Ken Wilber? In academic circles, Wilber remains obscure. A sixty-three-year-old autodidact, he is the author of an ambitious effort to reconcile empirical knowledge and mystical experience in an “Integral Theory” of existence. Yet his admirers include not only the alternative-healing guru Deepak Chopra—who has called Wilber “one of the most important pioneers in the field of consciousness”—but also the philosopher Charles Taylor, the theologians Harvey Cox and Michael Lerner, and Bill Clinton. Wilber’s generally lucid treatments of both Western science and Eastern spirituality have earned him favor with a coterie of highly literate seekers for whom the phrase “New Age” is nonetheless suspect. He’s an intellectual’s mystic, short on ecstatic visions and long on exegeses of Habermas (whom he regards, for his perception of “homologous structures” in human individual and social development, as something of a kindred spirit). At the Integral Institute, a Colorado-based think tank inspired by Wilber’s ideas, scholars like Jack Crittenden, a professor of political theory at Arizona State University, strive to apply his approach to “global-scale problems,” from climate change to religious conflict.
Yes, “an intellectual’s mystic”, exactly. He’s conversant enough with “serious” science and philosophy to appeal to those who would be embarrassed to be seen reading Chopra or Eckhart Tolle, but being fluent in jargon — or, at least, fluent enough to pass a cursory reading — isn’t the same thing as knowing what you’re talking about (other worthwhile and amusing criticism can be found here and here). I actually read all of his books back in the late ’90s, lest you think I’m just being opinionated for the hell of it. The most telling detail I still remember was the fact that he named the German Idealist philosopher Schelling as his apparent intellectual hero; make of that what you will.