“Tarnas was born on February 21, 1950 in Geneva, Switzerland, of American parents. His father, also named Richard Tarnas, worked as a government contract attorney, former president of the Michigan Federal Bar Association, and professor of law. His mother, Mary Louise, was a teacher and homemaker. The eldest of eight children, he grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where he studied Greek, Latin, and the Classics at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy.
In 1968 Tarnas entered Harvard, graduating with an A.B. cum laude in 1972. He received his Ph.D. from Saybrook Institute in 1976 with a thesis on psychedelic therapy. In 1974 Tarnas went to Esalen in California to study psychotherapy with Stanislav Grof. From 1974 to 1984 he lived and worked at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, teaching and studying with Grof, Joseph Campbell, Gregory Bateson, Huston Smith, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, and James Hillman. He also served as Esalen’s director of programs and education. Jeffrey Kripal characterizes Tarnas as both the literal and figurative gate-keeper of Esalen.
From 1980 to 1990, Tarnas wrote The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View, a narrative history of Western thought which became a bestseller and remained in use in universities as of 2000. Passion was highly acclaimed by Joseph Campbell, Huston Smith, Stanislav Grof, John E. Mack, Stanley Krippner, Georg Feuerstein, David Steindl-Rast, John Sculley, Robert A. McDermott, Jeffrey Hart, Gary Lachman, and others.
Tarnas is the founding director of the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), where he remains a core faculty member as of 2014.
Tarnas’ second book, Prometheus the Awakener, published in 1995, focuses on the astrological properties of the planet Uranus, describing “the uncanny way astrological patterns appear to coincide with events or destiny patterns in the lives of both individuals and societies”. Tarnas suggests that the characteristics associated with the mythological figure Uranus do not match the astrological properties of the planet Uranus, and that a more appropriate identification would involve the mythological figure Prometheus.
In 2006, Tarnas published his third book, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. It claims that the major events of Western cultural history correlate consistently and meaningfully with the observed angular positions of the planets. The book received favorable reviews in Tikkun magazine, in an anthroposophical journal, and in the web magazine Reality Sandwich, but was panned in the Wall Street Journal.
Tarnas featured in the 2006 film Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within, a documentary about rediscovering an enchanted cosmos in the modern world.
In 2007 a group of fifty scholars and researchers in the San Francisco Bay Area formed the Archetypal Research Collective for pursuing research in archetypal cosmology. An online journal, Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, edited by Keiron LeGrice and Rod O’Neal, began a year later, based on the research orientation and methodology established in Cosmos and Psyche. Advisory-board members include Christopher Bache, Jorge Ferrer, Stanislav Grof, Robert A. McDermott, Ralph Metzner, and Brian Swimme. Contributors have included Keiron Le Grice, Richard Tarnas, Stanislav Grof, and Rod O’Neal.
In 2008 Tarnas was invited to address members of the Dutch Parliament about creating a sustainable society.
In 2007 John Cleese and Tarnas gave some public lectures together at Esalen and in Santa Barbara. The lectures discussed regaining a connection to the sacred in the modern world. Cleese and Tarnas then taught a seminar at CIIS called “The Comic Genius: A Multidisciplinary Approach”” (Wikipedia)