As many of you would know, I have a particular interest in the New Age Movement from my many years of outreach at Mind Body Spirit Festivals and past involvement in the New Age Movement itself. So it probably comes as no surprise that I’m occasionally given to reflecting on the past and how the spirituality scene has shifted over the years.
A particular question that comes to mind is this: how does the secular spirituality of the 00s differ from the New Age Movement of the 80s and 90s?
Defining movements that defy standardization is always a hazardous exercise, but I think there are a few generalized statements I can make about them without too much misrepresentation. So here goes. To me it seems the New Age Movement was characterized by two broad concerns: personal awakening and global awakening.
If you read any New Age book you’ll see numerous references to personal awakening, enlightenment, realization, Christ consciousness … choose the phrase of your choise. Lying behind this was the mantra: you are your own authority. In many ways this operated as a spiritualized version of the mantra of consumerism: the customer is always right. Not surprizingly, for all it’s espoused counterculturalism, Mind Body Spirit Festivals could be very consumerist. All the faddism and the ecclecticism of the New Age Movement can be seen as an outworking of this: you are your own authority, awaken to it.
But even more important for the New Age Movement, as a movement, was expectation of global awakening, of paradigm shift, of a “New Age” coming. This expectation is what gave the movement it’s name, and also what explains it’s demise. For with the coming of the millenium, what emerged was not the long prophecied apocalypse or the evolution of higher consciousness amongst humans worldwide, but 9/11 and a new world order of terrorism and counterterrorism. In the aftermath, the scene shifted.
Secular spirituality then, is the New Age Movement stripped of it’s millenial prophecies. When the apocalypticism (hope for global awakening) fell out of favour, what remained was the gnosticism (search for personal awakening). Thus, secular spirituality still emphasizes spiritualized psychology but (apart from the odd 2012 silliness) pays much less attention to scientized eschatology.