New Age and Neopagan Religions in America

By Sarah M. Pike | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

When I was a freshman in college in 1977, I became a vegetarian and frequented the local food cooperative and vegetarian restaurant in Durham, North Carolina. I met students who meditated, practiced yoga, and volunteered at the J. B. Rhine psychic research center and community members who were in occult study groups. Although not a full participant in any of these practices, I was endlessly curious about alternative spiritual and healing techniques. My friends' and student colleagues' activities and interests were part of a small but vibrant subculture. When I entered Duke University my declared major was zoology, but I soon ended up in the Department of Religion, where I discovered theories and histories that helped me situate and understand the alternative spiritual paths I saw around me. Twenty-five years later, vegetarian Gardenburgers® are available in supermarket chains and yoga classes are offered at every neighborhood health club. Activities that were suspiciously esoteric to most Americans when I was an undergraduate are now often accepted as part of popular culture even when they are dismissed as trendy or “flaky.”

Since those college years I have been an observer of and occasional participant in the many activities that can be grouped under the umbrella of New Age culture. When I began attending Neopagan festivals for my dissertation research, many of the practices I encountered were familiar from my earlier contact with New Agers. I immediately saw the significant overlap between the two movements and started to investigate the differences that set them apart, at least in their own eyes. I also became aware during my graduate work that the communities and subcultures I had been learning about were part of a larger field of study.

-vii-

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