East-West Psychology

EWP Biography

About East-West Psychology

From Bridge to Hub: A Brief Biography of East-West Psychology


The California Institute of Integral Studies had been founded in 1968--the year astronauts aboard Apollo 8 beamed the famous "Earthrise" photograph back to their home planet--as a school to house Asian wisdom traditions and contemplative practices on the West Coast. 

In 1975, Dr. Kimberly McKell proposed an idea to Haridas Chaudhuri, one of the founders of CIIS: What about a department bridging ancient Asian wisdom and integral Western psychology? He was intrigued. What might such a department be called? Her reply: "East-West Psychology." And so it was. To a growing group of graduate students Dr. McKell, educational psychologist Dr. Mary Oliver Tasch, and Asian spirituality expert Dr. Hilary Anderson taught classes on Tantra, depth psychology, Greek mythology, meditation, Tarot, I Ching, shamanism, and integral thought. The work of Alan Watts was also a formative influence.  

From the start Dr. Chaudhuri intended East-West Psychology as an experiment. What transformative alchemies of learning and practice (he wondered) might emerge in studies bridging East and West? Dr. Chaudhuri had been a student of Sri Aurobindo, who taught that transformation is essentially experimental, an ongoing work of becoming. To remain viable, to grow to its full stature, every living being must adapt to the demands of its time while remaining true to its origins, values, and identity.  

Through four decades of expansion EWP has retained its spirit of experimentation. In our department integral education has grown to include the study and practice of indigenous knowledge, systems science, entheogenic shamanism, holistic sexuality, and ecopsychology, adding a lengthening and deepening North-South axis to the original East-West axis we continue to extend and enrich.   Our bridge has evolved into a hub, a center in which the four directions point outward as well as inward.

As Lao Tzu said:  

"We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move.  

We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.  

We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it congenial."  

We also deal in engaged psychology, an umbrella term for psychologies that seek to leave the world a better, richer, more just and more sustainable place than we found it. We hold personal, cultural, and planetary transmutation together as we collaborate on visions of community and learning that embrace what Sri Aurobindo praised as the "inalienable impulse of Nature towards self-realization."  

As an academic field, EWP constitutes a larger context for many disciplines that explore the interface of psychology and spirituality, including

  • transpersonal and integral psychology
  • Asian psychologies
  • modern consciousness studies
  • participatory spirituality
  • depth psychology (Jungian, archetypal, and psychoanalytic)
  • contemplative psychology
  • religious comparative studies
  • shamanic studies, and
  • ecopsychology.

Approaching the encounter among Eastern, Western, and indigenous worldviews in the spirit of pluralism, dialogue, and open inquiry, we actively explore the implications of this convergence for our diverse and multicultural world.

Educational Vision

The department of East-West Psychology (EWP) is guided by and dedicated to the following educational ideals:

  • To create a learning community focused on the exploration of Western, Eastern, and indigenous psychologies and spiritualities in the spirit of integral inquiry and open-ended dialogue
  • To offer an integral education that honors not only intellectual excellence, but also the voice and wisdom of the somatic, vital, emotional, imaginal, and spiritual dimensions of the person
  • To bring spirituality into academia and explore the transformative elements of inquiry, learning, and writing
  • To foster the psychospiritual development of students, as well as their unique individual gifts and potentials

Integral Transformative Education

The department of EWP offers an integral transformative education that encourages students to engage in the twin tasks of the integration of knowledge and the integration of multiple ways of knowing.

The integration of knowledge concerns itself with building bridges between different fields of knowledge (for example, psychoanalysis and Buddhism). Additionally, at the doctoral level, it encourages the integration of various research methodologies (e.g., theoretical, phenomenological, narrative, and/or heuristic), standpoints (e.g., first-, second-, and third-person approaches to knowledge), and epistemologies (e.g., Eastern contemplative and Western scientific).

With the integration of multiple ways of knowing, students develop inquiry skills that engage a wide range of human faculties and experiences (e.g., somatic, emotional, vital, imaginal, intellectual, intuitive, contemplative).

The acquisition of these skills is not only a catalyst for meaningful personal transformation, but also the foundation for both the elaboration of more holistic knowledge and the design of integral transformative approaches relevant to the needs of individuals and collectives in the contemporary world.

Engaged Psychology

Engaged psychology refers to psychological theory, research, and practice that moves beyond laboratories and classrooms, consulting rooms and licensing requirements, to enrich, reflect on, and deepen the intersecting structures of consciousness, culture, and planet.

Examples of engaged psychology include:
- Listening through an inner conflict as a barometer to fluctuations in collective consciousness
- Investigating the psychospiritual impact of a work or career situation
- Translating a spiritual experience into tangible career and relationship transformations
- Researching an issue from multiple angles of experience (scholarship, dream, intuition, art, reading)
- Doing analytical homework on a life situation that resembles an episode found in mythology
- Applying a set of spiritual practices as a response to a cultural or ecological trauma
- Interpreting recurring images or motifs in a neighborhood as though analyzing a dream

Engaged psychologies that address issues of psychospiritual practice, embodied self-actualization, social justice, and ecological awareness contrast sharply with psychologies of disengagement and departure that adjust the individual to appallingly unhealthy and unjust social, financial, and political "realities" while ignoring declining social systems and deteriorating ecosystems.

Practitioners of engaged psychology tend what has been relegated to the margins and edges of collective consciousness to recover personal, social, somatic, ecological, and spiritual voices and meanings in search of fuller articulation.

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is central to the pedagogical experience in all the EWP programs. Depending on particular course objectives, this includes the appropriate use of dialogical inquiry, class presentations and small-group discussions, web-based learning and networking tools, group assignments and cooperative inquiry, as well as group work in daylong retreats.Collaborative learning trains students in the shared construction of human knowledge, fosters emotional and interpersonal competence, and teaches how to enter into fruitful exchange with people holding different views. These skills translate into multiple professional settings.

Career Outcomes: "What can I do with my degree?"

We live in a time of unprecedented change and flux. Such a time demands an integral perspective, one that encompasses the personal, interpersonal, cultural, ecological, and spiritual dimensions of human existence. Our unique integration of knowledge sources, research methods, and skill sets prepare our graduates for current career opportunities and for bringing forth ideas for new kinds of work.

Current careers include those of university professors, college teachers, scholars, writers, healers, consultants, researchers, workshop leaders, spiritual counselors, entrepreneurs, social-change activists, eco-advocates, and community organizers. Possibilities for new careers combine what the program offers with what you envision as most deeply fulfilling. Such creative applications of psychology outside academia and state licensure include spiritual mentoring and leadership, integral coaching, interreligious activism, earth-based research and practice, organizational consulting, and many other opportunities awaiting cultivation. The program also offers tools and skills for careers that do not yet exist. Our graduates have founded schools and programs, embarked on new areas of research, integrated disciplines into the creation of new fields, designed and launched trainings and workshops to offer unique combinations of transformative approaches.

All career paths taken by our graduates emphasize conscious service to self, spirit, culture, community, world, and era. Your education will help you prepare your creative response to the vitally important question, "To what transformative work am I now being called?"

Want to learn more? Read about some of our graduates' career successes, teaching appointments, and publications.

Professional Internships

The department provides students with a list of associated organizations in which professional internships are available (ask for the "East-West Psychology Department Internship Opportunities" list). Internships are a means for students to gain practical experience in their chosen field in a supervised professional work environment and can be carried out as fieldwork in both the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees.