The Indian spiritual entrepreneur Maharishi Mahesh Yogi took the West by storm in the 1960s and '70s, charming Baby Boomers fed up with war and social upheaval with his message of meditation and peace. Heeding his call, two thousand followers moved to tiny Fairfield, Iowa, to set up their own university on the campus of a failed deminational college. Soon, they started a school for prekindergarten through high school, allowing followers to immerse themselves in Transcendental Meditation from toddlerhood through PhDs. Although Fairfield's longtime residents were relieved to see that their new neighbours were clean-cut and respectably dressed - t the wild-haired, drug-using hippies they had feared - the newcomers nevertheless quickly began to remake the town. Stores selling exotic goods popped up, TM followers built odd-looking homes that modelled the guru's rules for peace-inspiring architecture, and the new university kcked down a historic chapel, even as it erected massive golden-domed buildings for meditators. Some newcomers got elected - and others were defeated - when they ran for local and statewide offices. At times, thousands from across the globe visited the small town. Yet Transcendental Meditation did t always achieve its aims of personal and social tranquility. Suicides and a murder unsettled the meditating community over the years, and some followers were fleeced by con men from their own ranks. Some battled a local farmer over land use and one ather over doctrine. Notably, the world has t gotten more peaceful. Today the guru is dead. His followers are greying, and few of their children are moving into leadership roles. The movement seems rudderless, its financial muscle withering, despite the efforts of high-profile supporters such as filmmaker David Lynch and media magnate Oprah Winfrey. Can TM reinvent itself? And what will be the future of Fairfield itself? By looking closely at the transformation of this small Iowa town, author Joseph Weber assesses the movement's surprisingly potent effect on Western culture, sketches out its peculiar past, and explores its possible future.
Joseph Weber was born in Newark, New Jersey, as the eldest of seven in a working-class family. He worked in newspapers and magazines for thirty-five years, ending up as chief of correspondents and Chicago bureau chief for BusinessWeek magazine. With a B.A. in English from Rutgers College and an M.S.J. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, he now works as an associate professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His special interest is in business and economic journalism, which he has taught in the United States and China. He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.