A Profile of New Agers: Social and Spiritual Aspects(*) (2)

By Possamai, Adam | Journal of Sociology, November 2000 | Go to article overview

A Profile of New Agers: Social and Spiritual Aspects(*) (2)


Possamai, Adam, Journal of Sociology


This term was coined by Campbell (1972) who refers to it as the cultural underground of society. It includes all deviant belief systems and their associated practices, e.g. unorthodox science, deviant medicine, the world of the occult and the magical, mysticism and alien intelligences. Jorgensen (1982: 383-4) defines this as `a sociocultural environment in which the beliefs, practices, and activities of a diverse collection of adherents and groups are more or less organized'. However, even if my participants could be described as being involved in a cultic milieu, they are not restricted to it. The cultic milieu, being underground, is not the only place my participants visit to enrich their spirituality. For example, Anne, the first case study, went to a born-again Christian movement (not an element of a cultic milieu). Some of my participants sometimes go to church or are interested in Buddhism and visit its temples. When my informant Tom said in his interview that the best way to learn spirituality was to `get out into life and live it', he was referring to a life beyond a cultic milieu.

The Bund (singular of Bunde)

This appears more appropriate than concepts of network (too unspecific) or cultic milieu (too bounded). This term was created by the German, Schmalenbach in the 1920s. Hetherington (1994: 2) researched the history of this term and summarised it as: `An elective form of sociation, in which the main characteristics are that it is small scale, spatially proximate and maintained through the affectual solidarity its members have for one another in pursuit of a particular set of shared beliefs'.(4) The Bund has its solidarity more focused on affective--emotional links. It is elective and for its members `Schmalenbach shows that it is an intentional act of joining together with strangers that is the basis of their common feeling and mutual solidarity' (Hetherington 1994: 13).

This term better characterises the form of organisation chosen by my participants than `network'. Indeed, the term Bund has, as its central theme, the effect and the emotional elements which appear to correlate with the intuitive form of authority located in the inner self favoured by my interviewees. Indeed, when my participants describe how to follow a spiritual path they often underline the importance of listening to intuition to know what feels right for them, i.e. if they experience an affinity with a group or a person it is worth listening to their `gut feeling' about whether to stay with this group or person. The mode of locating authority in the inner self facilitates `spiritual mobility', i.e. the eclecticism (often affectual) in spiritualities. In some interviews the affectual factor was not made explicit but emotional (and spontaneous) reasons were still recurrent in accounts of joining or leaving groups. This is exemplified in the former accounts by Elizabeth on the immediate identity (i.e. an emotional sense of connection) she finds with strangers from Confest, and by Molly who refers to the idea of widespread community (a term used by her to express a rather romantic vision of communities nurturing the emotional).

How do people become New Agers? alternation rather than conversion

How does one become a New Ager? Is it through the process of conversion? I have demonstrated above that my participants are technical mystics and locate authority in their inner self. These two characteristics immediately suggest that, whatever the process, it is not one often posited by those who join `cults'--to be understood in this context as a negative religious group--in which the conjunction of dependency needs and intense social pressure result in conversion (see Richardson 1993). Because of their individualism and their mobility, my informants constantly explore new ideas and groups for their spiritual growth. They could be described as seekers, i.e. explorers of different metaphysical movements and philosophies for whom `seekership constitutes a social identity that is positively valued by the individual and his significant others' (Balch and Taylor 1978: 54-5). …

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