Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(THE FORUM) Founded in 1971 by Werner Erhard, a former encyclopedia salesman who had experimented with Zen through reading Alan Watts, Silva Mind Control, Scientology, humanistic psychology, and many other self-actualizing techniques, est (Erhard Seminars Training, always written in lowercase) was one of many popular therapeutic or "human potential" movements that developed around this time in the United States. These movements, of which est was one of the most successful, shared several characteristics, including a focus on individual well-being and a sense of optimism about human possibilities. est was developed from the beginning as a well-organized business enterprise, structured to maximize profits and minimize tax liabilities. Its major corporate arm, Transformational Technologies, is an extreme example of the rationality that pervades some such movements that have as a major goal the maximizing of profit (Tipton 1988). By 1988, it had trained nearly 400,000 people, all of whom had taken the two-weekend, 60-hour training session, paying a sizable fee ($400 per person) for so doing. est grossed some $30 million dollars in 1981, and it was claimed that one of every nine San Francisco Bay Area college-educated young people had gone through the training.

Erhard has become a controversial figure, with many lawsuits against him, mostly by the Internal Revenue Service but including some by his own family members. The controversies have contributed to Erhard reestablishing his enterprise under a new name—The Forum—which is the organizational form under which he operates currently.

James T. Richardson


A.Bry, 60 Hours That Transform Your Life (New York: Avon, 1976)

H. Clinewell, "Popular Therapeutic Movements and Psychologies," in Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling , ed. R. Hunter (Nashville: Abingdon, 1990): 928-929

S. Tipton, Getting Saved from the Sixties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982)

S. Tipton, "Rationalizing Religion as a Corporate Enterprise," in Money and Power in the New Religions , ed. J. T. Richardson (Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen, 1988): 223-240.

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