What is the New Age Movement?

The ‘New Age Movement’, common during the 1980s, refers to a collection of unconventional spiritual and therapeutic practices influenced by Buddhism, Taoism, psychology, paganism, and more. The movement encourages individual choice in spiritual beliefs and practices, emphasizing self-improvement and personal empowerment. Beliefs in natural healing, mysticism, fate, and interconnectedness are characteristic. It also challenges the notions of religious authority, instead promoting a relative, varied approach to spiritual fulfillment.

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Karl Thompson

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 characterised as a ‘spiritual supermarket‘. Individuals are free to pick and mix those spiritual beliefs and practices which they feel best help them achieve peace of mind or realise their full human potential.

Mind map showing the definition of the new age movement, the core themes and providing examples.

Examples of New Age Beliefs and Practices

picture of someone doing yoga

New Age beliefs are many and varied and 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.
  • Believing 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.
  • Believing 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

Four common themes of the New Age Movement are:

  • A focus on self-improvement.
  • The self is the final authority in the New Age Movement.
  • A Pick and Mix approach to religion.
  • A belief in holism, or the interconnections of all things.

A focus on ‘self-improvement’

Many New Age practices are about ‘perfecting oneself’ – going on a journey of self-improvement, or even self-transcendence. This often means going beyond one’s socialised self and getting in touch with one’s true self through practices such as meditation.

The self is 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 there are diverse paths on the way to ‘spiritual fulfilment’. Hence ‘shopping around’ and trying out different New Age practices is common. This way 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 underpins their acceptance of diversity: there are diverse paths to the same ‘universal beyond’.

Signposting and relevance to A-level sociology.

This material is part of the popular beliefs in society option, usually taught as part of second year sociology.

In many ways the New Age movement seems to fit postmodern society, however this point of view is open to interpretation.

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 characterised as ‘New Age’.

Sources/ Find out more

Recent research from 2018 by PEW found that New Age beliefs were very common in America.

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