Some contend that the idea of the ‘New Age’ originated as a marketing category in the 1980s, with New Age style ideas going back, of course, to the 70s and 60s.
Others note, more comprehensively, that the media also uses the term, as do many individuals and organizations. Whatever its origins, the ‘New Age’ refers to almost anything relating to contemporary spiritual discourse and practice.
New Age books, music, lectures, workshops, videos and websites deal with humanity’s development, usually with the goal of self-actualization and sometimes global transformation.
At the outset of the 20th-century, the American psychologist and philosopher William James outlined his The Varieties of Religious Experience several innovative spiritual trends remarkably similar to today’s concept of the New Age:
…for the sake of having a brief designation, I will give [it] the title of the ‘Mind-Cure movement.’ There are various sects of this ‘New Thought,’ to use another of the names by which it calls itself.¹
From the 1980s to around the new millennium religious fundamentalists, especially of the North American Christian variety, targeted the New Age as the workings of Satan. Important figures like C. G. Jung, Rudolf Steiner and Fritjof Capra were caricatured as Satanic hostiles to apparently ‘true’ fundamentalist versions of the Christian faith.
However, the emphasis of fundamentalist reactionary attacks has arguably shifted from perceived psychological and spiritual threats to scientific ones. Believers in evolution sans God are the new devils in the flesh to be countered and corrected by those single-minded Fundamentalists who believe they have a privileged interpretation of Christian scripture.
This shift is probably due to recent advances in mapping and sequencing genomes. The possibilities of this technology are staggering, and the new is always scary to those deeply entrenched and invested in longstanding cultural biases.
¹ William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Penguin, 1985 , p. 94.
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