New religious movements in modern western culture often emphasize experience at the expense of reason; for that reason, some scholars have described their teachings as “flights from reason.” This description has been rightly criticized. Nevertheless, it is not entirely wrong. Many founders of new religious movements do claim immediate insight into a (divine) reality that transcends the intellect. And yet, they and their followers often spend much of their lives building an intellectual frame around this anti-intellectual claim. Why did such paradoxical “reasoned flights beyond reason” emerge? Based on the life and teachings of Franklin Merrell-Wolff (1887–1985) and his Assembly of Man, the intellectualization of anti-intellectual claims by founders and followers of new religious movements in twentieth-century North America can be partly explained by three sociohistorical developments: (1) increasing access to an academic education, (2) increasing demand for a reflexive spirituality, and (3) increasing competition between eastern and western esoteric movements that answered this call for a reflexive spirituality.

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