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The New Age is a diverse movement of individuals including many who graft new age beliefs onto a traditional religious affiliation. Recent surveys of US adults indicate that around 20% of Americans hold at least some New Age beliefs.
The New Age movement includes elements of older spiritual and religious traditions from both East and West, many of which have been melded with ideas from modern science, particularly psychology and ecology. The New Age has borrowed from all the world's major religions with influences from Spiritualism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shamanism, Sufism, Taoism, and Neo-Paganism being especially strong. Out of the movement have come a wide-ranging literature on spirituality, new musical styles and crafts - most visible in specialty shops and New Age fairs and festivals.
Though there are no formal or definitive boundaries for membership, those who are likely to sample many diverse teachings and practices (from both 'mainstream' and 'fringe' traditions) and to formulate their own beliefs and practices based on their experiences can be considered as New Age. Rather than following the lead of an organised religion, "New Agers" typically construct their own spiritual journey based on material taken as needed from the mystical traditions of the worlds religions, also including shamanism, neopaganism and occultism.
New Age practices and beliefs may be characterized as a form of alternative spirituality or alternative religion. Even apparent exceptions, such as alternative medicine or traditional medicine practices, often have some spiritual dimension — such as a conceptual integration of mind, body, and spirit.
The term New Age is used in a Western or modern context where the Judeo-Christian tradition and/or Positivism are dominant, so the use of "alternative" in New Age thought generally implies a contrast with these dominant religious and/or scientific beliefs. Hence, many New Age ideas and practices contain either explicit or implied critiques of organised mainstream Christianity—emphasis on meditation suggests that simple prayer and faith is insufficient. Belief in reincarnation (which not all New Age followers accept) challenges familiar Christian doctrines of the afterlife.
Criticism and skepticism
Criticisms of the New Age have emerged from philosophical, scientific and skeptical thinkers. These often highlight the discrepancies between New Age's irreconcilable mix of unproven occultism and claimed acceptance of the laws of physics. Skeptics consider New Age nothing but a re-hash of old superstitions; psychic phenomena and astrology are considered ancient superstitions by most scientific thinkers) with a few new additions (see Bermuda Triangle, therapeutic touch, Indigo children)
Religious and spiritual criticism
Many in established religions dislike New Age thinking as heretical, immoral and shifting without the clear guidance given by a sacred book or tradition of teaching.
Some, including neo-pagans and particularly reconstructionist groups, who are frequently labeled as New Age, often find the term inappropriate since it appears to link them with beliefs and practices they do not espouse. Others think that the classification of beliefs and movements under New Age has little added value due to the vagueness of the term. Instead, they prefer to refer directly to the individual beliefs and movements. Indeed, use by religious conservatives, scientists and others has caused the term "New Age" to sometimes have a derogatory connotation.
Many adherents of traditional disciplines from cultures such as India, China, and elsewhere; a number of orthodox schools of Yoga, Tantra, Qigong, Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Aromatherapy and martial arts (the traditional Taijiquan families, for example), groups with histories reaching back many centuries in some cases, eschew the Western label New Age, seeing the movement it represents as either not fully understanding or deliberately trivializing their disciplines or outright distortions.
Much of the strongest criticism of New Age eclecticism has come from American Indian writers and communities. The Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality is one of the strongest statements of disapprobrium from traditional tribal religious leaders. Other Natives who have issued statements against "white shamanism" include Wendy Rose, Leslie Marmon Silko and Geary Hobson. A dominant Native American argument is that New Age shamans profit from tribal beliefs in a way that is fundamentally inconsistent with indigenous peoples' worldviews, while ignoring the communal aspects of indigenous peoples sacred beliefs and practices, such as among the Urarina of the Peruvian Amazon. In the US, part of the criticism leveled at the New Age movement has also been the perpetuation of Native racial stereotyping ("The Hollywood Indian"), cultural fetishism and the distortions of historic and anthropological insights into Native Americans' multiple and diverse ways of life and spirituality. This is abundantly clear when one contrasts the customary practice of ayahuasca shamanism among the Urarina, with New Age shamanism.
Many adherents of belief systems characterised as New Age rely heavily on the use of metaphors to describe experiences deemed to be beyond the empirical. Consciously or unconsciously, New Agers tend to redefine vocabulary borrowed from various belief systems, which can cause some confusion as well as increase opposition from skeptics and the traditional religions. In particular, the adoption of terms from the language of science such as "energy", "energy fields", and various terms borrowed from quantum physics and psychology but not then applied to any of their subject matter, have served to confuse the dialog between science and spirituality, leading to derisive labels such as pseudoscience and psychobabble.
This phenomenon is additionally compounded by the propensity of some New Agers to pretend to esoteric meanings for familiar terms; the New Age meaning of the esoteric term is typically quite different from the common use, and is often described as intentionally inaccessible to those not sufficiently trained in the area of their use. See the following list:-
- Forces. It is commonly held that there exist certain forces, independent of spiritual beings or agencies, and also distinct from forces as defined by science (e.g., gravitation, electro-magnetism, etc.). These forces are elemental in nature; and are held to operate in an automatic fashion as part of the natural order (for example, the force which causes seeds to sprout, grow, and bloom).
- Power. The "forces", and everything else, are energized by a mystical power that exists in varying degrees in all things. Power is transferable, through physical contact, sensory perception, or mere proximity. Power may be accumulated or depleted in a person or object through a variety of mechanisms, including fate and esoteric practices. This power is held to be physically observable as "auras" and "psi energy"; and when encountered in great concentration, may even be dangerous.
- Energy. In some belief systems, "forces" and "power" may seem to merge; e.g., in the concept of "vital force" that exists in so many traditional belief systems, and finds its expression in New Age concepts such as the alleged "energies" in Therapeutic Touch or Reiki and ideas of flowing streams of power in Earth, like "leylines" in Britain and Europe and earth energies addressed in the Chinese geomantic system of feng shui. The New Age use of the word "energy" should obviously not be confused with the scientific one.
- Spirit. All beings (particularly sentient beings) are accompanied by a specific, intentional "energy" which corresponds to their consciousness, but is in some way independent of their corporeal existence. This energy typically is more primary than the physical entity, in the sense that it remains in some form after the physical death of that being.
- Holism. A coherent, interconnected cosmos. Everything in the cosmos is actually or potentially interconnected, as if by invisible threads, not only in space but also across time. Further, it is held that every thing and every event that has happened, is happening, or will happen leaves a detectable record of itself in the cosmic "medium" such as the Akashic Records or the morphogenic field.
- See main article Alternative medicine
Many people with a New Age perspective also adopt complementary and alternative medicine. Some rely on New Age treatments exclusively, while others use them in combination with conventional medicine. This approach is regarded as completely compatible with New age belief in the unity of mind, body, spirit, and the emphasis on things of a natural origin. Some noteworthy New Age techniques are:
Some New Age writers have taken the belief that You create your own reality and applied it to disease with the conclusion that illnesses have a metaphysical origin and can be treated by a deep evaluation of long held negative emotional and spiritual attitudes. This has a parallel in the Christian notion that "it is done unto you as you believe." Notably, Louise Hay has published books containing lists of diseases and the associated negative belief, accompanied by the correcting positive belief. A cure may be sought by repeating the correcting positive affirmation. This approach has its origins in Christian Science. It has been criticised as seeming to blame the sufferer for causing the condition. The intent is to empower the individual so that he or she can change the thinking and therefore change the condition.
Some followers of New Age thought may also believe certain individuals have the ability to heal, in a similar way to the healing practices reported to have been used by Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament.
One benefit of New Age medicine's popularity, and its criticism of conventional medicine, has been to encourage many medical practitioners to pay closer attention to the entire patient's needs rather than just her or his specific disease San Francisco Medical Library. Such approaches, termed "holistic medicine", are now becoming more popular. Conventional medicine has recognised that a patient's state of mind can be crucial in determining the outcome of many diseases, and this perception has helped recast the roles of doctor and patient as more egalitarian.
Critics of New Age medicine continue to point out that without some kind of testing procedure, there is no way of separating those techniques, medicinal herbs, and lifestyle changes which actually contribute to increased health from those which have no effect, or which are actually deleterious to one's health. The National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, are at 2005 carrying out research on determining which of these practices may be useful in support of conventional medical practice.
Academic study of the New Age
Albanese, Catherine L. (1990) Nature Religion in America; From the Algonkian Indians to the New Age], University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London. ISBN 0226011461
- Albanese, Catherine. A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007 ISBN 0300110898
- Barna, George , (1996) The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators, Word Publishing, Dallas TX. ISBN 0-8499-3603-9
- Bloch, Jon P., (1998) New Spirituality, Self, and Belonging: How New Agers and Neo-Pagans Talk About Themselves, Praeger, Westport, Connceticut & London. ISBN 0275959570
- Drane, John, (1999) What is the New Age Still Saying to the Church? Marshall Pickering, London. ISBN 0551031948
- Ferguson, Marilyn (1982) The Aquarian Conspiracy, Paladin, London. ISBN 0312904185
- Godwin, Joscelyn, (1994) The Theosophical Enlightenment, State University of New York Press, New York. ISBN 0-684-82630-5
- Hanegraaff, Wouter J., (1998) New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, State University of New York Press, Albany, New York. ISBN 0791438546
- Heelas, Paul, (1996) The New Age Movement, The Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of Modernity, Blackwell, Oxford. ISBN 0-631-21074-1
- Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead (2004) The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality, Blackwell, Oxford. ISBN 1405119594
- Hanegraaff, Wouter J. "New Age Religion and Secularization." Numen 47, no. 3 (2000): 288-312.
- Wouter Hanegraaff New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998. ISBN 90 04 10695 2
- Iwersen, Julie. Phenomenology, Sociology, and History of the New Age Numen 46, no. 2 (1999): 211-18.
- Kemp, Daren, (2004) New Age: A Guide. Alternative Spiritualities from Aquarian Conspiracy to Next Age, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh. ISBN 0748615326
- Kohn, Rachael, (2003) The New Believers: Re-Imagining GodHarperCollins, Sydney. ISBN 073 2275318
- Lewis, James R. and J. Gordon Melton (eds). (1992) Perspectives on the New Age, State University of New York Press, Albany, New York. ISBN 0791412148
- Melton, J.Gordon, (1995) Whither the New Age? Chapter 35 of T. *Miller's , America's Alternative Religions, SUNY Press, Albany, NY . ISBN 0791423980
- Michael, June, (2000) Path to Truth: A Spiritual Guide to Higher Consciousness, Writers Club Press, New York. ISBN 1893652580
- Naisbitt J. & Aburdene P., (1990) Megatrends 2000, William Morrow & Company, New York, NY. ISBN 0688119085
- Pike, Sarah M., (2004) New Age and Neopagan Religions in America, Columbia University Press, New York. ISBN 0231124023
- Roof, Wade Clark (1999) Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion, Princeton University Press, Princeton. ISBN 0691089965
- Rothstein, Mikael (ed). (2001) New Age Religion and Globalization, Aarhus University Press, Aarhus, Denmark. ISBN 8772887923 4
- Saliba, John A., (1999) Christian Responses to the New Age Movement: A Critical Assessment Geoffrey Chapman, London. ISBN 0225668521 Review here,
- Sutcliffe, Steven & Marion Bowman (eds). (2000) Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh. ISBN 0-7486-0998-9
- Sutcliffe, Steven J., (2003) Children of the New Age: A History of Spiritual Practices, Routledge, London and New York. ISBN 0-415-24299-1
- York, Michael, (1995) The Emerging Network: A Sociology of the New Age and Neo-Pagan Movements, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland. ISBN 0847680010
- Opendirectory New Age links Large collection of New Age links at the Open Directory
- Yahoo Directory New Age links Another large collection of New Age links at the Yahoo! Directory
- The New Age Files - A comprehensive timeline, biogs and information from 1800 to the present day and news stories
- Religious Tolerance.org, has a list of academic references and survey sources
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- Classified New Age & Spiritual Directory
- A Brief Essential Bibliography for the Academic Study of the New Age Movement