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This year's Esoteric Quest explores an area that, apparently, has remained neglected for many years - Inner America. While in general there are a growing number of conferences on the Western Esoteric Tradition, few people in recent times have focused on the inner dimensions of the American soul. The time has come to change that.

Many of us sense that we have entered a new era in American life. Thanks to changes in the leadership of this country, we now have an opportunity to reconnect with the values that have often made the United States an inspiration to many people worldwide.

So this summer in the Catskills we will focus on the history and renewal of the American soul. This requires us to stretch beyond the usual parameters of the Western Tradition and embrace the sophisticated indigenous culture that the colonists found on their arrival. So we will begin by hearing from the Iroquois people whose land covered much of Upstate New York in the years prior to the Revolution. What can we learn from their profound attunement to the land and their embrace of the way of peace after centuries of internal warfare? A former Onondaga clan mother will convey the spirit and wisdom of her nation.

We will then turn to the colonial period and call on Chris Bamford to look at the deep spiritual impulses that emerged here and that were also brought from Europe. From there we turn to the Founding Fathers and the question of their links to Freemasonry at a time when it represented both a stream of esoteric wisdom and a political movement that worked against the old established powers of the monarchy and Church.

As we examine the 19th Century our initial guide will be Arthur Versluis who will focus on the Esoteric Foundations of the American Renaissance, which extended far beyond the great Transcendentalists familiar to most of us. Of course, who would want to ignore Walt Whitman and his love of the 'Americans of all Nations', those individuals in all countries who were committed to the ideals of freedom and equality. And Ralph Waldo Emerson's serene place as one of the greatest American philosophers will be fully appreciated.

But we will also look at figures from far outside the mainstream like Paschal Beverly Randolph, an African American esotericist born in poor circumstances in Harlem who was active in the struggle to end slavery and among the first to explore hermetic and Rosicrucian traditions in his search for deeper truth. We will also ponder the remarkable connection between the early Feminists who gathered in Seneca Falls for the first convention on women's rights, and the spiritualists. Both feminism and spiritualism emerged at the same time in the same place in Upstate New York and impacted each other in fascinating ways. Equally intriguing is the influence that the Iroquois Nations exerted on some of the early feminists who were profoundly impressed by the respect given women in Native American culture.

A special place will also be made at the conference for a close look at The Burned Over District, the stretch of land along the Erie Canal in Upstate New York that in the mid-19th Century became stunningly fertile ground for new and radical approaches to religious life. Joscelyn Godwin will introduce us to that fascinating realm.

When we reach the 20th Century remarkable figures jump out at us. Few people know that perhaps the greatest American novelist of the second half of the century, Saul Bellow, was a serious student of the works of Rudolf Steiner for many years. Bill Hunt, a poet and old friend of Bellow's, will fill in this missing piece of modern cultural history. We will also give significant attention to Martin Luther King and the role of the Black Church in the struggle for the soul of America. How did Gandhi's philosophy have such a deep impact on King, and how was King able to serve as such a powerful source of non-violent inspiration at a time when the most essential values of the nation teetered precariously?

And, of course, as lovers of the Western Tradition we can hardly exclude Manly P. Hall whose classic volumes on the Secret Teachings of All Ages were a major source of inspiration to artists as varied as Elvis Presley and Bela Lugosi.

As we address the 21st Century we will be joined by Robert Thurman, president of Tibet House, the organization that runs Menla Mountain Center where our Quest will be held in a secluded, wooded valley. Robert will certainly speak eloquently on the America of multiple spiritual paths that has emerged over the last thirty years, and the unique role that Tibetan Buddhism plays in it.

Finally, let me say a few words about the cultural evenings that are always so much an integral part of our Quests. At a time when the America that emphasizes equality and the concerns of the common man and woman is starting to peek out after an extended period of hiding, we will devote an evening to the Songs of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. There will also be stories from the overcrowded tenements on Elizabeth Street, New York, in 1905 when Sicilian and Jewish immigrants tried to make their way in a difficult and foreign land. And, of course, no Quest for the American soul would be complete without a night of gospel music that highlights the huge contribution of African Americans to our unique culture.

Our post-conference journey is an exploration of Esoteric Upstate New York and the world of the Iroquois Nations, Feminists, Utopians and 21st Century Esotericists. Suffice it to say that I have been really impressed by the inner riches of upstate New York, the California of mid-19th Century America in terms of the explosion of new forms of spirituality. Those who want a strong, personal experience of this relatively unknown period of American life may wish to join us for four days of journeying into both the past and the future of inner America. Upstate New York with its utopian communities, sublime school of painters, and cosmically attuned farms is a novel successor to our recent journeys to Andalusia and Istanbul. I strongly suspect we will all be surprised by the doors it opens into a half-forgotten time with great relevance to the present.

This brief introduction can only offer a glimpse of the riches of this year's Quest. Please take a look at the full descriptions of the plenary talks, workshopsperformances and afternoon activities. This is going to be a genuinely original and unique gathering that comes together at a crucial time for the future of America. I believe it will strengthen our understanding of the deeper values, spirituality and esotericism of this country, and that it has the potential to inspire us to contribute creatively to America's renewal.

Ralph White
Conference Director

Listen to Conference Director, Ralph White host The Open Center show on WBAI.
The show features two of our conference presenters – Mitch Horowitz and John Patrick Deveney:

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Esoteric Upstate New York:
Iroquois Nations, Feminists, Utopians and 21st Century Esotericists
Greece 2008
Spain 2007
Czech Republic/Germany 2006
Italy 2000
Wales 1998
Prague 1997