Why are there more women in the New Age Movement than men>?

Woodhead (2007) suggested women are more attracted to New Age Movements because they experience double alienation in the family…. they family fails to give them a sense of occupational identity, and they feel dissatisfied with their limited role as housewife and caregiver. New age movements offer a chance for self-exploration and can provide women with a sense of identity and self worth. (However this position has been criticized – forthcoming post).

For example, some elements of the New age encourage women to express their ‘authentic’ selves, rather than trying to reinforce their traditional socially constructed female roles as mothers and housewives.

However, at the same time, the New Age ALSO celebrates many positive aspects of femininity, such as subjective experiences, intuition and emotion, and this may also appeal to women much more than men.

The New Age movement may appeal especially to middle class women, stay at home mums, who have the time and the money to be able access the rather expensive and various New Age therapies; and the new age is partly about health and healing.

Finally, there is also the fact that New Age Movement is mainly run by women, who primarily seem to market their products and services to other women.

Criticisms of the above theories

  1. The New Age Movement is tiny, very few people and thus very few people show any interest in it!
  2. If women did join the new age movement because of double alienation, then most women should be working class, but they are not, most women are middle class.
  3. Most of the activities engaged in do not provide a sense of coherent identity, making up for dissatisfaction with life in general: seriously, how is a couple of yoga classes a week going to do this?

 

 

 

 

Limitations of ‘Traditional Gender Role Theory’ in explaining why women are more religious than men

Women’s higher levels of religiosity could be due to different age profiles: women live longer than men, and older people are more religious than younger people.

Also, it doesn’t explain the higher levels of religiosity among women who don’t accept traditional feminine roles. Most members of the New Age Movement are female, and very few accept traditional, hegemonic prescriptions of femininity.

 

 

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Posmodernity and the New Age

Paul Heelas (1996) points out that the New Age Movement seems to have much in common with postmodernism:

  1. It seems to involve de-differentiation and de-traditionalisation. De-differentiation involves a breakdown of traditional categories, such as that between high and low culture. The New Age movement seems to be doing something similar with its fusion of traditional and popular religious beliefs. The New Age Movement also rejects the authority of the established church, with its belief that spirituality is within, and that it is up to each individual to find their own path to inner truth.
  2. The New Age Movement accepts relativism – there are diverse paths to spiritual fulfillment, and no one authority has a monopoly on truth, which fits in with postmodernism’s rejection of metanarratives.
  3. The spiritual shopping approach of the New Age seems to correspond with the centrality of consumer culture to postmodern societies.
  4. Like postmodernism, The New Age movement is, at least to an extent, about individuality and identity, focused on individual experience.
  5. Finally, there is the simple fact that both postmodernism and the New Age Movement emphasise the onset of a ‘new era’.

Why the New Age is not Postmodern

Despite the above apparent similarities, Heelas argues that the New Age Movement is, in fact, not postmodern:

Heelas argues that while the New Age Movement rejects ‘cultural metanarratives’ (about changing society) it still has a strong ‘experiential meta narrative  at its core. New agers are united by a self-spirituality metanarrative which claims that if people just strive deeply enough, they will realise absolute truths which will will help them to improve their lives. Their metanarrative is ultimately one of a faith in a radical individualism.

Although there might be different paths to inner-wisdom, New Agers still feel themselves in a position to make value judgments about themselves and others based on these beliefs. They tend take their spiritual beliefs and practices very seriously, and distinguish them as sacred, apart form other areas of their lives. This is far from the frivolous play like attitude normally associated with postmodernism.

Finally, many New Age practices are actually quite old, rooted in ancient traditions. For example, astrology, tarot and even Buddhism and Taoism, while most psycho-therapeutic practices are rooted in modernity.

Ultimately Heelas argues that the New Age movement does not represent a clear break with the past.

 

Explaining the Growth of the New Age Movement…

Steve Bruce points out that the New Age mostly appeals to successful, highly educated, middle class individuals, especially those working in the creative and expressive professions. The kind of individualist beliefs espoused by the New Age Movement fit in well with the world view of such individuals. The doctrine of self-generated success fits their experience of life so far, as they believe they have driven their own success through their own efforts, and New Age practices are a means of achieving even further success.

Bruce further points out that most New Age practices have been stripped of the need for any significant level of self-discipline – all that is required to develop one’s potential is to attend a weekly class, or engage in 20 minutes of yoga or meditation every day. There is no requirement to make any drastic life-changes (like many of the World Rejecting NRMs) and so this fits in well with the busy life styles which most people lead.

In short, Bruce argues that the New Age Movement fits the extremely individualistic nature of late modern societies.

Paul Heelas suggest four reasons why the the New Age Movement has grown in popularity in the Late Modern era:

  1. Modernity has given people a multiplicity of roles, many of which contradict each other, and many people as a result have fragmented identities. The New Age Movement offers people a chance to construct a coherent identity
  2. Consumer culture has created a ‘culture of discontent’ as people fail to find satisfaction in the products and services they consume – the New Age Movement offers an alternative way of seeking perfection, but still offering a choice.
  3. Rapid social changes associated with modernity lead people to seeking security.
  4. The decline of traditional religion has meant people have little alternative.

Ultimately the New Age offers a balance of solutions to those who both experience modernity as an iron cage and a crumbling cage – it offers people freedom, but within a structure they themselves construct.

It also offers people the chance to pursue both ‘utilitarian individualism’ and ‘expressive individualism’, just in different and potentially more satisfying ways than those options offered through consumer culture.

 

What is the New Age Movement?

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’.

Related Posts 

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’.

Types of religious organisation: the cult

Steve Bruce (1995) defines a cult as a ‘loosely knit group organized around some common themes and interests but lacking any sharply defined and exclusive belief system’.

Cults correspond closely to Roy Wallis’ category of ‘World Affirming New Religious Movements’.

Examples of Cults/ World Affirming NRMs include

  • Scientology
  • Transcendental Meditation
  • The Human Potential Movement

 Key Features of Cults 

  • Cults tend to lack a fixed religious doctrine, and typically have very loose religious beliefs, which are open to a wide range of interpretation by members.
  • They tend to be more individualistic than other forms of religion.
  • Members tend to be more like ‘customers’: they are free to come and go as they please, and choose which aspects of the cult’s activities to take part in.
  • Unlike sects, they tend to lack strict rules. There is very little commitment involved with being a member.
  • They are tolerant of other religions beliefs.

Competing definitions of cults 

 

NB – The media often uses the term cult, when really it’s referring to a sect!

NB – when a world rejecting religious movement goes nuts and convinces its members to commit mass suicide, the media often uses the term ‘cult’ to refer to it. Strictly speaking, according to the various categories used by sociologists, such organisations are ‘sects’, not ‘cults’.

Sources: Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.

Religious Pluralism: Evidence of Secularization?

Durkheim’s view of religion implied that a truly religious society could only have one religion in that society. In Durkheim’s analysis this was the situation in small-scale, Aboriginal societies, where every member of that society comes together at certain times in the year to engage in religious rituals. It was based on observations of such societies that Durkheim theorized that when worshiping religion, people were really worshiping society.

However, in more modern societies, especially postmodern societies, there is no one dominant religion: there are many religions, or a plurality of religions. Sociologists describe such a situation as religious pluralism.

According to Steve Bruce (2011) modernization and industrialization in Northern Europe and America brought with them social fragmentation, such that a plurality of different cultural and religious groups emerged. We see religious pluralism most obviously in the growth of sects and cults and in the increase in ethnic diversity of religion in societies.

Two process happen as a result of this: people find that their membership of their particular group or religion no longer binds them to society as a whole; and the state finds it difficult to formally support one ‘main religion’ without causing conflict.

Bruce thus argues that ‘strong religion’, which influences practically every areas of people’s lives: shaping their beliefs and practices cannot exist in a religiously plural society. Strong religion can only exist in isolated pockets, such as the Amish communities, but these have isolated themselves from society as a whole.

Religiously plural societies are thus characterized by ‘weak religion’ – which is a matter of personal choice and does not dominate every aspect of people’s lives. Weak religions accept that there is room for other religious belief systems and have little social impact.

Examples of weak religions include modern Protestantism, the ecumenical movement and New Ageism.

Arguments against increasing religious pluralism as evidence of secularization 

It is possible that religion is just changing to fit a postmodern society rather than it being in decline. Why does a society need to have one dominant religion for us to be able to say that religion is important?

It might be that diverse religions which preach tolerance of other religions are the only functional religions for a diverse postmodern society.

There are societies which have more than one religion where religious beliefs are still strong: for example Northern Ireland and Israel.

Sources/ Find out More 

Religions Pluralism – Wikipedia