California Institute of Integral Studies

The California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) is a private graduate school founded in 1968 and based in San Francisco, California. It currently operates in three locations just south of the Civic Center district. CIIS has a total of about 1100 students and a faculty of 66.

The Institute consists of two main schools: the School of Professional Psychology, and the School of Consciousness and Transformation (mainly humanities subjects). All programs attempt to combine mainstream academic standards with a spiritual orientation, including influences from a broad spectrum of mystical or esoteric traditions. Although the Institute has no official religion or spiritual path, its historical roots lie among followers of the Bengali sage Sri Aurobindo.

CIIS is an accredited member of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). In 2003, the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) program in Clinical Psychology earned the accreditation of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Mission statement

CIIS's mission statement is as follows:

California Institute of Integral Studies is an accredited institution of higher education that strives to embody spirit, intellect, and wisdom in service to individuals, communities, and the Earth. The Institute expands the boundaries of traditional degree programs with interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and applied studies in psychology, philosophy, religion, cultural anthropology, transformative learning and leadership, integrative health, and the arts. Offering a personal learning environment and supportive community, CIIS provides an extraordinary education for people committed to transforming themselves and the world.

This is elaborated into seven ideals, which affirm that CIIS

  1. Practices an integral approach to learning and research
  2. Affirms spirituality
  3. Commits to cultural diversity
  4. Fosters multiple ways of learning and teaching
  5. Advocates feminism and sustainability
  6. Supports community
  7. Strives for an integral and innovative governance

Academic programs

CIIS has a total of 19 academic programs, with the School of Professional Psychology offering 4 masters and 1 doctoral program, and the School of Consciousness and Transformation offering 7 masters and 6 doctoral programs. CIIS also offers a bachelors completion program.

School of Professional Psychology

School of Consciousness and Transformation

  • PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • MA in Cultural Anthropology and Social Transformation (with an Emphasis in Gender, Ecology, Society)
  • PhD/MA in East-West Psychology
  • PhD/MA in Philosophy and Religion, with concentrations in:
    • Asian and Comparative Studies
    • Philosophy, Cosmology & Consciousness
    • Women's Spirituality
  • MA in Integrative Health Studies

Online Degrees:

Bachelor's Completion Program

Name and symbol

The "Integral" of the school's name originally reflected the mission of the school to synthesize the ideals of East and West. Over time, this concept has expanded to include a global perspective as well as the adoption of a holistic approach to education, encompassing "the intellectual, the experiential, and the applied" where "the interplay of mind, body, and spirit, [...] connects the spiritual and practical dimensions of intellectual life."

This concept is reflected in the writings of Sri Aurobindo regarding "Integral Yoga" (purnayoga). Aurobindo intends to harmonize the paths of karma-, jnana-, and bhakti-yoga as described in the Bhagavad-Gita—roughly speaking, body, mind, and spirit. The word "integral" in this wider sense has recently been adopted by various figures in transpersonal psychology, notably Ken Wilber (who has no connection with CIIS, and has in fact criticized it for not being integral enough). Within this outlook, spiritual or mystical experiences are seen as an important aspect of human existence.

The school symbol is the Sri Yantra, a mandala-like symbol of the Hindu goddess Sri (identified with Lakshmi), whom Hindu tantrists sometimes call the Mother of the Universe. CIIS professor Jim Ryan writes:

Haridas Chaudhuri chose this symbol as he founded the Institute because it is a visual representation of his Integral philosophy. This world is not to be seen as separate from the transcendent Truth, but as an expression of that Truth in phenomenal form. What is sacred then, is not merely what is beyond our perception, but everything that is present here in this world, all our actions, our emotions our thoughts. The notion of the integration of body, mind and spirit are symbolized and indicated by the Sri Yantra, making it a perfect visual representation of the Institute's vision.


According to CIIS professor David Ulansey, in 1951 San Francisco businessman Louis Gainsborough invited several authorities on Eastern religions--among them Frederic Spiegelberg, a Stanford professor of Indic studies; Alan Watts, then an Episcopal chaplain but otherwise an apologist for Zen; and Haridas Chaudhuri, a Bengali disciple of Sri Aurobindo--to form something called the American Academy of Asian Studies, which offered evening classes. Among their students were Michael Murphy and Dick Price, later the co-founders of Esalen Institute; and Eugene Rose, later Hieromonk Seraphim Rose of the Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. The Academy as such folded in 1968.

Dr. Ulansey goes on to say that between 1968 and 1974, Chaudhuri headed a successor organization--the California Institute of Asian Studies, whose formal institutional status was that of an educational branch of the Cultural Integration Fellowship (an Aurobindo organization founded by Chaudhuri). The Institute became independent of the Cultural Integration Fellowship in 1974, with an eye to attaining regional accreditation. It changed its name from "Asian" to "Integral" Studies at this time, and added "East-West Psychology" as an important new emphasis. Chaudhuri died in 1975, after which his widow, Bina Chaudhuri, joined with Spiegelberg to guide the Institute.

Obadiah Harris served briefly as CIIS's president before going on to head the Philosophical Research Society of Los Angeles, replacing founder Manly Palmer Hall after his death. During the 1990's, under the presidency of Robert McDermott (the author of books on Aurobindo and Rudolf Steiner), CIIS significantly expanded its programs after receiving a Rockefeller grant. Some of the new programs were a success (e.g., "Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness", conceived as a combination of Western esotericism with selected scientific themes such as written about by Brian Swimme, featuring such luminaries as Stanislav Grof), others were not. The result was a period of financial exigency, and a contraction of academic offerings.

Since 1999, the Institute's president has been Joseph Subbiondo, a linguist who was recruited for his background in university administration.

Counseling centers

CIIS offers reduced-fee psychotherapy services to the general public in three centers:

  • Psychological Services Center
  • Center for Somatic Psychotherapy
  • Integral Counseling Center (three locations)

Therapy is conducted by advanced graduate students and post-graduate interns, and is offered to individuals, couples, and families. Clients usually present problems with depression, anxiety, relationships, challenging life transitions, grief and loss, trauma and abuse, and personal growth. Therapists are trained in various orientations, including humanistic, psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, somatic, and transpersonal.

Public programs

CIIS hosts and sponsors a wide range of events aimed at the general public, usually within two categories: special events and workshops. Special Events include travel opportunities, certification programs, concerts, and lectures. Workshops cover a wide range of topics, including yoga, self-discovery and healing, feminism, religious studies, psychology, and spiritually-oriented performance arts. Public Programs also offers courses for "mandatory continuing education" credits for licensed professionals.


External links

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