The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege

By Marion Goldman | Go to book overview

Introduction
Esalen, the Soul Rush, and Spiritual Privilege

Millions of contemporary Americans search for personal and spiritual fulfillment through meditation, yoga, and other practices that engage simultaneously their bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits. Today, these activities are commonplace, unremarkable. Yet, before the early 1960s, they were rare options for most people outside the upper class or small groups of educated spiritual seekers. The contemporary soul rush for self-transformation and individualized spirituality began on the central California coast at Esalen Institute. Its founding generation made myriad options for spiritual experiences and personal growth available to ordinary Americans who were disenchanted with mainstream religions.

Esalen encouraged widespread enthusiasm for an enormous range of spiritual paths that offered possibilities for individuals to live joyfully and discover fresh truths about themselves and the cosmos. The Institute democratized spiritual privilege by popularizing options that had once been available to relatively few Americans and made the religious marketplace more diverse and open. Esalen played a critical role in introducing and promoting esoteric spirituality so that it flowed into mainstream culture. Millions of contemporary Americans identify themselves as spiritual, not religious, because the Institute paved the way for them to explore spirituality without affiliating with established denominations (Roof 1999).

The Institute’s founding generation started lasting organizations and social networks that continue to facilitate the development and spread of alternative spirituality and humanistic psychology in the twenty-first century. This book is about spiritual privilege at Esalen, its sweeping impact on American religion, and some of the people who have organized their lives around the Institute’s imperatives to achieve their full human potentials.

Innovative approaches to spiritual growth and personal transformation did not spring up suddenly like magic mushrooms in the cultural forests

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