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Fairfield, Iowa, is the site of one of the most unusual town-gown relationships in the country: cornfields, summer park band concerts, and heavy industry mixed with Indian restaurants, colonic-irrigation clinics, and golden meditation domes.

It all started in 1973, when Parsons College, a 98-year-old Presbyterian-affiliated school in Fairfield went bankrupt, leaving the town of 10,000 in a quandary. A year later, the fledgling Maharishi International University—founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, onetime guru to the Beatles, Clint Eastwood, and Joe Namath—bought the campus for a bargain $2.5 million and transplanted from Santa Barbara, California. At first townsfolk rejoiced at what appeared to be their economic salvation. Some mainline ministers embraced Transcendental Meditation (TM) as an effective relaxation technique.

Yet the honeymoon soon ended when several evangelical pastors charged that TM represented Hindu religion, not science as Maharishi asserted. The relationship has been strained for most of the 27 years that the school, now known as Maharishi University of Management (MUM), has been in Fairfield. But the tensions have escalated in recent months as TM has started bulldozing historic campus buildings and as meditators (followers of TM) have taken steps to incorporate their own town, Vedic City (the Vedas are the Hindu scriptures), north of Fairfield.

While TM's influence continues to grow in Fairfield, most local evangelical churches are struggling—few have more than 150 attending services. Still, they are seeking ways not merely to condemn TM but to reach out to meditators.

Science or religion? More than 1,200 TM instruction centers in 108 countries offer free introductory lectures, including 135 in the United ...

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In the Magazine

January 8, 2001

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