Current Initiatives

Directed by Esalen co-founder Michael Murphy and Professor Jeff Kripal, Esalen’s Center for Theory & Research (CTR) sponsors research, theory, and action to promote positive social change and the realization of the human potential.

Black Superhumanism

Stephen Finley and Biko Gray
December 4–9, 2022

This conference is the second in a series exploring the history of black letters, and the ways in which it is, in part, a commentary on the supernatural. To read black letters is to read a commentary on blackness as the limit case of the natural, as that which breaks open the limits, laws, and conventional wisdom of the empirical hard sciences.

Black religious orientations also speak to the supernatural. African indigenous healers cured ailments by mixing plants; the Nation of Islam is revived through a mysterious UFO experience. There are other examples, too: black folk and conjure traditions manipulate the natural world to supernatural ends. And black esoteric traditions have demonstrated something beyond naturalistic conceptions of the human. The possibilities are endless; blackness is infinite. Black people are superhuman. Or so the story goes.

But this claim hasn’t entailed the kind of awe or reverence that one might think. Black people might be superhuman, but they are not always superheroes. There are other stories—stories that highlight the supernatural capacities of black people only to their detriment. Black people have often been conceived as superhuman in terms of the grotesque and monstrous.

We are looking for presentations that examine black superhumanism in the context of black cultural production such as science fiction, comics, movies, poetry, folklore, mythology as well as within the context of particular esoteric and mystical traditions. And we’re also interested in how black resistance movements might be understood as simultaneously invoking and resisting the violence of black superhuman discourses.

Underwriting is needed for project research, facilitators, translators, coordination, summary writers, occasional expert fees, travel and accommodation, and special outreach projects.

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