In the fall of 1950, Stanford University Professor Frederick Spiegelberg was searching for a scholar from India to join him, Alan Watts, and others to help form the faculty of a new and innovative graduate school in San Francisco called the American Academy of Asian Studies. Professor Spiegelberg wrote to the Indian yogi and spiritual philosopher Sri Aurobindo to ask for a recommendation of a person well versed in Eastern and Western philosophies with a deep knowledge of integral yoga. Sri Aurobindo approved the recommendation of Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri, then chair of the Philosophy Department at Krishnagar College in Bengal. That prompted Professor Spiegelberg to write to Dr. Chaudhuri to invite him to come to San Francisco and help shape the new academy.
Dr. Chaudhuri later recalled that Spiegelberg's letter was his "call of destiny," taking him out of his life in India to help form bridges between East and West.
When he arrived in San Francisco in early 1951, Dr. Chaudhuri, along with his wife Bina, co-founded the Cultural Integration Fellowship (CIF) to promote intercultural understanding and harmony, nonsectarian universal religion, and creative self-development and self-fulfillment.
As the number of students who wanted to study with Dr. Chaudhuri increased, he founded the Institute in 1968 as an educational branch of CIF. It was later incorporated as an independent, non-profit, non-sectarian graduate school named the California Institute of Asian Studies (CIAS) in 1974, and renamed the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in 1980. Since 1981 CIIS has been accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WASC-SASC).
Throughout its history, the Institute has fostered cutting-edge thought. Over four decades, CIIS's original emphasis on Asian religions and cultures has evolved to include comparative and cross-cultural studies in philosophy, religion, psychology, counseling, cultural anthropology, organizational studies, health studies, and the arts, as well as a bachelor's degree completion program.