Franklin Merrell-Wolff: An intellectual history of contemporary anti-intellectualism in America

Dave Vliegenthart

Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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This study answers the question about why the anti-intellectual claims of modern western gurus and their new religious movements in North America—notably during the first (ca. 1920-1940) and second (ca. 1960-198) “New Age”—have been increasingly intellectualized. Using micro-historical fragments from the life and teaching of modern American guru Franklin Merrell-Wolff (1887-1985) and his Assembly of Man as a starting point, it seeks to understand macro-historical changes in contemporary religious discourse in America.
Anti-intellectualism is a suspicion or resentment of a reflective life that centers on the intellect. Intellectuals inside and outside the academy speak of an anti-intellectual “flight from reason” in America, especially in relation to the “secular-religious spirituality” of modern western gurus. However, when we take a closer look at their ideologies, then we find that they do, indeed, rely on anti-intellectual experiences, but anti-intellectual ex-periences that are often heavily intellectualized. How and why did this paradox emerge?
The conclusion is that, after periods of social crisis, such as a revolution or war, a rise in (awareness of) similar gurus with similar new religious movements based on simi-lar ideologies derived from similar religious experiences led the leaders and followers of these movements to increasingly intellectualize their anti-intellectual claims, in order to create and sustain their own “unique” identity. This intellectualized anti-intellectualism does not consist of flights from reason, but reasoned flights beyond reason.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Groningen
  • von Stuckrad, Kocku, Supervisor
  • Taves, A., Co-supervisor, External person
Award date9-Mar-2017
Place of Publication[Groningen]
Print ISBNs978-90-367-9551-7
Electronic ISBNs978-90-367-9550-0
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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