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2 - “All over the place”: the contribution of New Age to a spatial model of religion

from Part I - Rethinking New Age spiritualities

Steven J. Sutcliffe
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
Ingvild Sælid Gilhus
Affiliation:
University of Bergen, Norway
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Summary

“New Age” phenomena are frequently seen as atypical forms of religion, and a specific terminology is created to describe them. This terminology includes, for instance, terms like “New Age” itself, “New Religious Movements”, “new religiosity”, “neo-spirituality”, “spirituality”, “alternative religiosity”, “alternative spirituality”, and “holistic” Terms and theories establish the research object, which also means that terms highlight some aspects of a phenomenon and leave other aspects in twilight or darkness. Do the terms mentioned above point at the most characteristic aspects of the phenomena they describe – and if not, what terms could be used instead? In this chapter I will discuss the terminology of New Age phenomena in relation to a specific model for the study of religion and argue that to develop a fruitful terminology, it is necessary to develop a more complete and dynamic picture of contemporary religion. Religion in both the historical Roman Empire and in contemporary Norway is used as an example, and my broader argument is that a historical approach can provide important comparative insight into a phenomenon usually considered ur-contemporary.

TERMINOLOGICAL PROBLEMS

The terms mentioned above are problematic for several reasons. One problem is that they imply a polarized approach. Most of the terms situate their objects as secondary in relation to established religious institutions and religious power, for instance by using the prefix “new/neo” or the term “alternative” The dominance of the “world religion” category implies that “New Age” phenomena in the Western world are seen in relation to Christianity and to established churches.

Type
Chapter
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New Age Spirituality
Rethinking Religion
, pp. 35 - 49
Publisher: Acumen Publishing
Print publication year: 2013

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