European Travelers to India and the Transformation of Religion in the 1960s

On April 27, Isabel Richter, Professor at the University of Bremen and the incoming DAAD Professor in Berkeley, gave a lecture entitled “Spiritual Seekers, Pilgrims and Psychonauts: Travelers to India and the Transformation of Religion in the Long 1960s.” The lecture served as an introduction to her research that will be presented in her next book and included information from her recent interviews with contemporary sources.

Richter began by discussing why many Europeans traveled to India in the 1960s, demonstrating how this was linked to the counterculture movement. To these people, India was seen as something of an escape and a way to reflect and re-define themselves. European travelers underwent pilgrimages to “the Orient” to self heal and to try to find a guru, which was difficult due to the wariness of spiritual leaders in India towards outsiders. Once these travelers returned from India, they began to incorporate many of the practices they encountered into European life, including meditation, yoga, and Hinduism, which grew rapidly alongside the reduced importance of traditional religious practices in Europe. Following the lecture was a Q&A, in which questions about why India was so popular for these people, what exactly was brought back, and the significance of these pilgrimages with regards to the shifting religious picture in Europe and the West as a whole. Many attendees also had personal anecdotes to share, which offered further insights into the practices and outcomes of such pilgrimages. Richter expressed her hopes to continue work on this subject and to publish her next book on the topic soon.