Since the 1980s, there has existed a field of scholarly inquiry into a range of phenomena termed New Age. The relative lack of ethnographic studies in this field was identified several years ago, in response to research that focused merely on the discourses within alleged key writings. However, the employment of ethnographic methods does not by itself resolve the problems inherent in other modes of research; attention also has to be paid to how ethnography is used in practice. This article examines ethnographies of the New Age in terms of the extent to which they contextualize data within their immediate social frames, by paying attention to actors' practices and interactions, and to the ways in which beliefs and discourses are constructed and contested. The article demonstrates the strong tendency among New Age ethnographic studies to veer from 'the social' and to rest instead on analytically problematic conceptualizations of agency. It argues that epistemological revision is required to form the basis of a more sociologically adequate understanding of the phenomena addressed.
The Uses of Ethnography in a Contested Field of Scholarship
Adaptation of Practices among the Followers of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav
The quest for personal and inner spiritual transformation and development is prevalent among spiritual seekers today and constitutes a major characteristic of contemporary spirituality and the New Age phenomenon. Religious leaders of the Bratslav community endeavor to satisfy this need by presenting adjusted versions of hitbodedut meditation, a practice that emphasizes solitary and personal connection with the divine. As is shown by two typical examples, popular Bratslav teachers today take full advantage of the opportunity to infuse the hitbodedut with elements not found in Rabbi Nachman's teachings and to dispense with some elements that were. The article addresses the socio-political rationale at the root of these teachers' novel interpretation of Bratslav hitbodedut and the ways they attempt to deal with the complications that arise out of their work.
This article focuses on the concept of identity by juxtaposing New Age philosophy and nationalism in the Israeli context. Based on my qualitative research, I deconstruct the Israeli New Age discourse on ethno-national identity and expose two approaches within this discourse. The more common one is the belief held by most Israelis, according to which ethno-national identity is a fundamental component of one's self. A second and much less prevalent view resembles New Age ideology outside Israel and conceives of ethno-national identities as a false social concept that separate people rather than unite them. My findings highlight the limits of New Age ideology as an alternative to the hegemonic culture in Israel. The difficulty that Israeli New Agers find in divorcing hegemonic conceptualizations demonstrates the centrality and power of ethno-national identity in Israel.
Zdeněk R. Nešpor
The Czech Republic is widely known as 'the least religious' country in the world. However, Czechs might be considered unchurched rather than nonreligious, with various forms of modern New Age spirituality steadily gaining in popularity. The question is, therefore, what is the position of religion - both 'traditional' and 'new' - within a 'non-believing' society? The article commences with a presentation of data taken from two recent sociological surveys on religion, but the author mainly exploits ethnographical research carried out in the medium-sized Czech town of Česká Lípa to address the issue. This research examined both 'old' and 'new' church religion, 'alternative' spiritual outlets, and the religious attitudes of the general population. The author concludes that the traditional religionists of various denominations, followers of the New Age movement(s), and the 'rest' of the population can be seen as three distinctive groups within society and that mutual understanding and acceptance are practically non-existent.
Rachel Werczberger and Boaz Huss
On 17 June 2014, in the heart of the Etzion Bloc (Gush Etzion) in the West Bank, the site of the abduction of three Israeli teens by Palestinian terrorists the week before, an unusual event took place. Several Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, a few rabbis, and a Muslim Sufi sheikh gathered in order to pray for the safe return of the kidnapped youths. The group prayed both in Hebrew and Arabic, reciting psalms and Quran-based Muslim prayers. “Our hearts are torn at this moment, and my heart goes out the mothers of these children,” said Sheikh Ibrahim Abu Al-Hawa, before reciting the first chapter of the Quran, the Fatiha. He continued, “There is a wall between our two nations, and we hope to remove the wall separating the hearts of humans” (Miller 2014). He concluded his speech by proclaiming “God is One” in Arabic and Hebrew, followed by the young Rabbi Yossi Froman (son of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman), who stood beside him.
The Practice of ‘sharing’ in a New Age Variant of Umbanda
In contemporary Pagan and New Age rituals aimed at self-enhancement and personal development, verbal exchanges generally referred to by the emic term ‘sharing’ often follow the ritual endeavors. The experts who conduct these rituals (whether
Soul Retrieval in Neo-shamanism
It has been generally agreed that rituals of healing work through transforming the embodied self; thus, they are especially fit to be analyzed as rituals in their own right. This chapter focuses on the ritual of soul retrieval as it is practiced by Western urban neo-shamans. It argues that apart from giving the patient new memories and new narratives of the self, this version of soul retrieval works by staging a formalized context for forgiveness, here conceptualized as reconciliation between the self and the mundane and divine others. It is argued, however, that the mechanism of this healing ritual is better understood in the light of New Age ontologies of the self, consciousness, and the divine, making ‘ritual in its own right‚’ a good first step towards re-engaging with the social.
Religion and Environmental Apocalypse
Anna Fedele, Peter Rudiak-Gould, Terry Leahy and Stefan Skrimshire
The year 2012 has been at the center of many millennial theories, commonly referred to under the umbrella term the “2012 phenomenon”. Th ese theories, which predicted important changes for humanity usually related to some kind of environmental apocalypse, are generally described as relating to the end of the Mayan calendar, to the common-era calendar date, 21 December 2012 (21.12.2012), and to “New Age interpretations”.
New Forms of Political Action in Israeli Channeling
In this article I examine eschatological beliefs and practices among channels in Israel and abroad, and show that they demonstrate an avoidance of traditional, group-oriented political action, and an embrace of alternative, spiritual action performed individually. This is linked to Israel's shift to a neo-liberal economy and culture in the last few decades, where self-accountability has become the norm. Channeling teaches an extreme version of self-divinity, claiming that a person creates all aspects of his or her life and objecting to outside authority and regulation. It believes in a coming of a New Age of light and that the means to achieve it are personal quests for individual empowerment, which are anticipated to affect the whole world via the “virtual aggregate group,” an energetic reservoir that replaces the traditional group. Channels are engaged in alternative political action, attempting to change the world by virtually pooling spiritual resources.
The Notion of Consciousness in Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh's Political Thought
The notion of consciousness change as a political concept has re-emerged as a central issue in recent Israeli political discourse in diverse and seemingly remote groups. The following is a study of some of the contexts and implications of according primacy to consciousness change in political thought, through the tensions between the highly individualistic character of this discourse and its collective language and aims. I focus on one study case, Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, a key figure in both extreme settler groups and current New Age Hasidic revival. Analyzing his political writings, I explore his notion of consciousness as the true place of politics. Finally, I return to the question of the context in which Rabbi Ginsburgh's binding of the political to consciousness should be read, and propose liberal individualism, and the direct line it draws between the individual's consciousness and that of the state, as an alternative hermeneutical perspective.