New or alternative spiritualities
An introduction to New or Alternative Spiritualities
In recent decades there has been a change in the way many people explore spirituality. For many thousands of years most people lived in societies in which some form of religion was part of culture and everyday life. Some of these became major world religions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism that are still common today.
For many thousands of years most people lived in societies in which some form of religion was part of culture and everyday life.
Others, in some cases even older, had many gods associated with different aspects of life and are often called ancient pagan religions. In the last couple of centuries there has also been a rise in what are often called New Religious Movements (NRMs), many of the early examples of these where off-shoots from other religions.
More recently we have seen NRMs that have no obvious connection to other faiths or combine elements of several. Alongside this is a growth in spiritual practice and thinking that has no connection to any group, or is linked to groups which offer personalised approaches to spirituality that tend to be low on the agreed beliefs or doctrines, which tend to be part of more traditional religions. There is no agreed term for these spiritualities, but they are often referred to as ‘New’ because they have a more individual and pick and mix approach to spirituality that reflects the approach to life of contemporary generations in the west and online. Or they can be referred to as ‘Alternative’ in that they are different to the more traditional religions and often advocate alternative lifestyles.
Much of this New Spirituality has been part of an industry that creates spiritual products that can be bought with the promise of life enhancement. These may be physical objects, or courses, or books intended to improve life and increase potential. Such spiritual products may be bought be individuals, but have also influenced things like business training programmes.
The growth of such spirituality may well be that it fits very well in a global capitalist culture and the multiplication of choice that the culture of the online world offers.
The growth of such spirituality may well be that it fits very well in a global capitalist culture and the multiplication of choice that the culture of the online world offers. Much of this spirituality has its roots in the New Age movement, but has broadened beyond that, and as the term ‘New Age’ has been used less and less, has remained as an approach to spirituality in mainstream society.
Another significant source of this New Spirituality has been Contemporary Paganism. This can be pursued individually, and the internet is making it possible for many people to do this online by accessing information and resources or via online groups. However, there is more of a tendency for Pagan’s to meet in groups to celebrate the seasons and support a spirituality linked to creation together. Many Pagans draw inspiration from ancient pagan religions but even so are best seen as contemporary creations with a wide variety of personal interpretations and paths one can follow.
Further articles will enable an exploration of various aspects of New or Alternative Spiritualities.
Christianity and New or Alternative Spiritualities
Until the last decade of the 20th Century, it was common for many Christians to view these spiritualities from the perspective of protecting Christians from them. Books written about them sought to demonstrate why they weren’t Christian in belief and their spiritual practices could be harmful.
For some, this harm was viewed as leading people away from what was viewed as Christian truth, for others the fear was of spiritual practices that were seen as connecting with evil or harmful spiritual forces. It is worth noting that much of the media were also very negative at this time of these movements, and the rising New Atheist writers also attacked them as a return to superstition.
God was to be found at work in those who were part of these spiritual movements
However, as sociologists and anthropologists in the field of religion began to study these spiritualities they were increasingly seen as expressions of spirituality, growing up within a post-Christendom context, that needed to be understood and engaged with as an important phenomenon to be taken seriously. This influenced Christians who began to view them as they might other religions and foreign cultures, to be respected and engaged with as part of interfaith dialogue and culturally sensitive faith sharing.
Indeed, for many in this growing understanding, God was to be found at work in those who were part of these spiritual movements, even if there remained areas they would view as different to Christian understanding or practice.
The differences that still exist among Christians along these lines will also be explored further in looking at different aspects of New or Alternative Spiritualities.