Tarnas, Richard Theodore (1950-)

views updated

Tarnas, Richard Theodore (1950-)

Richard Theodore Tarnas, a psychologist and intellectual historian best known for his work with the Esalen Institute, was born on February 21, 1950, in Geneva, Switzerland. His parents were Americans and he grew up in Michigan. His father, a professor of law, encouraged his intellectual pursuits and he completed his high school work at the University of Detroit Preparatory School, operated by the Jesuits. He entered Harvard in 1968 and graduated with an A.B. (cum laude) in 1972. He then entered the doctoral program at Saybrook Institute, the graduate school of psychology in San Francisco, California, and completed his Ph.D. in 1976.

Tarnas was able to travel for several years before settling at Esalen, where he was able to interact with some of the leading minds of the human potentials movement including Stanislav Grof, James Hillman, and Rupert Sheldrake. In 1979 he became Esalen's director of programs and education. While at Esalen he became known for his work on psychedelic therapy. In 1982 he married Heather Malcolm, a Canadian, and the following year left Esalen to enter private practice and to write. The major product of this period was The Passion of the Western Mind (1991), a narrative history of the Western worldview from the ancient Greek to the postmodern.

More recently Tarnas has joined the faculty of the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco, where he became the founding director of the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program. The program is indicative of his broad eclectic interests which include the evolution of consciousness, depth psychology, psychedelic research, astrology, and gnosticism. He has, for example, contributed essays furthering the psychological interpretation of astrology and arguing for the importance of astrology in understanding the evolution of the Western mind.


Tarnas, Richard T. The Passion of the Western Mind. New York: Harmony Books/Random House, 1991.

. "The Western Mind at the Threshold." The Astrotherapy Newsletter 3, no.4 (November 1990).