in New Age Religion

"Lived" Religion



In the introduction to their book, New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion, Drs. Steven Sutcliffe, Professor of Religion Studies at University of Edinburgh School of Divinity, and Ingvild Saelid Gilhus, Professor of Cultural Studies and Religion at University of Bergen Norway, describe how religion and, in particular, new spiritualities are integrated and widely distributed across global society. They argue that rather than treating new age as exotic and on the margins of “proper” religion, New Age Spirituality examines the new spirituality as a form of everyday “lived” religion[1].

The new spirituality is “lived” religion and is mixed into our global, capitalist society.

In contrast, even opposition, to the the ideal of pure religion are new age spiritualities, which are a mixed composite of ideas and “lived” practices relating to:

  • health,
  • well-being,
  • leisure,
  • relaxation,
  • self-help,
  • training,
  • reading and entertainment.

New Age spiritualities encapsulate modern “religion” but they get mixed and camouflaged with social and individual processes of:

  • globalization,
  • diversity,
  • individualization (personalization),
  • secularization (nonreligion),
  • sacralization (making things sacred),
  • capitalism,
  • mediatization (media shaping society).

The institutionalized model is our traditional concept of religion. Contemporary institutions are forced to compete in a global marketplace of ideas and products. Sutcliffe and Gilhus claim that the modern concept of “religion” depends on coexistence, even co-creation, with the worldly or secular. Traditional religions, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, are usually seen as opposing the secular, and are idealized as more pure, authentic since they are not mixed-up with “worldly” things [2].Untitled-by-Joost-J.-Bakker-e1330621818428

The inherently mixed amalgamation makes it difficult to see new age spiritualities as religious and makes it disagreeable to modern scientific taste or scrutiny. The new spiritualities are hard to distinguish as either wholly religious or secular. They are a mix of both, as noted in the bulleted lists above. This fluid amalgamation makes new spiritualities challenging to understand if we compare them only with traditional models of religion.

The new spirituality is “lived” religion and gets mixed into secular practices, into the media, and is everywhere in our global, capitalist society.

See my index of my posts inspired by the book, New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion.

See also my posts on:

Mediatization/Secularization of Religion:
The Mindful Revolution Or Mindless Meditation?
New American Spirituality? Why Yoga Can’t Save Us From Ourselves


  1. New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion. Steven Sutcliffe and Ingvild Gilhus. Acumen: UK. 2013. Print. p2. Introducion: “All Mixed Up”– Thinking About Religion In Relation To New Age Spiritualities.
  2. ibid p 1-13

Leave a Reply

  1. Even before the concept of “New Age Religion”, “lived religion” (a great phrase) has been the rule, not the exception. Even while belonging to some orthodox hyper-doctrinal religion, common day believers secretly carry on their amalgam of mixed superstitions and heretical philosophies.

    Most Christians really don’t believe most of what they are expected to. As I have written here:

    And besides excluding beliefs, they also embrace reincarnation, spiritualism, astrology, good luck charms and much more that their religious specialists who condemn. But they keep this as secret as my patients who don’t want to confess that they visit chiropractors or take Essential Oil remedies or Homeopathy.

    But this has happened for millenium — heterodoxy thrives in the black market of spirituality.

  2. Thanks Sabio. Most “followers” of belief systems don’t seem to question or go into the foundation those beliefs are based on. It’s not an easy process, is unsettling, and scary to question “authority”. I’m finding, in my research, that “new age spiritualities” are much more common and practiced across all religions, whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, not religious, even, gasp, some who consider themselves atheist. We all seem to have our “lucky charms” or magical talismans, to one degree or another.

  3. @ Sabio & Scott — I think superstition and heterodox beliefs are the rule for any belief system that appears to be monotonic. For example, the variety of types of Buddhism is truly impressive (Vajrayana, Pure Land, Theravada, Mahayana, Ch’an, Zen, etc.), and the same can be said of Hinduism, and Christianity. Folk practices get subsumed by a categorical religious title, but that doesn’t mean the religious practitioners quit doing those folk practices — the imagery of Christmas and Easter are an over-used example.

    The same idea can be applied to the sciences as well, since it is a belief system as well. There are live debates regarding the philosophical principles that underlie the scientific methods. What is the nature of causality? Are the properties of the objects that biologists and physicists study fixed? Are they malleable? If they aren’t fixed, how do these properties adhere to the objects? Greg Graffin (of Bad Religion) wrote a Ph.D. dissertation exploring this problem by surveying research scientists regarding their religious/metaphysical/spiritual beliefs. The point being that even scientists have a varied lived experience of the sciences as a belief system, showing the sciences are not an orthodox belief system.

    Scott, I think your idea of lived religion is key to making sense of the variety of opinions that exist under any belief system that appears to be codified and complete. I also think the idea applies equally to ancient, established religious traditions, as it does to new-age spiritual traditions; the difference between the two is that the lived aspects of established religious traditions are often more hidden due to historical or political abstraction.

  4. @My Other Feet: Great points. You seem to have a good grasp of the varieties of systems of belief.

    Please feel free to remind me, and elaborate on a post, when I may post something that oversimplifies or overgeneralizes these more nuanced aspects. Sabio, like you often reminds me, which I appreciate. He also obtained degrees and has a professional background in philosophy and religious studies.



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