There are not too many books that I would call epiphanies. I always lay down Jeffrey Kripal’s books with a sense of wonder and awe. His Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions is one book I initially skipped over due (as usual) to not being able to afford even modest academic pricing. (Hey, my books are even worse in that regard, so that’s not a criticism!) I’ve met Kripal a few times and have had some conversations with him that always leave me feeling strangely empowered. That’s the place this book left me. I’m a slow reader and it isn’t a small tome, so it took me some time. Also, I didn’t want to rush it. Doing so would’ve been like trying to jog across a boulder field. I hardly know where to begin.
Kripal is an historian of religions. His own experiences in the academy are narrated in this book, so I urge the curious to look. Many people who know me think that I’m a biblical scholar. My training, however, is in history of religions. It’s a fool’s errand to try to classify a doctorate, but my focus was on how ideas appeared in several ancient cultures, with no real expectation of evolution beyond what appeared later in time than something else. As many who study ancient texts know, this translates to “biblical studies” in the academy and so for many years I taught Hebrew Bible. Friends in the academy suggested I should shift my research to Bible (as I did in Weathering the Psalms) in order to get a solid placement in academe. It backfired in my case. This isn’t a pointless digression.
Secret Body is a trippy book. It deserves to be read widely and engaged with by academics (among which I no longer count). It is a ground plan for the study of our field. Kripal understands, better than just about anyone, why religious studies is foundering. He’s also brave enough to delve into the unspoken areas that we all know are terribly, terribly significant. And he isn’t a materialist. There’s much in this book to give the reader pause. Indeed, it’s more than a stop sign on the superhighway of the academic business. It’s the kind of book you need to keep at hand in case “the real world” gets you ensnared in its ropes and chains. It makes me believe that I need to go back to school all over again.