Rainn Wilson starts his new book, “Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution,” by addressing a question that may have crossed your mind as you were reading this sentence: Why did the actor who played Dwight Schrute on “The Office” write a book about spirituality?
The answer to that question is multilayered, but it partly involves Oprah Winfrey.
“I think that one thing people don’t really know about me is that I kind of have an inner Oprah, and so in some way, in some respects, Dwight has a little bit of an inner Oprah,” Wilson, 57, tells TODAY.com. “I’m really fascinated by what brings us hope and meaning and kind of big questions about the meaning of life. And these have always haunted me ever since I was a kid. And finally, kind of the pause that COVID gave allowed me the opportunity to write this book.”
“Soul Boom,” released April 25, makes the argument that spiritual ideas hold the key to tackling global issues such as racism, sexism, materialism and climate change. The book frequently cites teachings and quotations from various religions, but in discussing the concept of spirituality, Wilson is specifically interested in what he describes as the eternal, nonphysical aspects of ourselves.
“For a lot of people spirituality can mean something like ghosts, you know, and hauntings. To some people it means kind of a vague feeling they get at a yoga class. And to some people it’s church on Sundays. So, I’m not really talking about any of those things,” he explains. “I’m talking about the divine components of what it means to be a human being. I’m talking about the heart, the spirit, the soul, the qualities of the divine, like love and compassion and kindness. That is our spiritual side of who we are, and questions around this aspect of who we are need to be addressed.”
Those qualities that Wilson mentions — love, compassion and kindness — are three examples of the spiritual virtues that he writes are vital in growing and developing the soul, not only for this life but for whatever comes after life on this Earth as we know it. There are numerous other virtues he lists that would be admirable even to a person who does not identify as spiritual or religious, traits such as patience, generosity, humility, fairness and service.
Wilson writes that the education of spiritual virtues, particularly for children, is one of the essential ingredients to a spiritual revolution, though he believes it is not prioritized often enough by parents or by schools. It’s an integral part of the Baha’i Faith, an independent religion promoting unity, of which Wilson is a member.
Wilson raised his teenage son, Walter, whom he shares with wife Holiday Reinhorn, as a Baha’i. He supports his son going on his own spiritual journey, noting a Baha’i concept known as the independent investigation of truth.
“Walter will make his own decisions on if he wants to be a member of a religion or if he wants to be spiritual but not religious, or if he wants to be atheist, or if he just wants to pursue pleasure and comfort, let’s say. So he’ll be making those choices as he moves into adulthood. And I hope that we gave him a foundation of some of these ideas,” he says.
“Soul Boom” incorporates Wilson’s spiritual journey and his life experiences, including a profound religious pilgrimage he and his family took to Israel a few years ago. At times, “Soul Boom” can get deeply personal, as when he references past struggles with mental health and addiction, or the 2020 death of his father. There are also times when he shows a lighter touch — in the first chapter, he examines how the 1960s “Star Trek” TV series and the ‘70s show “Kung Fu,” when considered together, reflect how spirituality is intended to spark both a personal transformation as well as a collective transformation for the benefit of mankind. Basically, the goal of spirituality (and religion), as he sees it, is to help make the world a better and more peaceful place for all of us.
That’s some pretty serious stuff, but if you’ve followed Wilson on social media or paid attention to his work on past projects with his SoulPancake media company, you know that spirituality plays an important role in his life and that he’s comfortable discussing the topic openly.
“One of the hardest things is to be a comedy actor talking about God and spirituality because it’s the most uncool topic of all time — and especially in Hollywood, where everyone is jaded and too cool for school. So I have felt self-conscious about these discussions previously, but at the same time — maybe it’s because I’ve hit my mid-50s I’ve ceased caring (laughs), and so I just plunge on in,” he says.
He continues, “I think it’s crucially important to where we are right now, culturally and as a species on the planet. People are hurting, mental health epidemic is out of control. Systems are breaking down, as is basic civility, and we need to reexamine spiritual topics.”
Wilson will follow up the release of “Soul Boom” with a new series next month in which he travels the world searching for the secrets to happiness. In “Rainn Wilson and the Geography of Bliss,” the actor visits countries including Ghana, Thailand, Bulgaria and Iceland, meeting new people and, if a recent trailer is any indication, taking a naked dip in the water along the way. The show premieres May 18 on Peacock. (Peacock is owned by TODAY.com’s parent company, NBCUniversal.)