Erling A. Thunberg

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Biographical Information

Erling A. Thunberg (1932-1975) "After completing high school he began to travel extensively in Europe. ... He hitchhiked through Germany, France and Italy and spent several semesters in Florence studying art history, philosophy and religion and wandered the hills of Tuscany in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi. He continued to read extensively and familiarized himself with the books and thoughts of many fields of human endeavor. He met Robert Assagioli while in Florence, and became very interested in the work of Abraham Maslow and Pitirim Sorokin in the United States. He returned to Sweden intermittently to fulfill his required service in the Swedish Army. He worked various odd jobs - among them as a longshoreman in the Gothenburg harbor, and as a nursing aid in a psychiatric hospital, both for the human experience and to supplement his income.

"By the time of his early 20s, his learnings and experiences began to come together in a visionary framework of what he wanted to do, how to go about it and where. The vision, in one word, was about integration - integration of knowledge across disciplines, frameworks of thoughts and cultures. The instrument of this vision later became the International Center for Integrative Studies (ICIS). He chose New York City to be the center's home for its pivotal location in the world and its many unequaled institutions.

"In 1957 Erling attended the breakthrough conference on "New Knowledge in Human Values" sponsored by the Research Society for Creative Altruism in Boston, led and coordinated by Pitirim Sorokin, Abraham Maslow and other leading thinkers from the U.S. and other parts of the world. This conference focused on the beginnings of what was later to become humanistic and transpersonal psychology. During a brief stay in New York he met a group of people who had pursued their own human development and had explored various spiritual paths and were deeply concerned about the future of humankind. Together they began to explore the ideas Erling had begun to develop during his years of study and traveling in Europe and the groundwork for the formulations for ICIS began to be laid.

"He continued to travel throughout Europe and began to contact and visit many of the seminal thinkers and scientists in Europe, among them Arnold Toynbee, Bertrand Russell, C.P. Snow, C.F.von Weizacker, W. Pauli, and Nils Bohr, to explore his ideas with them. Many of the people he contacted pledged their support and several later became members of the ICIS Board of Sponsors or participants in the ICIS Forum.

"From 1962 to 1965 Erling began to spend the greater part of each year in New York with his friends in order to continue the development work of ICIS. The International Center for Integrative Studies was incorporated in 1962 and recognized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1963. In 1965 Erling was granted immigration to the United States and moved permanently to New York. Work on the development of ICIS activities, among them the ICIS Forum, continued for the next five years... In 1970, a growing group of young human service professionals had connected with ICIS and with Erling's guidance began to explore ideas about alternative ways to deliver human services to young people in New York City. After two years of development work and outreach to other volunteers and human service agencies The Door - A Center of Alternatives, was formally established in 1972. Over the next three years, Erling and others continued with extensive outreach, including travel to national and international agencies, which were interested in The Door as a model for integrative human service delivery. During this time an intentional community began to emerge from the group of people working in ICIS and The Door, resulting in shared living and working spaces in order to allow for continuous working and living together.

"In July 1975 Erling became severely ill and was diagnosed as having acute lymphoblastic Leukemia. After thirteen months of intense medical treatment he died in August 1976 at the age of 44. He left behind two sons."[1]


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  1. Erling A. Thunberg Bio, organizational web page, accessed May 5, 2012.
  2. United Nations Items-in-Secretary-General's Statements, organizational web page, accessed May 5, 2012.