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Current Initiatives


"Our mission at Esalen to facilitate change within self and society has never been more vital than it is now." —Michael Murphy

Directed by Esalen co-founder Michael Murphy and Professor Jeff Kripal, Esalen’s Center for Theory & Research (CTR) sponsors research, theory, and action to promote positive social change and the realization of the human potential.

Completed Conferences

Super Symposium 3
Beyond the Spinning: The UFO Phenomenon, Cosmology, and Eschatology
January 20-25, 2019
Facilitator: Jeff Kripal

This symposium is the third of a nine-year series of symposia sponsored by the Esalen Center for Theory & Research, generously supported by the Hummingbird Foundation and led by Jeff Kripal called “The Super Story Series.”

The Super Story is a poetic device designed to capture all of those emergent mythologies and mystical currents that have been developing over the last two centuries in conversation with the sciences, including quantum physics, evolutionary biology and astronomy and cosmology. The January 2019 symposium focused on the UFO phenomenon as a classic example of that scientific and mythical complex involving astronomy, cosmology, and the countless encounter or abduction experiences of the historical record.

April 14–19, 2019
Facilitators: Michael Murphy, Loriliai Biernacki, Greg Shaw

From its beginning, the Center for Theory & Research has focused on the discoveries of science, mystical experience, and the actualization of supernormal abilities. These explorations, initiated at Esalen by Michael Murphy, may be seen within the trajectory of an evolutionary panentheism. In both Western and Eastern traditions, the realization of supernormal abilities has been imagined as the Incarnation of the divine, or the expression of humanity as self-transcendent. Incarnation, thus, may be seen as a telos of human existence, exemplifying our deepest yearning for what it means to be fully human. From April 14 to 19, leading thinkers from diverse fields of research will explore the significance of Incarnation, how it has been expressed in modalities of the body, traditions of the spirit, and what role it continues to play in the unfolding of our human story.

The One Network
Co-sponsored by Track Two: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy
April 21–26, 2019
Facilitators: Dulce Murphy and Virginia Thomson

The Center for Theory & Research and Track Two brought together a network of influential individuals from Russia, China and the countries of the North Pacific Rim and the Middle East to address issues of global importance including environmental deterioration, nuclear armament, refugee crises, and the growing threats from cyber systems. Each group informed the other and offered not only the means to form friendships and alliances but also to tackle specific problems that the diversity of the One Network helps to solve in new and ground-breaking ways.

Whom Do We Trust? (Russia)
Co-sponsored by Track Two: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy
September 19-22, 2019
Facilitators: Dulce Murphy and Ginger Thomson

Led by Dulce Murphy and Michael Murphy since 1980, and in conjunction with Track Two: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy and colleagues in Russia, this Center for Theory & Research initiative promotes Russian-American partnerships that are designed to improve the relationship between our two nations. This conference will be held at the Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University to establish projects that can improve Russian-American relations, reduce the threat of nuclear disaster and move our two countries towards peace. (Learn more at

International Abrahamic Network (IAN)
Co-sponsored by Track Two: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy
November 10-15, 2019
Facilitators: Dulce Murphy and Virginia Thomson

The International Abrahamic Network (IAN), a project co-sponsored by the Center for Theory & Research and Track Two, was founded on the notion that all peoples seek and deserve dignity and with the goal of helping to build reconciliation among Jews, Christians, and Muslims around the world. IAN focuses on the historical roots of Jewish-Christian-Muslim animosities from psychological and spiritual perspectives. It explores which historical clashes from the very beginnings of the Abrahamic relationships set the stage for the resentments, fears, and hatreds that have endured across centuries. Participants of IAN from the Middle East and the United States work and collaborate on projects centered on peacebuilding. (Learn more at

Super Story Symposia Series 4: Physics, Experience, and Metaphysics
December 1-6, 2019
Facilitators: Jeff Kripal and Harald Atmanspacher

This is the fourth symposium in a nine-year series, led by Jeff Kripal and dedicated to the exploration and analysis of some of the new cosmologies, anthropologies and ecologies taking shape in the contemporary world in and around the natural sciences, particularly physics, evolutionary biology and cosmology. The symposium is generously sponsored by both the Center for Theory & Research and the Hummingbird Foundation.

The present symposium, co-hosted by Harald Atmanspacher and Jeff, is dedicated to the related subjects of physics and metaphysics and how we might re-imagine ourselves in the new real suggested by quantum physics. What would such a re-imagining look like? And who gets to say who can imagine what? The history of quantum physics and its cultural receptions, after all, is filled with attempts to do just this kind of re-imagining. From the early pioneering physicists themselves onwards, writers have consistently observed and commented on the striking resonances or parallels that seem to exist between the third-person mathematical models of quantum mechanics and the first-person nature of human consciousness as expressed in comparative mystical literature. Quantum holism, entanglement, wave-particle duality and non-locality have all been re-imagined and put to various cultural and openly spiritual uses.

How could it be otherwise? Scientists and laypersons alike want to know what the physics might mean. And why should they not? Do human beings, under specific and very special conditions, have some metaphysical access to the fundamental structures or ground of the physical world? Is human consciousness itself a quantum phenomenon? Are such descriptions simply more social constructions, more over-used nonsense based on the languages and metaphors of the 20th and now 21st centuries, but nothing more? Or is there something to these claims and reports that needs to be seriously considered in order to get us beyond the impasses of our present intellectual dilemmas? Most simply put, can a human being actually know, experience or intuit the quantum world in ways other than abstract mathematical modeling? We presume no set answers to these questions. We are asking the questions, not answering them. We wish to unsettle, not to be so certain.

The Religion of No Religion
December 8-13, 2019
Facilitators: Jeff Kripal and Dana Sawyer

Frederic Spiegelberg, a professor of comparative religion at Stanford University, used the phrase “the religion of no religion” in 1948 to capture his paradoxical mystical theology of a divinity within and beyond both the natural world and all of the world religions. The religion of no religion for Spiegelberg was at heart of the cosmos, but it was also the source of all religions, even as it also overflowed and preceded each and every one of them. No religion captured such a cosmic ground. All expressed something of it. In short, this was Spiegelberg’s academic “perennialism.”

Or was it? What do we mean when we speak of perennialism? Can we still? How are such claims related to traditional apophatic mystical theology? How are mystical theology and perennialism to be related to the contemporary “Nones” and their oft-heard refrain: “I am spiritual but not religious”? How are such demographics and forms of thought relevant today, and why are they generally dismissed in the study of religion and the humanities more broadly today? Put a bit more abstractly, is sameness always wrong? Can pure difference really support any long-term search for justice and well-being, much less the universal human search for transcendence and transformation?

These are some of the questions we hope to address during the symposium. We will be inviting both Esalen leaders, who work with these communities and teachers on a daily basis and in a very practical way, and academics who study them in order to give the conversation a social grounding that might be useful to both audiences.



Underwriting is needed for project research, facilitators, translators, coordination, summary writers, occasional expert fees, travel and accommodation, and special outreach projects. 

Supporters at the $10,000 + level are invited to attend a CTR Conference of their choice, as long as donor seats are still available for the chosen conference. Housing arrangements must be made and paid for separately.

To make a donation, please call 415-459-5438 or email Jane Hartford at

Esalen Institute is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. Donations to Esalen Institute are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. Federal tax ID #94-6114235


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