We are delighted to share with you Watkins’ 2021 list of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People – spiritual teachers, activists, authors and thinkers that change the world. The list came out in print in issue 64, Winter 2021 of Watkins Mind Body Spirit magazine on January 12.
To see the full list, please click here.
Here, you can read more about each of the winners, counting down to our number 1 Most Spiritually Influential Living Person of 2021.
40 Hamza Yusuf
Hamza Yusuf is an American Islamic scholar. He is also the co-founder and current president of Zaytuna College, a Muslim liberal arts college and the first of its kind in the US. It incorporates Yusuf’s vision of combining the classical liberal arts with rigorous training in traditional Islamic disciplines and aims to “educate and prepare morally committed professional, intellectual, and spiritual leaders”. Yusuf has promoted Islamic sciences and classical teaching methodologies throughout the world and is one of the signatories of ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’, an open letter by Islamic scholars to Christian leaders, calling for peace and understanding. The New Yorker reported that Yusuf is “perhaps the most influential Islamic scholar in the Western world”. He is number 22 in the 2021 edition of The Muslim 500.
Born in Walla Walla, Washington, USA
1 January 1958 (Capricorn/Rooster)
39 Graham Hancock
Graham Hancock’s books have been translated into twenty-seven languages and have sold over nine million copies worldwide. They include The Sign and the Seal (now in production as a feature film), Fingerprints of the Gods, Supernatural, and Magicians of the Gods. His public lectures and broadcasts, including two major TV series for Channel 4, Quest for the Lost Civilisation, and Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age, have further established his reputation as an unconventional thinker who raises controversial questions about humanity’s past. His latest book, America Before: The Key to Earth’s Lost Civilization (published in paperback in September 2020) looks at how stunning new archaeological discoveries in North and South America, together with new genetic evidence, have launched a revolution in our understanding of the remote past.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland
2 August 1950 (Leo/Tiger)
Author and Researcher
38 Rob Bell
Rob Bell is an author, teacher, and speaker. At 28 he founded Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, and under his leadership it was one of the fastest-growing churches in America. In 2011 Time magazine named Bell on its list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World and in 2013 he was interviewed by Oprah for her Super Soul Sunday television show. The Heretic, a documentary film about Bell and his work was released in 2018. His books include The New York Times bestsellers What We Talk About When We Talk About God, The Zimzum of Love, Love Wins and What is the Bible? A new 79-minute film of his talk, An Introduction to Joy, came out in July. His latest book, Everything is Spiritual, published in September.
Born in Michigan, USA
23 August 1970 (Virgo/Dog)
Author and Teacher
37 Pema Chödrön
Pema Chödrön met her teacher, Chögyam Trungpa, in 1972 and became a Buddhist nun in 1981. Millions of people from around the world have been touched by her example and message of practicing peace in these turbulent times. The Pema Chodron Foundation is dedicated to preserving and sharing Pema’s inspiration and teachings in order that they might help us all awaken wisdom and compassion in ourselves and the world around us. Her books include The Wisdom of No Escape, When Things Fall Apart, Comfortable with Uncertainty, and Living Beautifully. The Essential Pema, a free downloadable study guide, is available from her website. An audiobook/CD, Three Steps to Courage: Working Compassionately with Difficult Emotions, published in March 2020 and her latest book, Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World, published in paperback in October.
Born in New York City, USA
14 July 1936 (Cancer/Rat)
Author and Spiritual Teacher
36 Michael Bernard Beckwith
Michael Bernard Beckwith is the founder and spiritual director of the Agape International Spiritual Center, a trans-denominational community in Los Angeles. “When I founded the Agape International Spiritual Center and community in 1986, we “visioned” it as a movement that would take a stand for love, for peace, for being a beneficial presence on the planet. That’s why it was named “Agape,” which in Greek means unconditional love.” Michael has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and was named in Oprah’s SuperSoul100 list of visionaries and influential leaders in 2016. His books include Spiritual Liberation, The Answer is You, and Life Visioning: A Transformative Process for Activating Your Unique Gifts and Highest Potential. His most recent book, Prosperity, Plenitude & Infinite Possibilities, published in September 2019.
Born in USA
21 July 1956 (Cancer/Monkey)
Author and New Thought Minister
35 Vandana Shiva
Vandana Shiva is an author, activist, and scientific advisor. In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology to address the most significant ecological and social issues of our times. Her latest book, Reclaiming the Commons: Biodiversity, Indigenous Knowledge, and the Rights of Mother Earth (July 2020), lays out the scientific, legal, political, and cultural struggle to defend the sovereignty of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. Corporate war on nature and people through patents and corporate Intellectual Property Rights has unleashed an epidemic of biopiracy resulting in important legal battles fighting efforts to patent the rights to many plants, including basmati, neem, and wheat. Dr. Shiva presents details of the specific attempts made by corporations to secure these patents and the legal actions taken to fight them.
Born in Dehradun, India
5 November 1952 (Scorpio/Dragon)
Author, Physicist and Environmental Activist
34 James Lovelock
James Lovelock is an independent scientist, environmentalist and futurologist best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis through books like Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. The Earth and I (2016), an illustrated essay collection conceived by Lovelock, brought together an all-star line-up of thinkers and scientists to offer essential understanding about who we are, how we live, and where we might be going. In July 2019, James celebrated his 100th birthday, the same month his new book Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence published in hardback. In it, he argues that the anthropocene – the age in which humans acquired planetary-scale technologies – is, after three centuries, coming to an end. A new age – the novacene – has already begun. The paperback came out in July 2020.
Born in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire, England
26 July 1919 (Leo/Goat)
Scientist and Writer
33 Jon Kabat-Zinn
Jon Kabat-Zinn is a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher, known for his work in bringing mindfulness practices into the mainstream of medicine and society. He is founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and also founding director of its renowned Stress Reduction Clinic. His books include Wherever You Go, There You Are; Full Catastrophe Living; and Coming to Our Senses, which has recently been repackaged into four smaller books: Meditation is Not What You Think: Mindfulness and Why It Is So Important; Falling Awake: How to Practice Mindfulness in Everyday Life; The Healing Power of Mindfulness: A New Way of Being; and Mindfulness for All: The Wisdom to Transform the World, which published in 2019.
Born in New York, USA
5 June 1944 (Gemini/Monkey)
Scientist, Writer, and Meditation Teacher
32 Don Miguel Ruiz
Don Miguel Ruiz is the author of The Four Agreements which has sold over 7 million copies worldwide and appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly ten years. His other Toltec Wisdom books include The Mastery of Love, The Voice of Knowledge, The Fifth Agreement, The Toltec Art of Life and Death, and The Three Questions. His latest book, The Actor: How to Live an Authentic Life (November 2020), explores human behaviour from the point of view of an artist. Performance art is a way of life for each of us, and it has shaped our common dream. We choose the roles we play – in different situations and for different people. We can also step away from those roles. We can reclaim our authenticity.
Born in Mexico
27 August 1952 (Virgo/Dragon)
Author, Teacher and Shaman
31 Teal Swan
Teal Swan is an internationally recognized spiritual leader and an influential new voice in the field of personal transformation. She was born with a range of extrasensory abilities including clairvoyance, clairsentience, and clairaudience. A survivor of severe childhood abuse, she uses her extrasensory gifts as well as her own harrowing life experience to inspire millions of people towards authenticity, freedom and joy. Her worldwide success has earned her the nickname “The Catalyst.” 2020 saw The Blind Spot Oracle Cards (February), featuring 78 Sigil symbols that can help you discover your blind spots, plus a guidebook that profiles each Sigil, and Hunger of the Pine (October), a novel: “There was a pining in their movements. A boundless yearning for kindness… A deep hunger for love… Their lives were the hunger of pine.”
Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
16 June 1984 (Gemini/Rat)
Author and Speaker
30 Robin Sharma
Robin Sharma is a writer and speaker on leadership, peak performance and life management. Though born in Uganda, his parents moved to Canada when he was a year old. He first shot to fame with The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. Considered to be one of the top five leadership experts in the world, Sharma’s books on leadership and peak performance have sold over 15,000,000 copies in over 75 countries. He also founded The Robin Sharma Foundation for Children (RSFC), a registered charitable foundation that raises funds from around the world and donates them to children’s causes. His latest book, The 5AM Club: Own Your Morning, Elevate Your Life, was published in 2018. A new book, The Titan Playbook, is due to be published in December.
Born in Uganda
16 June 1964 (Gemini/Dragon)
Writer, Speaker and Leadership Expert
29 Jay Shetty NEW
Jay Shetty is a former monk, podcast host and purpose coach who is on a mission to share the timeless wisdom of the world in an accessible, relevant and practical way. Shetty has created over 400 viral videos with over 5 billion views, and hosts “On Purpose”, the #1 Health and Wellness podcast in the world. He’s also been listed in Forbes 30 under 30, has over 26 million Facebook followers and over 6 million Instagram followers. Shetty spent three years living as a monk in India before pursuing a career inspiring people to achieve happiness in their own way and now has fans in the Kardashians and Ellen DeGeneres. His first book, Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day, published in September.
Born in London, England
6 September 1987 (Virgo/Rabbit)
Podcast Host and Purpose Coach
28 Francis Chan
Francis Chan is a Protestant preacher and teacher, and the bestselling author of Crazy Love, Forgotten God, Erasing Hell, Multiply, and You and Me Forever. He founded the Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California, in 1994 and Eternity Bible College in 2004. He has also been a board member of several Christian and social justice organizations, including Children’s Hunger Fund and Gospel for Asia. In 2020, he moved to Hong Kong. He now lives and works in Sham Shui Po, the poorest area and the neighbourhood where his mother used to do ministries in the 1950s. In his most recent book, Letters to the Church (2018), Chan digs deep into biblical truths, reflects on his own failures and dreams, and celebrates stories of ordinary people God is using to change the world.
Born in Chinatown, San Francisco, USA
31 August 1967 (Virgo/Goat)
Preacher and Author
27 Esther Hicks
Esther Hicks is an inspirational speaker and author. She co-authored eight books with her husband, Jerry Hicks, who passed away in 2011. Esther has had amazing success promoting the Law of Attraction through books, DVDs and lecture tours. Money and the Law of Attraction: Learning to Attract Wealth, Health, and Happiness (2008) was a #1 New York Times bestseller. The Teachings of Abraham, the nonphysical entities that speak through her, took off with the release of Ask and It Is Given, the most successful of the partnership books. July 2020 saw a new edition of Esther and Jerry’s book Getting into the Vortex: Guided Meditations, now with a 70-minute audio download containing four guided meditations designed to get you into the Vortex of Creation: General Well-Being, Financial Well-Being, Physical Well-Being, and Relationships.
Born in Coalville, Utah, USA
5 March 1948 (Pisces/Rat)
Author and Speaker
26 Mark Manson NEW
Mark Manson is a self-help author and blogger best known for his two New York Times bestsellers The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope. His books have sold over 13 million copies worldwide and his work has been translated into more than 60 languages. His website is read by more than 15 million people each year and includes free ebooks on Life Purpose, Personal Values (Discover who you are, what you stand for, and what you truly give a f*ck about), Self-Discipline (Stop sabotaging yourself and develop small habits with huge impact), and Relationships (Discover the surprising truth about why your relationships succeed or fail).
Born in Austin, Texas, USA
9 March 1984 (Pisces/Rat)
Author and Blogger
25 Amma (Sri Mata Amritanandamayi)
Amma (“Mother”) is a Hindu spiritual leader, often referred to as “The Hugging Saint”, and widely respected for her humanitarian activities. In 2014, she was chosen as one of the 50 most powerful women religious leaders by The Huffington Post. In 2018, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi: A Biography by Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri was published, along with Amma’s Pearls of Wisdom, a perpetual calendar of daily quotes. 2019 saw the publication of 108 Quotes of Amma on Meditation (April) and The Eternal Beauty That We Are: A Collection of Timeless Messages from Amma (October). Love is My Religion: Volume 3, a collection of quotations from Amma’s talks and conversations that illumines the way to love, consciousness and peace was published in April 2020.
Born in Parayakadavu, Kerala, India
27 September 1953 (Libra/Snake)
24 Arianna Huffington
Born Ariánna Stasinopoúlou, Arianna Huffington is the founder of The Huffington Post, the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and the author of 15 books, including, the international bestsellers Thrive and The Sleep Revolution. In 2016, she launched Thrive Global, a corporate and consumer well-being and productivity platform with the mission of changing the way we work and live by ending the collective delusion that burnout is the price we must pay for success. Thrive Global provides trainings, seminars, e-courses, coaching and ongoing support based on the latest scientific findings to improve people’s health and increase productivity for both companies and individuals around the world. March 2020 saw the publication of Leah McGrath Goodman’s Arianna Huffington: Building the Huffington Post and Thrive Global, as part of the Global Business Visionaries series.
Born in Athens, Greece
15 July 1950 (Cancer/Tiger)
Journalist and Author
23 Sam Harris
Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, philosopher, bestselling author, and host of the Making Sense podcast. August 2020 saw the publication of Making Sense: Conversations on Consciousness, Morality and the Future of Humanity, featuring eleven conversations from the hit podcast. Although a critic of religion and a proponent of scientific skepticism and the “New Atheism”, Harris advocates Advaita Vedanta and Dzogchen and holds that there is “nothing irrational about seeking the states of mind that lie at the core of many religions. Compassion, awe, devotion, and feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have.” He also states that the key aim of meditation is to enable its practitioners to see that the feeling of self is an illusion. In 2018, he released a meditation app, Waking Up with Sam Harris.
Born in Los Angeles, California, USA
9 April 1967 (Aries/Goat)
Author and Philosopher
22 Marianne Williamson
Marianne Williamson is a spiritual leader, author, politician, and activist. Although some pundits treated her campaign for the Democratic nomination as comic relief, others acknowledged that her message was persuasive and influential. After the Democratic debate in July 2019, a New York Times columnist wrote, “It feels insane to say this, but Williamson out-debated virtually everyone else on the stage.” After Biden accepted the Democratic nomination, an article titled “Marianne Williamson Won the Democratic Primary” appeared in Slate. In it, the writer Tom Scocca compared Williamson’s challenge to Trump (“I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field, and sir, love will win.”) with Biden’s acceptance speech and concluded that “Williamson’s message is what the Democrats are carrying into November.” October saw the launch of ‘The Marianne Williamson Podcast: Conversations that Matter’.
Born in Houston, Texas, USA
8 July 1952 (Cancer/Dragon)
Author and Activist
21 Abdullah II of Jordan
Abdullah II of Jordan is known for promoting interfaith dialogue and a moderate understanding of Islam. He is the custodian of the Muslim and Christian sacred sites in Jerusalem, a position held by his dynasty since 1924. In response to Islamophobia after the 9/11 attacks, Abdullah issued the Amman Message, which encouraged Muslim scholars from around the world to denounce terrorism, practice religious tolerance and represent the true nature of the Muslim faith. In 2010, he presented the Message to the United Nations and proposed a World Interfaith Harmony Week, which is now an annual celebration. In 2018 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for promoting inter-faith dialogue. The award statement said that Abdullah “has done more to seek religious harmony within Islam and between Islam and other religions than any other living political leader.”
Born in Amman, Jordan
30 January 1962 (Aquarius/Ox)
Leader and Peace Promoter
20 Uri Geller NEW
Uri Geller is the world’s most investigated paranormalist. Famous around the globe for his mind-bending psychic powers, he has led a unique life shrouded in debate, controversy and mystery. In 2017 the CIA released files describing tests of Uri’s abilities that led scientists at Stanford Research Institute to conclude “he has demonstrated his paranormal perception ability in a convincing and unambiguous manner”. The results were published in the prestigious science magazine Nature. As well as using his gifts to detect oil and precious metals, Uri works as a motivational MindPower coach to leading sports men and women and has lectured at the United Nations and to the directors and CEOs of large multinational companies. A new hardback edition of his book Learn to Dowse was published in November.
Born in Tel Aviv, Mandatory Palestine
20 December 1946 (Sagittarius/Dog)
19 Rupert Sheldrake
One of the world’s most innovative biologists, Rupert Sheldrake is best known for his theory of morphic fields and morphic resonance, which leads to a vision of a living, developing universe with its own inherent memory. His books include A New Science of Life, Seven Experiments That Could Change the World, The Sense of Being Stared At, and The Science Delusion (called Science Set Free in the US). His recent books include Science and Spiritual Practices: Reconnecting through Direct Experience (2017) and the sequel, Ways to Go Beyond and Why They Work (2019), in which Rupert looks at seven spiritual practices that are personally transformative and have scientifically measurable effects. A new edition of The Science Delusion, updated with new findings, was published in June 2020.
Born in Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, England
28 June 1942 (Cancer/Horse)
Biologist and Author
18 Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a humanitarian leader, spiritual teacher and an ambassador of peace. His vision of a stress-free, violence-free society has united millions of people the world over through service projects and the courses of The Art of Living Foundation, which he founded in 1981. Sudarshan Kriya, the meditation technique introduced by Sri Sri is backed by research and implemented in schools, corporations, prisons, refugee camps and retreat centres around the world. In 1997, he founded the International Association for Human Values, a Geneva-based charity that engages in relief work and rural development and aims to foster shared global values. Through his programs and teachings, a network of organizations, and a rapidly growing presence across 156 countries, Sri Sri has reached an estimated 450 million people.
Born in Papanasam, Tamil Nadu, India
13 May 1956 (Taurus/Monkey)
Spiritual and Humanitarian Leader
17 David Lynch
David Lynch is a director, screenwriter, visual artist, musician, and author. Known for his surrealist films, he has developed a unique cinematic style. In 1973, Lynch was initiated into Transcendental Meditation, and has practiced the technique consistently since then. In 2005, he launched the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and Peace, established to fund the teaching of TM in schools and research on the technique and its effects on learning. Lynch’s book, Catching the Big Fish (2006), discusses the impact of the TM technique on his creative process. “Heal the Healers Now,” a new initiative to bring the stress-reducing TM technique to medical providers battling the coronavirus pandemic was launched in the US in April by the David Lynch Foundation’s Center for Health and Wellness and the US TM organization.
Born in Missoula, Montana, USA
20 January 1946 (Capricorn/Rooster)
Film director, writer, and TM advocate
16 Iyanla Vanzant
Iyanla Vanzant is an inspirational speaker, spiritual teacher, author, and television personality. Her body of work spans over three decades and includes six New York Times best-sellers. She is the host and executive producer of the award-winning Iyanla: Fix My Life, the No. 1 reality show on Oprah Winfrey Network. She is also the founder of the Inner Visions Institute for Spiritual Development and conducts workshops and classes across the US, throughout Africa and the UK. Her latest book Get Over It! Thought Therapy for Healing the Hard Stuff was published in paperback in 2019. The same year saw an updated version of her revolutionary app, “Awakenings with Iyanla Vanzant” (Free download), that offers personal spiritual coaching sessions customized for you every single day.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, USA
13 September 1953 (Virgo/Snake)
Lawyer, Minister, Talk Show Host and Author
15 Rhonda Byrne
Rhonda Byrne is best known for The Secret film and book. She served as a producer on the 2020 movie, The Secret: Dare to Dream, based on her book. The film stars Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas, and was directed by Andy Tennant. Her other books include The Power, The Magic, and Hero. In her new book The Greatest Secret (November 2020), Byrne shares the wisdom gleaned from her own spiritual search, offering teachings and accessible practices with revelatory words from Byron Katie, Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi, Mooji, Eckhart Tolle, Alan Watts, Yogananda, and others.
Born in Melbourne, Australia
12 March 1951 (Pisces/Rabbit)
Writer and TV/Film producer
14 Wim Hof NEW
Wim Hof got his nickname “The Iceman” by breaking a number of records related to cold exposure including: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, and standing in a container while covered with ice cubes for 112 minutes. His extensive training has enabled him to learn to control his breathing, heart rate, and blood circulation and to withstand extreme temperatures. Hof has not only helped advance scientific understanding, but also accomplished extraordinary feats of human endurance, including 21 Guinness World Records. He is convinced that everyone can tap into their inner potential and has made it his mission to share what he’s learned with the rest of the world. His latest book The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Potential, Transcend Your Limits published in September.
Born in Sittard, Limburg, Netherlands
20 April 1959 (Aries/Pig)
13 Matthew Fox
Matthew Fox is an internationally acclaimed spiritual theologian, an Episcopal priest, and an activist who was a member of the Dominican Order for 34 years. An early and influential exponent of Creation Spirituality, Fox’s effort to reawaken the West to its own mystical tradition has included revivifying awareness of Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Aquinas and the Cosmic Christ tradition, as well as interacting with contemporary scientists who are also mystics. 2020 saw The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times (January) and Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – and Beyond (October). Julian lived through the bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings.
Born in Madison, Wisconsin, USA
21 December 1940 (Sagittarius/Dragon)
Priest and Theologian
12 Russell Brand
Since rising to fame in 2003, Russell Brand has established himself as one of the world’s most celebrated stand-up comedians. Brand is also a successful author, broadcaster, actor, podcaster, columnist, political commentator and mental health and drug rehabilitation activist. His number one Sunday Times bestseller, Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions, was published in paperback in 2018. The follow-up, Mentors: How to Help and be Helped, was published in 2019. 2020 has seen Russell interview some interesting people on his podcast Under the Skin: Wim Hof’s Corona Survival Guide, Julia Cameron (On Creativity & Play), Ricky Gervais (God vs Atheism), Bob Roth (Transcend & Be Free!), Eckhart Tolle (Become Awake Now!), Mooji (Access the Awareness Beyond), Yusuf Cat Stevens (Fame & the Spiritual Life), and Satish Kumar (Activism & Spiritualism).
Born in Grays, Essex, England
4 June 1975 (Gemini/Rabbit)
Comedian, Actor and Activist
11 Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho has sold over 230 million copies of his books in 82 different languages in more than 170 countries – and is the all-time bestselling Portuguese-language author. The Alchemist has sold more than 85 million copies and many celebrities have declared it their favourite novel. His latest book, The Archer, an inspiring story about a young man seeking wisdom from an elder, and the practical lessons imparted along the way, was published in November. In October, Bluebird released a beautifully-designed hardback journal from Coelho – his first ever guided journal. With an introduction by Coelho on the act of writing, Journey: A Journal of Discovery includes powerful and inspiring quotes from Coelho’s books, as well as all-new reflections to guide you on your journey.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
24 August 1947 (Virgo/Pig)
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