Sunday, May 6, 2007
What's the Unitarian Universalist/Esalen connection?
Reading Diane Johnson's review of Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion reminded me just how big the gap is in my understanding of Unitarian Universalism in the 1970s and early 1980s. Sure, I've heard people speak about "hot tub Unitarianism," and I've always had the impression that when some UUs complain about their religious community's tendency to embrace spiritual fads, they're often talking about the '70s. But I confess that I don't know very much about how UU adults actually lived during that period. Isn't that strange?
I know more about how the denominational structures managed to stay afloat through a tumultuous period. (UUA President Bob West, who was president from 1969 through 1977, has a new memoir out about those years.) And, from Mark Oppenheimer's excellent book on countercultural influences on American religion in the late '60s and early '70s, I learned how the black power movement, early feminism, and the gay liberation movement came to speak a similar language in UU circles. But the whole period — good, bad, and ugly — is still almost wholly foreign to me as an adult convert whose childhood (Mormon in Orem, Utah!) was almost completely impervious to the sixties counterculture. My essential squarehood is revealed.
So this is actually a sincere request for input from UUs of a certain age who may have taken part in "encounter groups" in their congregations, dabbled in the human potential movement, headed off to Esalen or Taos or wherever else things were in alignment, or took part in any other aspect of the period's general sense of religious trippiness. What was it like? What did you learn? How did it affect congregational life at the time?
P.S. My family's closest connection to countercultural religion came in the mid-1980s, when the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers abandoned the Oregon town they had renamed Rajneeshpuram. My mom's large Idaho family, which holds a camping reunion each summer, bought a bunch of the orange tents from the Rajneeshis to house our Mormon throng. From free love to family togetherness!
("Sex, Drugs and Hot Tubs," Diane Johnson, New York Times Book Review 5.6.07, reg req'd)
Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 6 May 2007 at 10:30 PM