New Age Movements

World peace and spiritual awakenings: these are the bold promises made by New Agers. 

New Age Movements New Age Movements

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Table of contents

    But who are these New Agers? When did they appear, and how did they come to be advocates of spiritual awakening? Why did traditional religions stop being enough to fulfil one's wish to 'believe' in a faith?

    We will discuss New Age Movements.

    • We will start with the history of the New Age movements.
    • Then, we will move on to New Age movements in sociology.
    • We will look at the New Age thought movement.
    • We will consider the connection between the New Age movement and religion.
    • Finally, we will discuss examples of New Age movements and the Post-New Age.

    New Age: a history

    The New Age Movement (NAM) is the collective term for eclectic belief-based movements that preached the coming of a New Age in spirituality. The idea of a coming of a New Age originates from late-19th century theosophical theory. It formulated into a movement in the West in the 1980s; it included many spiritual and therapeutic movements from crystals to meditation, from UFO theories to ‘Earth myths’.

    New Age movements spread their different teachings in specialised bookstores, music shops and at New Age festivals, many of which still exist today.

    New Age Movements in sociology

    There are many reasons why NAMs grew. We will look at some sociological explanations for the growth of New Age Movements.

    Practical reasons

    NAMs are appealing to people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, as they offer techniques and knowledge useful for anybody who is feeling lost in their life.

    The promise of spiritual awakening, stress release, connection with the 'inner self', and success in relationships and career is very attractive both short and long-term for people going through difficult times.

    New Age movements also provide a sense of community, which can be looser or tighter, depending on the nature of the movement.

    Secularisation

    The development of the New Age has a significant link to secularisation and to the decreasing popularity of traditional religious movements. People became disillusioned by the churches that failed to meet their spiritual needs. Big religious organisations’ past and present crimes came to light, which further decreased their popularity.

    As gender roles started to alter, women especially looked for alternative spiritual support to the ones that conservative religious organisations offered.

    Postmodernity and identity formation

    Postmodernity brought an end to the validity of traditional sources of identity, such as social class. Postmodernity also rejected the idea of a metanarrative and the idea of 'the one single truth'. People turned to NAMs to find meaning in alternative ways and form their own identities through individual spiritual and lifestyle practices.

    New Age thought movement

    So, what do New Age thinkers actually believe? New Age Movements are very diverse, but there are a few common themes that they build on. The two most important are:

    Self-spirituality

    According to New Agers, spiritual awakening could be achieved through the exploration of the individual self. The aim of many New Age practices is for the individual to connect with their 'true inner self', which lies beyond their 'socialised self'.

    As more and more people went through a spiritual awakening, the whole of society would enter a New Age of spiritual consciousness which would put an end to hatred, war, hunger, racism, poverty, and sickness.

    Detraditionalisation

    New Agers rejected the authority of spiritual texts like the Bible and of hierarchical religious organisations like the church. According to New Age theory, individuals discover the truth for themselves through personal experience. The aim of New Agers was to find perfection within themselves, instead of searching for it in an external god.

    New Age Movement and religion: other common themes of NAMs

    Aside from these two basic tenets, there are a few other themes that run through the majority of New Age practices.

    Nature is sacred

    Inspired by ancient, pagan religions, New Agers believed in the sacred powers of Earth. Many practices took place in nature or taught the admiration and love of natural beings. Vegetarianism, veganism, and the ethical treatment of animals were all common themes in different NAMs.

    Mysticism

    The belief in mysticism, in the psychic abilities of certain individuals, and in the existence of the healing powers of spiritual energy, is widespread among New Agers.

    Belief in destiny

    New Agers tend to believe that we all have a predetermined fate. Hints of this destiny might be accessed through such practices as Tarot reading and astrology. Furthermore, New Age theories made a connection between extra-terrestrial bodies and people's past, present, and future lives.

    A 'pick and mix' approach

    New Agers accept that there could be many ways to spiritual fulfilment. They support, and indeed even encourage, people to try out several practices and decide which work for them personally.

    Holism

    The belief that we are all universally connected is common in New Age theory. Followers of NAMs tend to think that the different practices all lead to accessing this 'universal world beyond'.

    Examples of New Age Movements

    New Age movements are considered religious movements in sociology, even though they are rarely built on traditional religions. New Agers often revived ancient philosophies and transformed them into esoteric, occult traditions in order to make them suitable for late 20th-century Western society.

    New Agers often use objects in their spiritual practices such as crystals for their healing powers and qualities.

    New Age Movements, White moon shaped and other colorful crystals on a table, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Crystals are often used in New Age practices for their healing powers.

    • Meditation and yoga are popular New Age movements, that originated from Eastern spiritual traditions. They are popular practices for connecting to the 'inner self'.
    • Pseudosciences such as astrology, Tarot reading, reincarnation, and psychic experience are New Age tools for the transformation of the self.
    • Believers of ‘unsolved mysteries’, believers in UFOs and aliens, and followers of Earth mysteries were also considered New Agers.

    New Age Movements, UFO capturing humans from Earth, StudySmarterFig. 2 - A group of New Agers believed in the existence of UFOs and aliens.

    Post-New Age

    By the 1990s, the belief in a collective transformation of society was weakened, and the New Age movement lost its momentum. In Europe, there were talks of New Stage replacing New Age; however, it never became a significant movement.

    Although people generally stopped believing in the coming of a New Age of peace and spiritual awakening, many practices that developed during the 1980s remained popular in Western society and integrated into Western culture.

    Some New Age practices, such as meditation, yoga and astrology, are popular to this day, as are many New Age bookshops and music shops.

    New Age in Sociology

    Sociologists are divided over the periodisation of the New Age. One group argues that the individualistic theories of the New Age were the result of postmodernity’s denial of the existence of ‘one single truth’.

    Science’s failure to provide an alternative belief system also led to the emergence of New Age movements (John Drane, 1999). On the other hand, some sociologists insist that the New Age is still part of the last phase of modernity.

    New Age Movements - Key takeaways

    • The New Age Movement is the collective term for those eclectic belief-based movements that emerged in the West in the 1980s and preached the coming of a New Age in spirituality.
    • People looked for new means of spirituality that could guide and support them in the balancing of new roles modern society created for them.
    • The two common themes New Age movements built on were self-spirituality and detraditionalisation.
    • Examples of New Age Movements are crystal healing, meditation, yoga, astrology, Tarot reading, reincarnation and belief in UFOs and Earth mysteries.
    • Many New Age practices, such as meditation, yoga, and astrology, integrated into Western culture and are popular to this day.
    Frequently Asked Questions about New Age Movements

    What is the New Age movement all about?

    The New Age movement developed in the West in the 1980s and included every spiritual and religious movement from crystals to meditation, from UFO theories to ‘Earth myths’. The main common teaching of New Age movements was that spiritual awakening could be reached through individual experience and the exploration of the self.

    What were the basic beliefs of the New Age movement?

    The two basic beliefs of the New Age movements were the rejection of the authority of religious texts and the idea that spiritual awakening could be achieved through the exploration of the individual self.

    How does the New Age movement link to secularisation?

    The development of the New Age has a significant link to secularisation. As people started to step away from traditional religions, they looked for new means of spirituality, which New Age movements provided for them.

    Define the New Age movement.

    The New Age Movement is the collective term for those eclectic belief-based movements that preached the coming of a New Age in spirituality. The New Age movement developed in the West in the 1980s and included every spiritual and religious movement from crystals to meditation, from UFO theories to ‘Earth myths’. 

    What are the differences between the New Age movement and Christianity?

    There are many differences between the New Age movement and Christianity:

    • Christianity is the biggest religion worldwide, while New Age consists of smaller spiritual movements.
    • Christianity has a centuries-long history, while the New Age only really developed in the 1980s.
    • Christianity relies heavily on the Bible while New Age movements reject the authority of religious texts.
    • Christianity believes in a collective dogma while New Age movements value individual personal experience of spirituality.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    New Agers rejected the authority of spiritual texts like the Bible. True or false?

    The belief that we are all universally connected is common in New Age theory. True or false?

    Which one of the following practices is a typical example of a New Age practice?

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