During the 1980s increasing numbers of people started turning to various unconventional spiritual and therapeutic practices, which have been labelled as the ‘New Age Movement’ by sociologists such as Paul Heelas (1996).
The New Age Movement consists of an eclectic range of beliefs and practices based on Buddhism and Taoism, psychology, and psycho-therapy; paganism, clairvoyance, tarot and magic.
The New Age Movement is probably best characterized as a ‘spiritual supermarket’ from which individuals are free to pick and mix those spiritual beliefs and practices which they feel best help them achieve peace of mind or realize their full human potential.
Examples of New Age Beliefs and Practices
These are many and varied, but they include….
- A belief in the power of natural healing and ‘spiritual energy’… as found within Tai Chi and Reiki.
- The belief that nature is sacred, as found in beliefs in Gaia and Paganism.
- A belief in the idea that individuals have a ‘deeper’ inner potential to be realized – with the help of various psycho-therapeutic interventions.
- A belief in mysticism, clairvoyance and the psychic power of certain individuals.
- A belief in fate which might be uncovered through practices such as the tarot or astrology.
- A belief in extra-terrestrials, and ‘cosmos’ religions.
.Common Themes of the New Age Movement
- A focus on ‘self-improvement’ – many New Age practices are about ‘perfecting oneself’ – going on a journey of self-improvement, or even self-transcendence. Often this means going beyond one’s ‘socialised self’ and getting in touch with one’s ‘true self’ or ones ‘inner self’ through practices such as meditation.
- The self is seen as the final authority in the New Age Movement – rather than accepting the truth of an external god, one needs to find the god or goddess within and find one’s own path to perfection. This fits in with Anthony Giddens’ concept of detraditionalisation – New Agers do not accept the authority of traditional religions, they look to themselves.
- A Pick and Mix approach to religion – New Age practitioners generally accept that there are diverse paths to ‘spiritual fulfillment’. Not only this, but ‘shopping around’ and trying out different New Age practices is common, so that people can find ‘the mix of beliefs and practices that suit them’. It follows that New Agers reject the idea that one religion has a monopoly on the truth. The New Age movement is in fact more like a cafeteria of relative truths.
- A belief in holism, or the interconnections of all things – New Agers tend to believe that there is a ‘deeper reality’ behind what we can perceive with our senses that binds us all to one greater whole. This unperins their acceptance of diversity – there are diverse paths to the same ‘universal beyond’.
Some World Affirming New Religious Movements are part of the New Age Movement, as are some World Rejecting New Religious Movements.
Some aspects of Feminist Spirituality can also be characterized as ‘New Age’.
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