Theme of the Week

B’s – philosophy, psychology, theology, religions – Angels and Demons

Reader: Cindy Parkhurst
Author: Ari Goldman
Title: The Search for God at Harvard
Call Number: BM 205 G55 1992
Rating: 5

Summary: I have, for many years, been fascinated by all things Jewish. When I was in college I read all of Chaim Potok’s novels and was interested to learn about Orthodox Judaism. I think part of my fascination came from the similarities in the Adventist lifestyle I had grown up with and the Orthodox Jew’s way of life.

In Goldman’s book, I was re-introduced to the Orthodox lifestyle and read with renewed appreciation about traditional Shabbat observance as well as about kashrut eating. Ari Goldman was a religion reporter for the New York Times in the 1980’s and was an observant Orthodox Jew. This is the story of his quest to become more familiar with other religious traditions by taking a year’s sabbatical from the Times to pursue an education in world religious traditions from Harvard’s Divinity School. He was interested in learning about Muslims and Christians as well as Hindus and Buddhists.

Cindy Parkhurst

Reader: Christina Viramontes
Author: Deborah Laake
Title: Secret Ceremonies: A Mormon woman’s intimate diary of marriage and beyond
Call Number: BX 8645 L22 1993
Rating: 5

Summary: I looked through the B section of our library for a book for this week’s theme, and I found this title and the topic to be intriguing. I decided to plow into this book.

This is Deborah’s account of her experience as a Mormon beginning at BYU. She had been all her life to marry a good Mormon man and become a mother. This was supposed to be her goal in life, and this is all she knew. All around her at BYU during her sophomore year, women were becoming engaged and she wondered when it would be her turn to feel that ring on her finger.

When she married Monty, her first husband, she did not love him, but felt she was doing what was expected of her. She tells her readers about her marriage in the temple, but she just went through the motions. She felt closed in by not only her husband, but by her church as well. A few years later, she attempted suicide and was able to finally leave Monty.

After two more marriages and a couple more suicide attempts, Deborah still struggled with the idea of what is Mormonism and what it had done to her life. I decided to find out more about Deborah, but only to find out her fourth attempt at suicide proved to be unfortunately successful. The entire book one could she was depressed. It seemed as she was not happy about many things in her life, and what made her happy were few.

Reader: Kitty Simmons
Author: Jeffrey Kripal
Title: Esalen
Call Number: BL2525 K75 2007
Rating: 3

Summary: Book Jacket Quote: “Esalen has always been on the edge.” Located on the cliffs of California’s Big Sur coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Esalen Institute is both geographically and intellectually way out there! The author presents a veritable who’s who of twentieth century psychologists and their contributions to the development of this birthplace of the human potential movement. The book tells the story of a unique think tank that evolved in a unique location.

Warning: This is not a beach read!! This is one of the most challenging books I have read in a long time, a major slog actually, relieved only occasionally by pictures and bits of drama, but if you have any interest in the subject, persistence will be rewarded!

I have long been tantalized by the idea of Esalen, knowing just enough to be motivated to seek out the whole story that this book so amply provides. However, I got more than I bargained for since the author insists on providing a lot of information about a wide array of ideas that resulted in the events and activities of the place. And I mean, lots of information about philosophy, Eastern belief systems, various psychological schools of thought and practice, and more. One reason for the complexity of Esalen is the guiding principal that “no one captures the flag,” meaning that there has never been a dominating philosophy or practice. Diversity of thought, expression, and understanding is a distinguishing feature. I was impressed by Esalen’s exceedingly wide reach. The author includes many examples of this influence from the personal to the national to the global arena. The most interesting parts of the book for me were about Esalen’s early days and also about how the Institue seeks to remain relevant in more recent years, the story of the two primary founders, and details about some of the many seminars and their leaders.

It was fascinating to read near the end of the book about a long-running series of seminars focusing on “Survival of Bodily Death,” which those in the know refer to as Sursem, the survival seminar. For all their metaphysical gymnastics, the people of Esalen, like people everywhere are driven to make sense of death and to wrestle with what comes next or not. After struggling through so many pages filled with concepts that I don’t fully grasp, it was a relief to realize that when it comes to the Sursem, my own faith and understanding of life after death puts me back on solid ground!

Now when I drive by Big Sur, the beauty will remain, but this book has resolved much of the mystery about Esalen for me. I kind of know what has happened there, who was involved, and what all the fuss was about.

Theme Archives

B’s – philosophy, psychology, theology, religions
C or D – history of Europe, Africa, Asia, archaeology History of the World part 1
E or F – history of the Americas – Roots
G or H – Economics, business, anthropology, sociology, crime – Wall Street
L – Education – Stand and Deliver
M or N – Music, Art – Amadeus
P – Language and Literature – The Diary of Bridget Jones
Q or R – Science, Math, Medicine – Beautiful Mind