaping the religious imagination and our various re-imaginings of the cosmos and consciousness. The series will look closely at (1) the present state of the sciences themselves and how important currents within these professional disciplines are gradually moving away from the older materialist and mechanistic models to new ones that privilege or foreground mind and meaning; (2) the formative role that anomalous experiences have played in the lives and works of the scientists themselves; and (3) the question of what I want to call X-practice, that is, all those present and future technologies–spiritual, somatic, scientific, psychedelic, and digital–that might be engaged to discover these human potentials and eventually ‘make them real,’ that is, actualize them within a new cosmic vision of who and what we already are. On a more personal level, these gatherings are helping me conceive and write the Chicago Super Story trilogy announced in the previous section of this website.