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LifeLines – A Perfect Example of a Postmodern Approach to Religion

Lifelines: Notes on Life and Love, Faith and Doubt is a new book published in November 2018 written by Martin Rowe and Malcolm Doney, and to my mind it’s a perfect expression of a postmodern approach to religious belief.

The two authors are (respectively) a volunteer priest and one volunteer vicar in their local parishes, and this voluntarism ticks the postmodernism box straight away – no doubt being a volunteer enables them to ‘dip into’ their religions and be involved without any of the more unpleasant commitments associated with going ‘full clergy’.

To be honest I haven’t read it, but I caught a review of it by two people who had on Radio four on Sunday morning. (FINALY I get some payback for all the religious content I’m not normally interested in on a Sunday morning!).

I’ve a had a quick browse of it and it basically provides tips on how to ‘lead a good, happy life’ and reflections on some of life’s ‘deeper questions’ and ‘moral issues’ – and the advice comes from people of many faiths, and no faith, which is kind of blurring the boundaries between the sacred and the profane.

You might describe the book as well suited for our pick and mix approach to religion today, and it certainly seem to be ‘anti institutional’ yet ‘pro-spirituality’, at least judging by the brief extract below…

Anyway, just a quick update….. seems like a relevant piece of contemporary evidence for aspects of the beliefs in society course!

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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 PostsĀ 

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’.