Jeffrey J. Kripal

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Jeffrey J. Kripal
Scientific career
Fieldsstudy of comparative erotics and ethics in mystical literature, American countercultural translations of Asian religions, and the history of Western esotericism from gnosticism to New Age religions
InstitutionsRice University

Jeffrey John Kripal (born 1962) is an American college professor. He is the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

His work includes the study of comparative erotics and ethics in mystical literature, American countercultural translations of Asian religions, and the history of Western esotericism from gnosticism to New Age religions.[1]

Scholarly Impact[edit]

Kali's Child[edit]

Kripal's 1995 book Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna was a study of the Bengali mystic Ramakrishna. The book was a psychoanalytic study arguing that Ramakrishna's mystical experiences involved a strong homoerotic dimension. The book won the American Academy of Religion's History of Religions Prize for the Best First Book of 1995.[2] A second, revised edition was published in 1998. The book has been dogged by controversy ever since its initial publication in 1995.[3] The book's claims have been questioned by the scholars and Alan Roland, and members of the Ramakrishna Mission (Swami Tyagananda and Pravrajika Vrajaprana),[4] often on the grounds of translation errors. However, Bengal scholar Brian Hatcher has defended Kripal's translations.[5]

Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion[edit]

In 2007 The University of Chicago Press released Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, Kripal's account of the Esalen Institute, the retreat center and think-tank located in Big Sur, California. Writing in the Journal of American History, Catherine Albanese called it "a highly personal account that is also a superb historiographical exercise and a masterful work of analytical cultural criticism."[6]

Authors of the Impossible[edit]

Kripal's 2011 book traces the history of psychic phenomena over the last two centuries. The book profiles four writers: the British psychical researcher F. W. H. Myers, the American anomalist writer and humorist Charles Fort, the astronomer, computer scientist, and ufologist Jacques Vallee, and the French philosopher Bertrand Méheust.

Chronicle of Higher Education[edit]

In a March 2014 article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Visions of the Impossible", Kripal cited Mark Twain, who wrote that a dream about his brother's death appeared to come true in detail a few weeks later. Kripal writes that

The professional debunker's insistence, then, that the phenomena play by his rules and appear for all to see in a safe and sterile laboratory is little more than a mark of his own ignorance of the nature of the phenomena in question.[7]

Kripal's article was criticized by Jerry Coyne in The New Republic as "the latest anti-science argument."[8]


Businessman Rajiv Malhotra has questioned the view and approach[9] Kripal takes in Kali's Child, alongside the approach taken by many other scholars of India. In his book Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America, Malhotra's criticisms are primarily based on the work of Swami Tyagananda.[10]

As a result of criticisms like Malhotra's, Kripal was among a group of scholars receiving death threats and physical attacks from Hindus offended by his portrayals.[11] He shifted his research focus away from Hinduism afterward, claiming, “I stuck with it and responded as best as I could for about six or seven years. It just wore me down after a while. At some point I felt like it wasn’t worth it anymore, that it was starting to affect my health. I couldn’t go anywhere, any conference or anything, without having to deal with the thought police, as it were.”[12]


Books authored[edit]

  • Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna (Chicago, 1995, 1998) ISBN 978-0-226-45377-4
  • Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism (Chicago, 2001) ISBN 978-0-226-45379-8
  • The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion (University of Chicago Press, 2006) ISBN 978-0-226-45381-1
  • Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion (Chicago, 2007) ISBN 978-0-226-45370-5
  • Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred (University of Chicago Press, 2010) ISBN 978-0-226-45386-6
  • Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011) ISBN 978-0-226-45383-5
  • Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained, and Whitley Strieber (New York: Tarcher, Penguin, 2016) ISBN 978-1-101-98232-7
  • Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017) ISBN 978-0-226-12682-1
  • The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge (New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2019) ISBN 978-1942658528

Books edited[edit]

  • Vishnu on Freud's Desk: A Reader in Psychoanalysis and Hinduism edited with T.G. Vaidyanathan (Oxford, 1999) ISBN 978-0-19-565835-4
  • Crossing Boundaries: Essays on the Ethical Status of Mysticism edited with G. William Barnard (Seven Bridges, 2002) ISBN 978-1-889119-25-0
  • Encountering Kali: In the Margins, at the Center, in the West edited with Rachel Fell McDermott (California, 2003) ISBN 978-0-520-23240-2
  • On the Edge of the Future: Esalen and the Evolution of American Culture edited with Glenn Shuck (Indiana, 2005) ISBN 978-0-253-34556-1
  • Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism edited with Wouter J. Hanegraaff (New York, 2010) ISBN 978-0-823-23341-0

Articles and essays[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jeffrey J. Kripal's faculty page at the Department of Religious Studies, Rice University.
  2. ^ Kurien, Prema A. (2007). "Challenging American Pluralism". A place at the multicultural table. Rutgers University Press. pp. 201–202.
  3. ^ Balagangadhara, S.N.; Sarah Claerhout (Spring 2008). "Are Dialogues Antidotes to Violence? Two Recent Examples From Hinduism Studies" (PDF). Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies. 7 (19): 118–143. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-08-20. Retrieved 2010-01-15.
  4. ^ Tyagananda, Swami; Vrajaprana (2010). Interpreting Ramakrishna: Kali's Child Revisited. Huston Smith (foreword). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. pp. xvii–xviii. ISBN 978-81-208-3499-6.
  5. ^ Hatcher, Brian A. (1999). "Kali's problem child: another look at Jeffrey Kripal's study of Ramakrishna" (PDF). International Journal of Hindu Studies: 170–1. doi:10.1007/s11407-999-0002-3. S2CID 147134190.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ Catherine Albenese, [untitled review] Journal of American History Mar 2008, 1326 [1]
  7. ^ Jeffrey J. Kripal. "Visions of the Impossible". Retrieved 2014-04-03.
  8. ^ Jerry Coyne. "The Latest Anti-Science Argument Comes Down to ESP". Retrieved 2014-04-03.
  9. ^ Rajiv Malhotra (2007). Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America. ISBN 978-8129111821.
  10. ^ Swami Tyagananda (2010). Interpreting Ramakrishna: Kali's Child Revisited. ISBN 978-8120834996.
  11. ^ "The University of Chicago Magazine: December 2004". Retrieved 2019-06-02.
  12. ^ "Scholars who study Hinduism and India face hostile climate". Retrieved 2019-06-02.

External links[edit]