The Dynamics of Alternative Spirituality

Steven J. Sutcliffe

in The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780195369649
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 The Dynamics of Alternative Spirituality

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This article argues that the role of “seeker” is crucial to the structural dynamics of “New Age” phenomena, helping to explain why a “New Age movement” is in practice a contradiction in terms: a conclusion borne out by the historical evidence. The article begins by examining the consensus view supporting the existence of a New Age movement. It then outlines the empirical field of collective behavior—the alternative networks of beliefs and practices—that is often conflated with the New Age movement but that in fact can be shown to have predated the “New Age” trope, and will outlive it. It provides three fieldwork sketches to help argue that these networks are made up of the practices, beliefs, and oral, face-to-face exchanges of numerous individual seekers, rather than a demarcatable movement. A model of seekership roles is constructed and applied to New Age networks. The sum is that the phenomena sometimes labeled “New Age,” far from being a movement, are better understood as the utilization of an emblem, and more recently the expression of an idiom, by a diffuse, burgeoning, boundary-collapsing collectivity of seekers practicing alternative spiritualities. The field thus comprises overlapping networks in time and space woven together by the crisscrossing trajectories, relationships, and exchanges of individual seekers. Thus, New Age is best understood not as a movement but as a diffuse collectivity: a cluster of seekers affiliated by choice—if at all—to a particular term in a wider culture of alternative spiritual practice.

Keywords: New Age movement; alternative spiritualities; diffuse collectivity; seeker

Article.  10963 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Alternative Belief Systems

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