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Lecture to address the American 'religion of no religion'

Jeffrey J. Kripal
January 15, 2014

Recent decades have witnessed the rise of Americans who claim to be “spiritual, but not religious.” Jeffrey J. Kripal, the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University, calls this increasingly popular orientation the “religion of no religion.”

Kripal will discuss how and why so many Americans have come to describe themselves in this way in a free public lecture at 3 p.m., Jan. 23, in the Memorial Union Alumni Lounge on the Tempe campus.

Kripal’s life and work have taken him from Roman Catholicism and Benedictine monastic spirituality, through psychoanalysis and the Hindu Tantra, into the history of American metaphysical religion.

He is an authority on mysticism and the paranormal, topics which are usually not given much attention in the academic study of religion. He examines these themes with a diverse and interesting range of research topics, such as science fiction novels, superhero comics, the paranormal and the human potential movement.

“Jeffrey Kripal has written extensively on religious experience across multiple traditions,” says Linell Cady, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. “His creative and out-of-the-box thinking on these issues challenges us to expand the ways we seek to understand the nature and future of religion.”

Kripal is the author of seven books and co-editor of six volumes, including “Comparing Religions,” “Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal,” “Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred” and “Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion.”

He is a prominent advocate for including the paranormal in religious studies, which he contends is an untapped source of insight into the sacred. He believes that by tracing the history of psychical phenomena through the last two centuries of Western thought, we can see its potential centrality to the critical study of religion.

As chair of the religious studies department at Rice, he helped develop a graduate program in gnosticism, esotericism and mysticism, the first and only program of its kind in the United States.

His current research interests include the re-visioning and renewal of the comparative method in the study of religion, the comparative erotics of mystical literature, American countercultural translations of Asian religious traditions and the history of Western esotericism from ancient Gnosticism to the New Age.

Kripal’s lecture is part of the center’s Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Speaker Series on Religion and Conflict, which honors the lifelong commitment of Maxine and Jonathan Marshall to promoting the arts, education, civil liberties and world peace. RSVP at

The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict is an interdisciplinary research unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that examines the role of religion as a driving force in human affairs.

Story by Katie Mykleseth