.Rainn Wilson’s ‘Soul Boom’ Explores Radical Compassion

The actor-turned-author speaks and signs books at the Rio Theatre

You probably know Rainn Wilson as the dim but hilarious Dwight Schrute on NBC’s The Office. So you might be surprised to learn that Wilson has a long-standing obsession with world religions and sussing out god in the strangest of places. Wilson’s newest book, Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution, dives into Wilson’s upbringing, and his vision for the future. Rainn Wilson, in conjunction with Bookshop Santa Cruz, will be at the Rio Theatre on April 25 at 7pm.

Wilson grew up in the Baha’i faith, in Seattle. Both of his parents welcomed all denominations into his house, which was always a hub of deep discussion, but with little personal emotional support for young Rainn. So, early on, Wilson began searching for something more, a deeper reason of why we are here, and a more comprehensive belief system.

Like most disaffected youth of the 1980s, Wilson fell into drug and alcohol use. “Because you can’t fix internal imbalance with alcohol or chocolate chip cookies or video games or weed or sex or Instagram, Candy Crush and Amazon shopping sprees,” says Wilson in Soul Boom.

This descent into avoidance strategies and addiction parlayed into serious mental health issues and depression and debilitating anxiety attacks that continue to this day. Which to say, the real Rainn has been dealing with much deeper issues than his TV counterpart ever did.

The eclectic actor found sobriety in his 20s. And Wilson’s one saving grace was a natural curiosity, or obsession, about world religions, humanities, cosmologies and what makes humans tick. Over the last 30 years this passion culminated in Wilson’s organization, SoulPancake. Founded in 2008, SoulPancake was created to encourage open-hearted dialogue about what it means to be human. One of its most recent forays is an incredible biopic about Shirley Chisholm, which strikes hope in the heart of anyone who watches it.

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Wilson also stars in Rainn Wilson and the Geography of Bliss, a show on Peacock in which the intrepid actor travels the globe, searching for the secrets of the happiest societies on earth. Dwayne would never have had the follow-through, but Wilson is on a roll, systematically sifting through the sands of time for secrets that have been left unnoticed.

Soul Boom takes us through the fundamental building blocks of Wilson’s early years, namely TV and Star Trek. “The idea of understanding the other—finding empathy with species different from your own—was a recurring theme in the show. Wherever they go in the galaxy, the crew of the Enterprise is called on to deepen their compassion and understanding of the ‘alien,’” Wilson says.

And Soul Boom is about looking through as many windows as possible. The book is chock full of quotes. From Joseph Campbell to Jesus, and Muhammad to the Beatles, Wilson is thorough on turning over every leaf and stone, looking for inspiration and signs that the universe is not a mechanistic set of happenstance, but a deliberate function of beauty. “We are watching the birth, more than the death, of a world,” according to Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Wilson doesn’t have blinders on. Think less woo-woo and more activism. Wilson doesn’t avoid tackling all the conflicts and unresolved dilemmas of the world. He lays them out and examines them. From immigration policies, to the housing crisis and the unhoused population, to the staggering tuition and student debt that young people face, Wilson understands our moment in history.

Yet, he has a core belief that things can work out. And the path forward is Radical Compassion. “It’s somewhere between the divine and the practical. It’s a pragmatic and commonsensical way to build emotional bridges between parties that normally wouldn’t intersect,” Wilson says. 

America is too obsessed with celebrity culture. Take a chance and see the human behind the character. Rainn Wilson has some valuable insights and just might bring a smile to your face.

Rainn Wilson will appear at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., April 25 at 7pm. Wilson will sign copies of Soul Boom, available from Bookshop Santa Cruz, at the sold-out event. Info: riotheatre.com.


  1. “From immigration policies, to the housing crisis and the unhoused population, to the staggering tuition and student debt that young people face, Wilson understands our moment in history.”

    Presumably, he understands there is no work-around for UNSUSTAINABLE human overbreeding.

    (Sustainable human birthrates are not our only problem; they are our only problem dogmatically ignored.)

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