Skip to main content

Secret Body

Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions

Secret Body

Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions

Over the course of his twenty-five-year career, Jeffrey J. Kripal’s study of religion has had two major areas of focus: the erotic expression of mystical experience and the rise of the paranormal in American culture. This book brings these two halves together in surprising ways through a blend of memoir, manifesto, and anthology, drawing new connections between these two realms of human experience and revealing Kripal’s body of work to be a dynamic whole that has the potential to renew and reshape the study of religion.
            Kripal tells his story, biographically, historically and politically contextualizing each of the six books of his Chicago corpus, from Kali’s Child to Mutants and Mystics, all the while answering his censors and critics and exploring new implications of his thought. In the process, he begins to sketch out a speculative “new comparativism” in twenty theses. The result is a new vision for the study of religion, one that takes in the best of the past, engages with outside critiques from the sciences and the humanities, and begins to blaze a new positive path forward. A major work decades in the making, Secret Body will become a landmark in the study of religion.

448 pages | 4 color plates | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Religion: Comparative Studies and History of Religion, Religion and Society


"Kripal presents us with a compilation of theories, cultural references and anecdotes making up an impassioned thesis about the future of religious studies and 'what human beings may become'. . .For all its eccentricities, Kripal’s work is playful, engaging and original. His references to both “high” and “low” culture are reminiscent of prominent intellectuals such as Susan Sontag and Slavoj Žižek. His earnest encouragement of scholars to be more open and his rejection of skeptical approaches--'scholars are not religiously inept and disciples are not dumb'--is both heartening and timely. Secret Body may not be fully rational or fully defensible, but it certainly is an enjoyable read."

Times Higher Education

"Secret Body is the latest, bravest, and most accessible book by Jeffrey J. Kripal. Both ambitious and substantial. . . Secret Body is a book you can dip into at will, and revisit often. In many ways ahead of its time, Kripal’s work will likely become more and more relevant to more and more areas of inquiry as the century unfolds. It may even open up a new space for Americans to reevaluate the personal and cultural narratives they have inherited, and to imagine alternative futures.”

Los Angeles Review of Books

"[Kripal] is a serious intellectual, but one who wears his heart on his sleeve. He writes with sensitivity and self-deprecating humor. . .a book that often sparkles with insight and inspires the reader to think, 'I never thought of it that way.'"

New York Journal of Books

"Secret Body is a remarkable ode to freedom. With acute self-reflexivity. . .This volume serves as a fine introduction to Kripal’s career and to the story he has written of himself in order to make sense of himself within a Super Story that he admits he only dimly comprehends. And yet this lack of understanding does not signify theoretical resignation, much less mystical fascism. . .Rather, it serves as prolegomena to the future of a “new comparativism” in the history of religion.”

Reading Religion

“[Kripal] is a compelling communicator who expresses his ideas with refreshing clarity and acuity. . .Secret Body constitutes an absorbing retrospective of ideas now brought together in one engagingly confessional volume. For anyone else interested in exploring mysticism, paranormal experiences, and the nature of being, without having to suspend their critical discernment in order to do so, Kripal’s book will be of great interest. It challenges entrenched positions taken up by those who seek to either defend or debunk esotericism. Above all this is an optimistic book, offering a hopeful new perspective on the cosmic nature of embodied consciousness as a legitimate subject of intellectual, scientific, and humanistic analysis.”

Spiral Nature Magazine

"Kripal proposes in Secret Body a revolutionary historiography of religion. . . his personal voice and commitments are so steadily audible in the background of his vatic scholarship.”

Fortnightly Review

Secret Body is Jeffrey Kripal at his most capacious, and most confessional. All the highways and byways of his tireless imagination converge here, in this magisterial but intimate effort of auto-interpretation. I have come to see Kripal in the grand tradition of Ludwig Feuerbach: showing us how we have projected our own superhuman potential into a world of gods and monsters, and pleading with us to recall that potential from exile. However, Kripal tops Feuerbach in at least one column: he has an infectious sense of humor about the whole charade.”

Charles M. Stang, Harvard Divinity School

“This beautifully written and sharply observed book is simply put one of the most remarkable challenges to scholarship-as-usual that I have encountered. It will baffle or annoy many scholars, but those who take it seriously as an invitation to look differently at the way we think about religion and what should count as the subject of scholarship will find that it changes their sense of the possible.”

T. M. Luhrmann, author of When God Talks Back

"All of Jeffrey Kripal’s works could be called hybrid in the way they upend the staid conventions of traditional academic discourse with plentiful infusions of the personal voice and keenly judged metaphysical speculation. Secret Body takes this trademark mix of genres to a whole new level. Equal parts autobiography, manifesto, and scholarly discursus, it is an ambitious compendium that assembles under one cover all the important developmental highlights of a prolific theorist/historian of religion’s thinking . . . . A memoir of ideas that uniquely combines the personal, the historical, the metaphysical, and the mystical, this (as always) highly readable tome is an invaluable road map to a richly complex scholarly oeuvre. It is a holistic overview of a body of work that is considering how much of it there is at this point—both appropriate and very much needed."

Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies

"...this book reflects deep learning as it advances a blunt assessment of where the study of religion is now and provocatively suggests a way forward."

History of Religions

Table of Contents

Opening: “You Should Write Fiction”


1          In the Land of Oz: Childhood and Adolescence
Letter to the Editor: The Buyer’s Guide (1977)

2          “My Eros Has Been Crucified”: Puberty, Asceticism, and Neurosis
On the Fiction of a Straight Jesus (2008)

3          That Night: Wherein the Knowing Energies Zap Me
The Preface that I Did Not Publish (ca. 1994)

4          The Erotic Mystic: Kālī’s Child and the Backlash against It
Secret Talk: Sexual Identity and the Politics of Scholarship in the Study of Hindu Tantrism (2000)

5          The Transmoral Mystic: What Both the Moralists and the Devotees Get Wrong
Inside-Out, Outside-In: Existential Place and Academic Method in the Study of North American Guru Traditions (1999)

6          How They Really Came to Their Ideas: The Deeper Roots of Thought and Theory
The Visitation of the Stranger: On Some Mystical Dimensions of the History of Religions (1999)

7          The Gnostic Reversal: The Snake that Bites Its Own Tail
Gnosisssss: A Response to Wouter Hanegraaff (2008)

8          Wendy’s Student: Mythical Paradox and Political Censorship
Being Blake: Antinomian Thought, Counterculture, and the Art of the History of Religions (2010)


9          That Other Night: The Future of the Body and Evolutionary Esotericism
Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion (2007)

10        The Filter Thesis: The Irreducible Nature of Mind and the Spirit of the Humanities
An Island in Mind: Aldous Huxley and the Neurotheologian (2013)

11        The Rise of the Paranormal: And Some Related X Factors in the Study of Religion
Authors of the Impossible: Reading the Paranormal Writing Us (2010–2014)

The Matter of Myth and the Myth of Matter (2011)

12        La Pensée Surhumaine: Paraphysics, the Super Story, and Invisible Colleges
Forbidden Science: A Late Night Chat with Jacques Vallée (January 24, 2012)

La Madonna dell’UFO (2015)

13        Comparing Religions in Public: Family, Evangelicals, and the Prophetic Function of the Humanities
The Chess Game (February 22, 2015)

14        The Super Natural: Biological Gods, the Traumatic Secret, and the Future (of) Race
Better Horrors: From Terror to Communion in Whitley Strieber’s Communion (2015)


15        The New Comparativism: What It Is and How to Do It
Transmigration and Cultural Transmission: Comparing Anew with Ian Stevenson (2017)

Closing: What the New Sacred Is (Not)

Airport Afterword
Appendix: The Gnomons
The Method of All Methods

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press