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Current Center for Theory & Research Initiatives

Current Center for Theory & Research Initiatives

Esalen is a preeminent alternative education center charged with helping to transform and evolve world culture through its public workshops and its Center for Theory & Research (CTR) projects. For over 50 years, Esalen has initiated new areas of research, theory, practice, and action, all of which have fostered social change and the realization of the human potential. A brief overview of our current initiatives follows.

Political Polarization

Esalen’s Center for Theory and Research, in partnership with The Institute of Cultural Evolution, tackles one of the biggest problems plaguing America today: political polarization and dysfunction. In October 2014, Esalen will host its first ever invitation-only conference on political polarization, bringing together key figures on all sides of party lines, together as no where else but Esalen can. Leveraging the cross-disciplinary strengths of our conferees and the sheer beauty of Esalen’s storied meeting space, we will welcome leading public figures, academics, pundits, theorists, insiders, and activists. We will explore the cultural roots of our current stalemate, the historical forces at work in the political divide, the detrimental effects of this division on our society, and, most importantly, how we can find a way to move the country forward. With this conference Esalen works, once again, toward its mission of serving as a catalyst for the development of social potential. Read more.

Citizen Diplomacy with China

UC Berkeley Professor and MacArthur Fellow, Xiao Qiang, along with Chungliang Al Huang, Sam Yau, Jay Ogilvy, and TRACK TWO, convened a sixth year of cultural exchange with China in October 2013.  Our overarching goal is to create friendship and deeper understanding between China and the United States, effectively creating a network of influential Chinese cultural leaders.  Esalen’s growing ties with China now include descendants of such major figures as Confucius, Sun Yat-sen, and Deng Xiaoping, as well as some of the most powerful political and cultural figures in China today. Participants in 2013 included many Chinese participants of note, as well as two former Presidents of the New York Asia Society, Robert Oxnam and Vishakha N Desai, and Orville Schell, Director of the Asia Society’s Center on US – China Relations in New York and Beijing.

Conscious Business Conclave

In March 2013, CTR hosted its 3rd Conscious Business Conference with Conscious Capitalism, Inc.  Initiated by Chairman Sam Yau and co-designed with Jay Ogilvy, Chip Conley and others, this event brought together progressive business leaders with systems thinkers and spiritual teachers to share their personal values and discuss the emergence of new business models that honor employees and the environment.  Current or former CEOs and senior executives from companies picked by Fortune magazine as the best 100 to work for were invited to share what they know with the others.  Past participants have included John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods; Sally Jewell, former CEO of REI (now Secretary of the Interior); Eileen Fisher; Ping Fu of Geomagic; Blake Mycoskie of TOMS; Jack Wadsworth, former Chair of Morgan Stanley Asia; and Chade-Meng Tan, Head of Personal Growth at Google.  Starbucks, Bright Horizons, Nordstrom’s, the Container Store, Cliff Bars, Trader Joe’s and many others have been represented as well.   The heart-felt sharing and depth of intellectual exchange during the conferences is making a unique contribution to the emergence of the conscious business movement in the United States. CTR will host a fourth Conscious Business Conference in 2014.

International Abrahamic Network (IAN)

Led since 2007 by Dulce Murphy, Michael Murphy, and Joseph Montville under the banner of IAN (formerly the Abrahamic Family Reunion), with much outside support from Fetzer Institute, Adelaide and Andrew Hixon and many others, we have united and built common cause among hundreds of Abrahamic leaders from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. This work has touched over 250 theology schools, seminaries, and graduate schools in the United States and Canada and now extends into the Middle East.  We have also created a website: that has become the hub of much Abrahamic activity, which features a “guidebook” for Abrahamic reconciliation.  This group meets annually to focus on a chosen project and to introduce new organizations/individuals into the network.

Citizen Diplomacy with Russia

Led by Dulce Murphy and Michael Murphy since 1980, and in conjunction with TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy and colleagues in Moscow, Esalen’s CTR is promoting Russian-American partnerships that are designed to improve the relationship between our two nations.  For example, The Esalen Pacifica Prize was launched in 2012 and continues in 2013 to highlight the role of the arts in enriching and deepening ties between Russia and the United States across a range of common interests – cultural, scientific, business and economic.  This project was commended by the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul in a letter dated May 21, 2013, calling the project “a positive symbol of U.S.-Russia relations.”  

For more information, go to

Somatics and Ecoactivism

Under the leadership of CIIS Professor Don Johnson, this gathering in June 2013 focused on the interface between Somatics and Ecoactivism, inviting leaders in the teaching of body practices that root us in an earthly sense of ourselves, and thinkers who are diagnosing the monsters at our doorway and what to do about it.  One reason that the ecology movement has had trouble mobilizing the vast populations that it needs is that most people, even those in favor of ecology, don’t deeply feel that their souls and levels of consciousness are entwined with the earth; that the pressing dangers to the earth are dangers to our own sensibilities.  On the one hand, there are tens of thousands of gifted workers with the body who are very halting in how to bring forth their earthy concerns.  On the other, are the activists who are too often rooted mainly in discourse and concept.  Participants included Steven Harper, Eric Berlow, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Katya Bloom, and Catherine Doe, among others.

Agrarian Elders: A Gathering of Leading Organic Farmers

In January 2014 Esalen hosted 25 leading organic farmers from around North America in a first-of-its-kind gathering, which gave them a unique opportunity to share and discuss their rich experiences and accumulated wisdom over the past 40 years of organic farming so that they can be bestowed to future generations of farmers.    Click here for the conference summary.

Ecology, Spirituality, and Social Justice 

In January 2014 Professor Robert McDermott and several scholars in ecology, spirituality, and social justice met to discuss how to implement new teaching strategies to educate more effectively for global climate change. Click here for the conference summary.

Groundbreaking Meditation Research

In cooperation with Esalen’s CTR, Cassandra Vieten, CEO of the Institute of Noetic Sciences convened emerging leaders who are challenging existing biases and breaking new ground in neglected areas of meditation research.  The first conference in this series was held in May 2013, with researchers from various disciplines who surveyed the field and assessed new methods derived from cutting-edge neuroscience that show how to improve the results of meditation practices.  This conference provided a specific set of recommendations for researchers in this exciting field. 

The Big Vision of Evolution

Throughout Esalen’s history Michael Murphy has hosted leading scholars of evolution and spiritual transformation to discuss the emerging vision of human evolution. Often described as “evolutionary panentheism,” this vision looks at how to reconcile scientific and mystical perspectives into a more encompassing vision of human possibility. It includes Jeff Kripal’s pioneering work on how the film industry portrays the emergence of paranormal capacities in humans.

Complexity Economics

Led by longtime CTR conference facilitator Jay Ogilvy, Esalen’s Chairman of the Board Sam Yau, and W. Brian Arthur of Santa Fe Institute fame, in 2012 CTR hosted its first invitational conference for the world’s leading contributors to the new theory of complexity economics.  Where the old approach looked at the economy through the physicist’s metaphor of a closed system that always finds an even equilibrium between supply and demand, the new, more biological/evolutionary approach sees an open and dynamic system that is often far from equilibrium.  By building a fellowship among the leaders in this nascent and very important field, Esalen can do for economics what the famous Solvay conferences did for modern physics: create a new and better paradigm for discovery, understanding, and a more reliable creation of sustainable wealth.

Evidence for Life After Death

Michael Murphy has spearheaded a 15-year conference series assessing the evidence for the human survival of bodily death.  Ed and Emily Kelly’s recently published groundbreaking book, Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology of the 21st Century, grew directly out of the intensive dialogues in this series.  This work presents empirical evidence that the materialistic assumption underlying nearly all of current mainstream psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind is fundamentally flawed.  This book makes the case that it is possible--without resort to religious dogma of any kind—to answer the question, “Does something in us exist after death?”  Dr. Eben Alexander III, author of Proof of Heaven, which was recently featured on the cover of Newsweek, refers to Irreducible Mind both in his book and in the following link:  This same CTR group is now working on a new book, which will present a theoretical model of post-mortem survival that researchers in various fields can test empirically.   This group meets annually and blogs throughout the year.


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