UO and emeritus president reflect on Rajneeshees in Oregon

Wikipedia commons photo, courtesy of Samvado Gunnar Kossatz
Wikipedia commons photo, courtesy of Samvado Gunnar Kossatz

The UO Libraries will recognize the 30th anniversary of a red- and orange-hued controversy that rocked the state in the mid-1980s, with “The Rajneeshees in Oregon: A Communal Experiment,” on Tuesday, April 1.

Followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh purchased a 64,000-acre ranch near the small town of Antelope in Oregon's Wasco County, and by summer of 1981 had begun to establish an intentional community. It was incorporated as a city following a countywide election.

Then-Oregon Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer – who would later serve 15 years as UO president – issued a 1983 opinion and filed a lawsuit challenging the incorporation of Rajneeshpuram, maintaining that it violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

The controversy had peaked by 1984, when commune leaders were caught up in numerous legal battles. They soon were conspiring to harm federal, state and local officials – and some fellow commune members who took positions against them.

In 1985, U.S. District Court Judge Helen Frye ruled in favor of the state of Oregon, rendering the status of the three-year-old Rajneeshpuram invalid. Commune leaders soon fled Oregon to escape prosecution, and the commune collapsed.

The UO Libraries' 30th anniversary symposium will begin at 10 a.m. on April 1, with a viewing of ABC reporter Ted Koppel’s televised interview with Ma Anand Sheela, Rajneesh’s secretary and de facto leader of Rajneeshpuram.

At 10:30 a.m., Oregon Public Broadcasting’s documentary film “Rajneeshpuram” will be shown, followed by video clips of Rajneesh-related materials held in the UO Libraries Special Collections and University Archives.

At 1:30 p.m., a panel discussion featuring UO President Emeritus Dave Frohnmayer, UO Professor Emeritus Marion Goldman and Professor Emeritus Roshani Shay of Western Oregon University will offer insights into the lasting effect that Rajneeshpuram and its inhabitants had on the region.

A reception will follow the panel discussion. All sessions will be held in Knight Library’s Browsing Room, 1501 Kincaid Street, on the UO campus.

An exhibit of rarely seen items from the Rajneesh Artifacts and Ephemera Collection and other holdings in Special Collections and University Archives will be on display in Knight Library during the symposium.

The symposium is cosponsored by the Oregon Humanities Center, UO Department of History, Department of Sociology and School of Law.

- from UO Libraries and the UO Office of Public Affairs Communications