New Age

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This article is about the New Age movement and its spirituality. For the astrological age in western astrology, see Age of Aquarius. For other uses with the term New Age, see New Age (disambiguation).
White cloud tops below with Earth's azure atmosphere blending into outer space, where a thin crescent moon hovers against the darkness
New Age spirituality often makes references to mythological representations of the Earth, Moon, and outer space; the term New Age refers to the current astrological Age of Aquarius.[1]

The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its central precepts have been described as "drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational psychology".[2] The term New Age refers to the coming astrological Age of Aquarius.[1]

The movement aims to create "a spirituality without borders or confining dogmas" that is inclusive and pluralistic.[3] It holds to "a holistic worldview",[4] emphasising that the Mind, Body, and Spirit are interrelated[1] and that there is a form of monism and unity throughout the universe.[5] It attempts to create "a worldview that includes both science and spirituality"[6] and embraces a number of forms of mainstream science as well as other forms of science that are considered fringe.

The origins of the movement can be found in Medieval astrology and alchemy, such as the writings of Paracelsus, in Renaissance interests in Hermeticism, in 18th-century mysticism, such as that of Emanuel Swedenborg, and in beliefs in animal magnetism espoused by Franz Mesmer. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, authors such as Godfrey Higgins and the esotericists Eliphas Levi, Helena Blavatsky, and George Gurdjieff articulated specific histories, cosmologies, and some of the basic philosophical principles that would influence the movement. It experienced a revival as a result of the work of individuals such as Alice Bailey and organizations such as the Theosophical Society. It gained further momentum in the 1960s, taking influence from metaphysics, perennial philosophy, self-help psychology, and the various Indian gurus who visited the West during that decade.[7] In the 1970s, it developed a social and political component.[8]

The New Age movement includes elements of older spiritual and religious traditions ranging from monotheism through pantheism, pandeism, panentheism, and polytheism combined with science and Gaia philosophy; particularly archaeoastronomy, astronomy, ecology, environmentalism, the Gaia hypothesis, UFO religions, psychology, and physics.

New Age practices and philosophies sometimes draw inspiration from major world religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese folk religion, Christianity, Hinduism, Sufism (Islam), Judaism (especially Kabbalah), Sikhism; with strong influences from East Asian religions, Esotericism, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Idealism, Neopaganism, New Thought, Spiritualism, Theosophy, Universalism, and Wisdom tradition.[9]

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

The author Nevill Drury claimed there are "four key precursors of the New Age", who had set the way for many of its widely held precepts.[3]

Stonehenge with trimmed green grass on a partly-sunny day
Stonehenge and other ancient sites are revered by many who practice New Age spirituality.
  1. The first of these was Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), a Swedish scientist who after a religious experience devoted himself to Christian mysticism, believing that he could travel to Heaven and Hell and communicate with angels, demons and spirits, and who published widely on the subject of his experiences.
  2. The second person was Franz Mesmer (1734–1815), who had developed a form of healing using magnets, believing that there was a force known as "animal magnetism" that affected humans.
  3. The third figure was the Russian Helena Blavatsky (1831–1891), one of the founders of the Theosophical Society, through which she propagated her religious movement of Theosophy, which itself combined a number of elements from Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism with Western elements.
  4. The fourth figure was George Gurdjieff (c. 1872–1949), who founded the philosophy of the Fourth Way, through which he conveyed a number of spiritual teachings to his disciples.
  5. A fifth individual whom Drury identified as an important influence upon the New Age movement was the Indian Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), an adherent of the philosophy of Vedanta who first brought Hinduism to the West in the late 19th century.[10]

The term New Age was used as early as 1809 by William Blake who described a coming era of spiritual and artistic advancement in his preface to Milton a Poem by stating: "... when the New Age is at leisure to pronounce, all will be set right ..."[11]

Some of the New Age movement's constituent elements appeared initially in the 19th-century metaphysical movements: Spiritualism, Theosophy, and New Thought and also the alternative medicine movements of chiropractics and naturopathy.[1][5] These movements have roots in Transcendentalism, Mesmerism, Swedenborgianism, and various earlier Western esoteric or occult traditions, such as the hermetic arts of astrology, magic, alchemy, and Kabbalah. The term New Age was used in this context in Madame Blavatsky's book The Secret Doctrine, published in 1888.[12]

A weekly journal of Christian liberalism and socialism titled The New Age was published as early as 1894;[13] it was sold to a group of socialist writers headed by Alfred Richard Orage and Holbrook Jackson in 1907. Contributors included H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and William Butler Yeats; the magazine became a forum for politics, literature, and the arts.[14][15] Between 1908 and 1914, it was instrumental in pioneering the British avant-garde from Vorticism to Imagism. Orage met P. D. Ouspensky, then a young original philosopher of metaphysics, in 1914 and began correspondence with Harry Houdini; he became less interested in literature and art with an increased focus on mysticism and other spiritual topics; the magazine was sold in 1921. According to Brown University, The New Age "... helped to shape modernism in literature and the arts from 1907 to 1922."[16]

Development[edit]

A new age shrine.
New Age shrine in Glastonbury, England

Popularisation behind these ideas has roots in the work of early 20th century writers such as D. H. Lawrence and William Butler Yeats. In the early- to mid-1900s, American mystic, theologian, and founder of the Association for Research and Enlightenment Edgar Cayce was a seminal influence on what later would be termed the New Age movement; he was known in particular for the practice some refer to as channeling.[17]

The psychologist Carl Jung was a proponent of the concept of the Age of Aquarius.[18] In a letter to his friend Peter Baynes, dated 12 August 1940, Jung wrote a passage:

This year reminds me of the enormous earthquake in 26 B.C. that shook down the great temple of Karnak. It was the prelude to the destruction of all temples, because a new time had begun. 1940 is the year when we approach the meridian of the first star in Aquarius. It is the premonitory earthquake of the New Age ...[19][20]

Former Theosophist Rudolf Steiner and his Anthroposophical movement are a major influence. Neo-Theosophist Alice Bailey published the book Discipleship in the New Age (1944), which used the term New Age in reference to the transition from the astrological age of Pisces to Aquarius. While claims of racial bias in the writings of Rudolf Steiner and Alice Bailey were made,[21] Bailey was firmly opposed to the Axis powers; she believed that Adolf Hitler was possessed by the Dark Forces,[22] and Steiner emphasized racial equality as a principle central to anthroposophical thought and humanity's progress.[23][24] Any racial elements from these influences have not remained part of the Anthroposophical Society as contemporary adherents of the society have either not adopted or repudiated these beliefs.[25][26]

Another early usage of the term, was by the American artist, mystic, and philosopher Walter Russell, who spoke of

... this New Age philosophy of the spiritual re-awakening of man ... Man's purpose in this New Age is to acquire more and more knowledge ...

in his essay "Power Through Knowledge", which was also published in 1944.[27]

Contemporary usage of the term[edit]

Wooden barrel house in forest with surrounding footpaths
This barrel house was the first dwelling constructed at the Findhorn Ecovillage.

The subculture that later became known as New Age already existed in the early 1970s, based on and adopting ideas originally present in the counterculture of the 1960s. Two entities founded in 1962: the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California and the Findhorn Foundation—an intentional community which continues to operate the Findhorn Ecovillage near Findhorn, Moray, Scotland—played an instrumental role during the early growth period of the New Age movement.[28]

Widespread usage of the term New Age began in the mid-1970s (reflected in the title of monthly periodical New Age Journal), "when increasing numbers of people [...] began to perceive a broad similarity between a wide variety of "alternative ideas" and pursuits, and started to think of them as part of one "movement"".[29] This probably influenced several thousand small metaphysical book- and gift-stores that increasingly defined themselves as "New Age bookstores".[30][31] As a result of the large-scale activities surrounding the Harmonic Convergence in 1987, the American mass-media further popularised the term as a label for the alternative spiritual subculture, including practices such as meditation, channeling, crystal healing, astral projection, psychic experience, holistic health, simple living, and environmentalism; or belief in phenomena such as Earth mysteries, ancient astronauts, extraterrestrial life, unidentified flying objects, crop circles, and reincarnation. Several New Age publications appeared by the late 1980s such as Psychic Guide (later renamed Body, Mind & Spirit), Yoga Journal, New Age Voice, New Age Retailer, and NAPRA ReView by the New Age Publishers and Retailers Alliance.

Several key events occurred, which raised public awareness of the New Age subculture: the production of the musical Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical (1967) with its opening song "Aquarius" and its memorable line "This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius";[32] publication of Linda Goodman's best-selling astrology books Sun Signs (1968) and Love Signs (1978); the release of Shirley MacLaine's book Out on a Limb (1983), later adapted into a television mini-series with the same name (1987); and the "Harmonic Convergence" planetary alignment on August 16 and 17, 1987,[33] organized by José Argüelles in Sedona, Arizona. The claims of channelers Jane Roberts (Seth Material), Helen Schucman (A Course in Miracles), J. Z. Knight (Ramtha), Neale Donald Walsch (Conversations with God) (note that Walsch denies being a "channeler" and his books make it obvious that he is not one, though the text emerged through a dialogue with a deeper part of himself in a process comparable to automatic writing), and Rene Gaudette (The Wonders) contributed to the movement's growth.[34][35] Relevant New Age works include the writings of James Redfield, Eckhart Tolle, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Christopher Hills, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, John Holland, Gary Zukav, Wayne Dyer, and Rhonda Byrne.

While J. Gordon Melton,[36] Wouter Hanegraaff,[37] and Paul Heelas[38] have emphasised personal aspects, Mark Satin,[39] Theodore Roszak,[40] Marilyn Ferguson,[41] and Corinne McLaughlin[42] have described New Age as a values-based sociopolitical movement.

Spirituality[edit]

Philosophy and cosmology[edit]

While the New Age lacks any unified belief-system, many spiritual practices and philosophies feature commonly among adherents of the movement—sometimes referred to as New Agers.

ConceptDescription
TheismGeneral and abstract idea of God, understood in many ways and seen as superseding the need to anthropomorphize the deity.
Spiritual beingsMany believe that gods, devas, angels, Ascended Masters, elementals, ghosts, fairies, Spirit guides and extraterrestrials can spiritually guide people who open themselves to such guidance.[43]
AfterlifeNew Age thinkers have expressed a variety of beliefs about an afterlife.[44] Every New Age person must find their own path — whether it involves reincarnation, non-existence, or a higher plane of consciousness. Some believe consciousness persists after death as life in different forms; the afterlife exists for further learning through the form of a spirit, reincarnation and/or near-death experiences. The New Age belief in reincarnation can differ from the Buddhist or Hindu concepts: seeing a soul, for example, born into a spiritual realm or even on a far-away planet, and there is no desire to end this process; there are also beliefs that either all individuals (not just a minority) can choose where they reincarnate, or that God/the universe always chooses the best reincarnation for each person.[45] There may be a belief in a limited number of earthly lives which are followed by some guaranteed higher existence. One version is that the individual must incarnate once under each of the twelve signs of the zodiac.[46] There may be a belief in hell, but typically not in the traditional Christian sense or Islamic sense of eternal damnation. Universalist views of the afterlife are common.
Age of AquariusSome New Age thinkers have declared that, sometime before the 21st century, the world began entering an age of Aquarius. For example, in her book The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980), Marilyn Ferguson acknowledges being drawn to the notion that we are leaving a dark Piscean age and entering "a millennium of love and light – in the words of the popular song, 'The Age of Aquarius', the time of 'the mind's true liberation'".[47] In the 1990s, spiritual writers Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson drew on their knowledge of astrology to declare that we are entering an age of Aquarius, which would be characterized by intuitive thinking, group consciousness, and planetary service, and could be expected to last about 2,100 years.[48] Other claims about the developments associated with the Age of Aquarius include, but are not limited to, human rights, democracy, innovative technology, electricity, computers, and aviation. Esoteric claims are that the Age of Aquarius will see a rise in consciousness.[12]
EschatologyRelated to the above; a belief that we are living on the threshold of a great change in human consciousness usually focused on the date December 21, 2012 when a major, usually positive, change was believed to have occurred.[49] See 2012 phenomenon.
AstrologyHoroscopes and the Zodiac are used in understanding, interpreting, and organizing information about personality, human affairs, and other terrestrial matters.[50]
TeleologyLife has a purpose; this includes a belief in synchronicity—that coincidences have spiritual meaning and lessons to teach those open to them. Everything is universally connected through God and participates in the same energy.[51] There is a cosmic goal and a belief that all entities are (knowingly or unknowingly) cooperating towards this goal.
Indigo childrenChildren are being born with a more highly developed spiritual power than earlier generations.[52][53]
Interpersonal relationshipsNew Age writer Mark Satin found that, even in the 1970s, New Age people were rejecting traditional sex roles in favor of relationships and ways of being that emphasized such qualities as authenticity, women's equality in all areas of life, and freedom to choose.[54] A pair of social scientists claims that New Agers are unusually committed to helping others, both in personal relationships (by drawing out people’s unique selves) and through volunteer activities.[55] New Age writers Corinne McLaughlin and David Spangler point to a longing for connectedness with other members of one's community.[56] A variety of possible New Age interpersonal and intra-community relationships, many highlighting the wisdom and empowerment of women, is explored in Starhawk's futuristic novel The Fifth Sacred Thing.[57]
IntuitionAn important aspect of perception – offset by a somewhat strict rationalism – noted especially in the works of psychologist Carl Jung.[58]
OptimismPositive thinking supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything,[59] based on the concept that Thought Creates. Therefore, as one begins focusing attention and consciousness on the positive, on the "half-filled" glass of water, reality starts shifting and materializing the positive intentions and aspects of life. A certain critical mass of people with a highly spiritual consciousness will bring about a sudden change in the whole population.[60] Humans have a responsibility to take part in positive creative activity and to work to heal ourselves, each other and the planet.[61]
Human Potential MovementThe human mind has much greater potential than that ascribed to it[62][63][64] and can even override physical reality.[65]
Spiritual healingHumans have potential healing powers, such as therapeutic touch, which they can develop to heal others through touch or at a distance.[66]
TimeConcept of Eternal Now as a true nature of time (including the past, present, and a multitude of "snapshots" of the pre-constructed variants of the future). Cyclic, as well as relative nature of time. "Spirit sees things differently than you do. You work in a linear time frame and Spirit does not." A human's choices made in the present affect his/her linear past, as the totality of time is a closed dynamic system.[67][68] "You are eternal in both directions... If you look far enough into your past, you'll find your future there."[69]

Religion and science[edit]

ConceptDescription
EclecticismNew Age spirituality is characterized by an individual approach to spiritual practices and philosophies, and the rejection of religious doctrine and dogma.[70]
MatriarchyFeminine forms of spirituality, including feminine images of the divine, such as the female Aeon Sophia in Gnosticism, are deprecated by patriarchal religions.[5]
Ancient civilizationsAtlantis, Lemuria, Mu, and other lost lands existed.[71] Relics such as the crystal skulls and monuments such as Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza were left behind.
Psychic perceptionCertain geographic locations emanate psychic energy (sometimes through ley lines) and were considered sacred in pagan religions throughout the world.[72]
Eastern world practicesMeditation, Yoga, Tantra, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, Martial arts, T'ai chi ch'uan, Falun Gong, Qigong, Reflexology, Reiki, and other Eastern practices may assist in focusing spirituality.
DietFood influences both the mind and body; it is generally preferable to practice vegetarianism, veganism and rawfoodism by eating fresh organic food, which is locally grown and in season;[73][74] fasting may be used.[75]
MathematicsAn appeal to the language of nature and mathematics, as evidenced by numerology, Kabbalah,[76] Sacred geometry, and gnosticism to discern the nature of God.
ScienceQuantum mechanics, parapsychology, and the Gaia hypothesis have been used in quantum mysticism to explain spiritual principles.[77] Authors Deepak Chopra, Fritjof Capra, Fred Alan Wolf, and Gary Zukav have linked quantum mechanics to New Age spirituality, which is presented in the film What the Bleep Do We Know!? (2004); also, in connection with the Law of Attraction, which is related to New Thought and presented in the film The Secret (2006). They have interpreted the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, quantum entanglement, wave function collapse, or the many-worlds interpretation to mean that all objects in the universe are one (monism), that possibility and existence are endless, and that the physical world is only what one believes it to be. In medicine, such practices as therapeutic touch, homeopathy, chiropractic, and naturopathy involve hypotheses and treatments that have not been accepted by the conventional, science-based medical community through the normal course of empirical testing.[78][79] New Age thought often includes references to the paranormal and to parapsychology.[80]

Lifestyle[edit]

New Age store along stone street with bicycles parked out front and large crystals behind display windows
New Age shop in St Albans, UK

New Age spirituality has led to a wide array of literature on the subject and an active niche market, with books, music, crafts, and services in alternative medicine available at New Age stores, fairs, and festivals.[81][82]

Demographics[edit]

People who practice New Age spirituality or who embrace its lifestyle are included in the Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) demographic market segment, figures rising, related to sustainable living, green ecological initiatives, and generally composed of a relatively affluent and well-educated segment.[83][84] The LOHAS market segment in 2006 was estimated at USD$300 billion, approximately 30 percent of the United States consumer market.[85][86] According to The New York Times, a study by the Natural Marketing Institute showed that in 2000, 68 million Americans were included within the LOHAS demographic. The sociologist Paul H. Ray, who coined the term cultural creatives in his book The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World (2000), states, "What you're seeing is a demand for products of equal quality that are also virtuous."[87][88]

The movement is strongly gendered; sociologist Ciara O'Connor argues that it shows a tension between commodification and women's empowerment.[89]

Community[edit]

Further information: Sustainability
Three intersecting circles representing economy, society and environment showing how sustainability involves cooperation at the point where they all intersect.
Definitions of sustainability often refer to the "three pillars" of social, environmental, and economic sustainability.[90]

Some New Agers advocate living in a simple and sustainable manner to reduce humanity's impact on the natural resources of Earth; and they shun consumerism.[91][92] The New Age movement has been centered around rebuilding a sense of community to counter social disintegration; this has been attempted through the formation of intentional communities, where individuals come together to live and work in a communal lifestyle.[93]

Holistic health[edit]

Practitioners of New Age spirituality may use alternative medicine in addition to or in place of conventional medicine;[82][94][95] while some conventional physicians have adopted aspects or the complete approach of holistic health. The mainstreaming of the Holistic Health movement in the UK is discussed by Maria Tighe. The inter-relation of holistic health with the New Age movement is illustrated in Jenny Butler's[94] ethnographic description of "Angel therapy" in the Republic of Ireland.

Music[edit]

New Age music is peaceful music of various styles intended to create inspiration, relaxation, and positive feelings while listening. Studies have determined that New Age music can be an effective component of stress management.[96]

The style began in the 1970s with the works of free-form jazz groups recording on the ECM label; such as Oregon, the Paul Winter Consort, and other pre-ambient bands; as well as ambient music performer Brian Eno and classical avant-garde musician Daniel Kobialka.[97][98] In the early 1970s, it was mostly instrumental with both acoustic and electronic styles. New Age music evolved to include a wide range of styles from electronic space music using synthesizers and acoustic instrumentals using Native American flutes and drums, singing bowls, and world music sounds to spiritual chanting from other cultures.[97][98]

Many online radio stations exemplify New Age, which has always been a non-empirical phenomenon-intuitive-ethereal genre. For example, Gaia Radio

Reception[edit]

Organized religion[edit]

Further information: Comparative religion

Mainstream religious institutions have been critical of New Age spirituality. Author Johanna Michaelson published her own experiences with various New Age practices in The Beautiful Side of Evil (1982); after concluding these activities were demonic, she converted to Christianity.[99] Michigan attorney and activist Constance Cumbey offered the first major criticism of the New Age movement from a Christian perspective in The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow: The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism (1983).[100]

The Roman Catholic Church published A Christian reflection on the New Age in 2003, following a six-year study; the 90-page document criticizes New Age practices such as yoga, meditation, feng shui, and crystal healing.[101][102] According to the Vatican, euphoric states attained through New Age practices should not be confused with prayer or viewed as signs of God's presence.[103] Cardinal Paul Poupard, then-president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the "New Age is a misleading answer to the oldest hopes of man".[101] Monsignor Michael Fitzgerald, then-president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, stated at the Vatican conference on the document: the "Church avoids any concept that is close to those of the New Age".[104]

Expressing agreement with the Vatican's position, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention stated that there's "widespread agreement" by Baptists who regard New Age ideas as contrary to Christian tradition and doctrine: "Richard Land, president of the convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said there would be widespread agreement among Baptists that New Age ideas are contrary to Christian tradition and doctrine." [105]

Academia[edit]

In the 2003 book A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America written by Michael Barkun, professor emeritus of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs[106] Barkun argues New Age beliefs have been greatly facilitated by the advent of the internet which has exposed people to beliefs once consigned to the outermost fringe of political and religious life. He identifies two trends which he terms, " the rise of improvisational millennialism" and "the popularity of stigmatized knowledge". He voices concern that these trends could lead to mass hysteria and could have a devastating effect on American political life. Richard H. Jones has given a sustained attack on the New Age use of science.[107]

Integral theory[edit]

Further information: Integral Theory

The author Ken Wilber posits that most New Age thought falls into what he termed the pre/trans fallacy.[108] According to Wilber, human developmental psychology moves from the pre-personal, through the personal, then to the transpersonal (spiritually advanced or enlightened) level.[109] He regards 80 percent of New Age spirituality as pre-rational (pre-conventional) and as relying primarily on mythic-magical thinking; this contrasts with a post-rational (including and transcending rational) genuinely world-centric consciousness.[108][109] Despite his criticism of most New Age thought, Wilber has been categorized as New Age due to his emphasis on a transpersonal view,[110] and more recently, as a philosopher.[111]

Indigenous peoples of the Americas[edit]

Some adherents of traditional disciplines, such as the Lakota people, a tribe of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, reject "the expropriation of [their] ceremonial ways by non-Indians". They see the New Age movement as either not fully understanding, deliberately trivializing, or distorting their disciplines.[112]

They have coined the term plastic medicine men to describe individuals from within their own communities "who are prostituting our spiritual ways for their own selfish gain, with no regard for the spiritual well-being of the people as a whole".[112] The term plastic shaman has been applied to outsiders who identify themselves as shamans, holy people, or other traditional spiritual leaders, but who have no genuine connection to the traditions or cultures they claim to represent.

The academic Ward Churchill criticized the New Age movement as an instrument of cultural imperialism that is exploitative of indigenous cultures by reducing them to a commodity to be traded. In Fantasies of the Master Race, he criticized the cultural appropriation of Native American culture and symbols in not only the New Age movement, but also in art and popular culture.[113]

Goddess movement[edit]

Further information: Goddess movement

Followers of the Goddess movement have severely criticized the New Age as fundamentally patriarchal, analytical rather than intuitive, and as supporting the status quo, particularly in its implicit gender roles. Monica Sjöö (1938–2005) wrote that New Age channelers were virtually all women, but the spirits they purported to channel, offering guidance to humanity, were nearly all male. Sjöö was highly critical of Theosophy, the "I AM" Activity, and particularly Alice Bailey, whom she saw as promoting Nazi-like Aryan ideals. Sjöö's writings also condemn the New Age for its support of communication and information processing technologies which, she believes, may produce harmful low-level electromagnetic radiation.[114][115][116]

Social and political movement[edit]

While many commentators have focused on the personal aspects of the New Age movement, it also has a social and political component. The New Age political movement became visible in the 1970s, peaked in the 1980s, and continued into the 1990s.[117] In the 21st century, the political movement evolved in new directions.

Late 20th century[edit]

Mark Satin, author of New Age Politics (1978)
Marilyn Ferguson, author of The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980)
Fritjof Capra, author of The Turning Point (1982)

After the political turmoil of the 1960s, many activists in North America and Europe became disillusioned with traditional reformist and revolutionary political ideologies.[118] Some began searching for a new politics that gave special weight to such topics as consciousness, ecology, personal and spiritual development, community empowerment, and global unity.[119][120] An outpouring of books from New Age thinkers acknowledged that search and attempted to articulate that politics.

According to some observers,[121][122] the first was Mark Satin's New Age Politics (1978).[39] It originally appeared in Canada in 1976.[123][124] Other books that have been described as New Age political include Theodore Roszak's Person / Planet (1978),[40][125] Marilyn Ferguson's The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980),[41][117] Alvin Toffler and Heidi Toffler's The Third Wave (1980),[117][126] Hazel Henderson's The Politics of the Solar Age (1981),[117][127] Fritjof Capra's The Turning Point (1982),[117][128] Robert Muller's New Genesis (1982),[129][130] John Naisbitt's Megatrends (1982),[130][131] Willis Harman's Global Mind Change (1988),[8][132] James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy (1993),[8][133] and Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson's Spiritual Politics (1994).[8][42]

All these books were issued by major publishers. Some became international bestsellers. By the 1980s, New Age political ideas were being discussed in big-city newspapers[134][135] and established political magazines.[122][136] In addition, some of the New Age's own periodicals were regularly addressing social and political issues. In the U.S., observers pointed to Leading Edge Bulletin,[130][137] New Age Journal,[138][139] New Options Newsletter,[130][140] and Utne Reader.[138][141] Other such periodicals included New Humanity (England),[142] Alterna (Denmark),[143] Odyssey (South Africa), and World Union from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram (India).

As with any political movement, organizations sprang up to generate popular support for New Age political ideas and policy positions. In the U.S., commentators identified the New Age Caucus of California,[144][145] the New World Alliance,[146][147] Planetary Citizens,[130][148] and John Vasconcellos's Self-Determination: A Personal / Political Network[130][149] as New Age political organizations. So, on occasion, did their own spokespeople.[150] There may have been more New Age political organizing outside the U.S.;[148] writer-activists pointed to the Future in Our Hands movement in Norway (which claimed 20,000 adherents out of a population of four million),[151] the early European Green movements,[152] and the Values Party of New Zealand.[153]

Although these books, periodicals, and organizations did not speak with one voice, commentators found that many of them sounded common themes:

Over time, these themes began to cohere. By the 1980s, observers in both North America[122][155] and Europe[157][158] were acknowledging the emergence of a New Age political "ideology".

Political objections at century’s end[edit]

Toward the end of the 20th century, criticisms were being directed at the New Age political project from many quarters,[159][160] but especially from the liberal left and religious right.

On the left, scholars argued that New Age politics is an oxymoron: that personal growth has little or nothing to do with political change.[161][162] One political scientist said New Age politics fails to recognize the "realities" of economic and political power;[155] another faulted it for not being opposed to the capitalist system, or to liberal individualism.[118] Antinuclear activist Harvey Wasserman argued that New Age politics is too averse to social conflict to be effective politically.[122]

On the right, some worried that the drive to come up with a new consciousness and new values would topple time-tested old values.[148] Others worried that the celebration of diversity would leave no strong viewpoint in place to guide society.[148] The passion for world unity – one humanity, one planet – was said to lead inevitably to the centralization of power.[163][164] Some doubted that networking could provide an effective counterweight to centralization and bureaucracy.[130]

Neither left nor right was impressed with the New Age's ability to organize itself politically.[122][146] Many explanations were offered for the New Age's practical political weakness. Some said that the New Age political thinkers and activists of the 1970s and 1980s were simply too far in advance of their time.[165] Others suggested that New Age activists' commitment to the often frustrating process of consensus decision-making was at fault.[146] After it dissolved, New World Alliance co-founder Marc Sarkady told an interviewer that the Alliance had been too "New Age counter-cultural" to appeal to a broad public.[166]

New directions in the 21st century[edit]

Dozens of people talking at tables in a large room.
AmericaSpeaks event, 2011. In the 21st century, organizations like AmericaSpeaks embodied the approach of listening to and learning from everyone.

In the 21st century, writers and activists continue to pursue a political project with New Age roots. However, it differs from the project that had come before.

The principal difference was anticipated in texts like New Age Politics author Mark Satin's essay "Twenty-eight Ways of Looking at Terrorism" (1991),[167] human potential movement historian Walter Truett Anderson's essay "Four Different Ways to Be Absolutely Right" (1995),[168] and mediator Mark Gerzon's book A House Divided (1996).[169][170] In these texts, the New Age political perspective is recognized as legitimate. But it is presented as merely one among many, with strong points and blind spots just like all the rest. The result was to alter the nature of the New Age political project. If every political perspective had unique strengths and significant weaknesses, then it no longer made sense to try to convert everyone to the New Age political perspective, as had been attempted in the 1970s and 1980s. It made more sense to try to construct a higher political synthesis that took every political perspective into account, including that of the New Age.[171][172]

Many 21st century books have attempted to articulate foundational aspects of this approach to politics and social change. They include Ken Wilber's A Theory of Everything (2001),[173] Mark Satin's Radical Middle (2004),[174] David Korten's The Great Turning (2006),[175] Steve McIntosh's Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution (2007),[176] Marilyn Hamilton's Integral City (2008),[177] and Carter Phipps's Evolutionaries (2012).[178] In addition, many organizations are providing opportunities for focused political listening and learning that can contribute to the construction of a higher political synthesis. They include AmericaSpeaks,[179] Association Reset-Dialogues on Civilizations,[180] Listening Project,[181] Search for Common Ground,[182] Spiral Dynamics Integral,[183][184] and World Public Forum: Dialogue of Civilizations.[185]

Another difference between the two eras of political thought is that, in the 21st century, few political actors use the term New Age or post-New Age[186] to describe themselves or their work. Some observers attribute this to the negative connotations that the term "New Age" had acquired.[120][186] Instead, other terms are employed that connote a similar sense of personal and political development proceeding together over time. For example, according to an anthology from three political scientists, many writers and academics use the term "transformational" as a substitute for such terms as New Age and new paradigm.[154] Ken Wilber has popularized use of the term "integral",[173] Carter Phipps emphasizes the term "evolutionary",[178] and both terms can be found in some authors' book titles.[176][177]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

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Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Balmforth, David N. (1996). New Age Menace: the Secret War against the Followers of Christ. Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers. 171 p. N.B.: Despite the innate affinities of certain doctrines of L.D.S. Mormonism with New Age thought, this Mormon author warns his co-religionists against its seductive appeal for them. ISBN 978-0-88290-535-8.
  • Bendeck Sotillos, Samuel (2013). "New Age or the Kali-Yuga?" AHP Perspective (April/May), pp. 15–21.
  • Boynton, Dori, compiler (1991). Lady Boynton's "New Age" Dossiers: a Serendipitous Digest of News and Articles on Trends in Modern Day Mysticism and Decadence. New Port Richey, Flor.: Lady D. Boynton. 2 vol. N.B.: Anthology of reprinted articles, pamphlets, etc. on New Age aspects of speculation in psychology, philosophy, music (especially music therapy), religion, sexuality, etc.
  • Cotter, John (1990). The New Age and Syncretism, in the World and in the Church. Long Prairie, Minn.: Neumann Press. 38 p. N.B.: The approach to the issue is from a conservative Roman Catholic position. ISBN 978-0-911845-20-4.
  • Eadie, Betty J., and Curtis Taylor (1992). Embraced by the Light. New York: Bantam Books, 1994, cop. 1992. 147 p. N.B.: New Age expression of speculation about the afterlife and related matters by a celebrated and somewhat dissident L.D.S. Mormon (i.e. Eadie herself) who obviously finds such views to be compatible with Mormonism's doctrines concerning such subjects. ISBN 978-0-553-56591-1.
  • Hammer, Olav (2003), Claiming Knowledge: Strategies of Epistemology from Theosophy to the New Age, Boston, Massachusetts, US: Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-13638-0 
  • Heelas, Paul (1996), The New Age Movement: Religion, Culture and Society in the Age of Postmodernity, Cambridge, Massachusetts, US: Blackwell Publishing, ISBN 978-0-631-19332-6 
  • Kemp, Daren (2004), New Age, a Guide: Alternative Spiritualities from Aquarian Conspiracy to Next Age, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK: Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 978-0-7486-1532-2 
  • Kemp, Daren and Lewis, James R., ed. (2007), Handbook of New Age, Boston, Massachusetts, US: Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-15355-4 
  • Pacwa, Mitch (1992). Catholics and the New Age: How Good People Are Being Drawn into Jungian Psychology, the Enneagram, and the Age of Aquarius. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Publications. 234 p. ISBN 978-0-89283-756-4.
  • Pike, Sarah M. (2004), New Age and Neopagan Religions in America, New York City, New York, US: Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-231-12402-7 
  • Spretnak, Charlene (1986). The Spiritual Dimension of Green Politics. Santa Fe, N.M.: Bear & Co. 95 p. ISBN 978-0-939680-29-0.

External links[edit]