Oct 27, 2020
Jeffry J. Kripal is a bit of an iconoclast when it comes to the study of religion.
He's more interested in anomalist phenomena -- the mystic, the psychic, the paranormal -- than he is in things like religious history or the philosophy of religion.
A professor and Associate Dean of Humanities at Rice University, Kripal began his publishing career in controversy. Some Hindu scholars took exception to his 1995 book, Kali's Child: in which he characterized Hindu saint Ramakrishna's mystical experiences as homoerotic.
The response to the book wasn't all negative. Michael Murphy, the cofounder of now iconic Esalen Institute, loved it. Thus began an immersion into the intellectual epicenter of that Big Sur epicenter of the human potential movement, and Kripal's 2007 book, Esalen: America's Religion of No Religion.
As Kripal relates in this podcast, his Esalen exploration marked the beginning of the second phase of his work, which he describes on his website as a "history and analysis of the relationship of mind and matter, particularly as this relationship is made manifest in 'paranormal' events and experiences, such as mystical experiences, parapsychological phenomena, near-death experiences, abduction events, ufological encounters, and psychedelic states."
Kripal's quest is to expand scholarly inquiry into the study of phenomena that can't be easily explained within the constraints of the scientific method.
"What's happened in our public culture is we have conflated science and materialism, which is just an interpretation of the science. It's a good interpretation, but it's an incomplete interpretation. And it rigorously blocks out all of this stuff I want to talk about, because this is the stuff that drives religion," he says.