Tagged: mediatization

Top-Gro$$ing Movies Embrace Hinduism

may the force be with you
Jedi Master Yoda advertising on the London Imax Cinema, Richard Croft, CC BY-SA 2.0

Interstellar, Matrix, and Star Wars are just a few of the top-grossing blockbuster movies with Hinduism as the driving philosophy (probably without you even noticing). Why?

Interstellar’s box office total is $622,932,412 and counting. It is the eighth highest-grossing film of the year and has spawned an endless raft of thinkpieces testing the validity of its science and applauding the innovation of its philosophy. But it is not so new. The idea that propels the plot – there is a universal super-consciousness that transcends time and space, and in which all human life is connected – has been around for about 3,000 years. It is Vedic [of the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism].

Original article appeared in The Guardian

Of course, Hollywood’s eager embrace of Buddhism, yoga and other esoteric Indian systems is not new. David Lynch is an outspoken exponent of transcendental meditation, Richard Gere follows the Dalai Lama and Julia Roberts affirmed her Hinduism in the wake of Eat, Pray, Love – a movie that tells the tale of a modern American woman’s journey towards peace through Indian spiritual practises that grossed over $200m (£128.6m). Hinduism can get the tills ringing even when it urges parsimony.

“Look at the first Matrix movie,” says producer Peter Rader… “Neo achieves the abilities of the advanced yogis [Paramahansa] Yogananda described, who can defy the laws of normal reality.

“Rader’s latest movie, a documentary about Yogananda, who was among the first gurus to bring Indian mysticism to North America in the 1920s, has been a sleeper hit in the US… ‘There’s a big pent-up demand,’ thinks Rader. ‘There are a lot of closet spiritualists who are meditating, doing yoga, reading books and thinking about a bigger reality. And now they can come out and say, ‘Yes, I’m into this.’

“Spirituality is the open-secret,” says Rader. “A lot of people know that if we quieten down we can tap into a deeper power. And the movies that tap into that, like Star Wars and Interstellar, are hugely popular.”

A philosophy to which many are keen to subscribe is what makes religions successful. Movies, too.

Read the full article How movies embraced Hinduism (without you even noticing) | Film | The Guardian

Read my posts Everywhere Religion and “Lived” Religion: See “unnoticed” New Age spiritual- and religious-themes in the popular media and across global society

By examining religion everywhere we see New Age spiritualities as part of the whole “space” of religion in contemporary society. In the last 20 years, the internet and digital technology have accelerated religion “everywhere”–in the mediatized space of religion and New Age spiritualities.

Question for readers: Anything else in popular media or blockbu$ter movies that embraced Hindu themes?

Everywhere Religion

Where do you place religion? Do you dismiss or set apart New Age from other religions or places in society?

In New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion, Dr. Ingvild Gilhus1, Professor of Cultural Studies and Religion at University of Bergen Norway, maps contemporary “lived” religion into four “spaces”2 within the whole of society.

Four “Spaces” of Religion: There, Here, Anywhere, and Everywhere






photo by pixabay
photo by pixabay
Civic, national, imperial religion Temples and monuments, sacred kingships (royalty), hereditary priesthoods, sacrifice and writings “Divine” Emperor of Japan, Kabba- sacred stone of Mecca, 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama, Sharia Law

© Row17, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons
© Row17, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons
Domestic religion, primarily in homes and burial sites Family, past and future generations, continuity of family and society Family rituals, especially meals, gravesite and ancestral ceremonies

by Living in Monrovia, Flickr, Creative Commons
by Living in Monrovia, Flickr, Creative Commons
Religion between ‘There’ and ‘Here’ Marketplace of religious entrepreneurs, associations, including astrologists, psychics Religious specialists selling magical formulas, casting horoscopes, holding out prospects of a better afterlife

by jhaymesisvip, Flickr, Creative Commons
Media, public communications, embedded in popular culture: internet, TV, movies, computer games, cultural dialogue Modern mediatization of religion and the supernatural Advertisements for oracles and healers in newspapers, TV shows about ghosts and paranormal. Often interactive or call-in

“New Age” is seen as a peculiar type of religion. This impression is misleading. So-called New Age includes astrology, divination, healing, magic, communication with superhuman beings and many other “spiritual” practices. These practices have much in common with the oldest and most durable forms of religion we know, concludes Gilhus3. New Age fits all the basic forms of religion and is not something peculiar.

By examining religion “there, here, anywhere and everywhere” we see New Age spiritualities as part of the whole “space” of religion in contemporary society3. In the last 20 years, the internet and digital technology has accelerated religion “everywhere” in the mediatized space of religion.

There is no ranking between the four spaces. Gilhus claims they all are equally valuable to the whole. The spaces of religion anywhere and everywhere are often labelled as new religious movements, new age, spirituality, alternative movement, and holism3. The terms “new” or “alternative” tends to separate religion “anywhere” and “everywhere” apart from traditional or conventional religion in the “there” and “here” spaces. In actuality, the four religious spaces interact and reinforce each other in contemporary society.

Instead of dismissing or setting apart so-called New Age spiritualities and practices we should recognize these are part of contemporary religion there, here, anywhere, and everywhere— all over the place.

Question for readers: Do you see an increase or decrease in “religion” in contemporary society?

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


  1. Ingvild Saelid Gilhus, Professor of Cultural Studies and Religion at University of Bergen Norway. She is author of ‘Laughing Gods, Weeping Virgins: Laughter in the History of Religion’, ‘Animals, Gods and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Thought’, and other books and articles of religious studies.
  2. Gilhus’ model is from “All Over the Place: The Contribution of New Age To A Spatial Model of Religion” ch 2: p38-39 of New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion edited by Sutcliffe and Gilhus. Acumen: UK. 2013. Print.
  3. ibid p47

Dark Side Of Meditation

Playing with fire, photo by Jeremy Higgs on Flickr
Playing with fire, photo by Jeremy Higgs on Flickr

For some, meditation has become more curse than cure.

We want meditation to be good. But we don’t want to admit there are side-effects and risks to meditation.

“I started having thoughts like, ‘Let me take over you,’ combined with confusion and tons of terror,” says David, a polite, articulate 27-year-old who arrived at Britton’s Cheetah House in 2013. “I had a vision of death with a scythe and a hood, and the thought ‘Kill yourself’ over and over again.”

Unfortunately, the risks and side-effects of meditation are seldom discussed by practitioners or the media.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s website includes an interesting choice of words in its entry on meditation. Under “side effects and risks,” it reads:

Meditation is considered to be safe for healthy people. There have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people who have certain psychiatric problems, but this question has not been fully researched.

Dr. Willoughby Britton has been studying the neurobiological and psychological effects of meditation practices for 15 years. She is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University. Her laboratories and clinicians at Britton Lab record the good, the bad, and the ugly of meditation.

Like many other experienced teachers [Britton] spoke to, Goldstein and Kornfield recalled instances during past meditation retreats where students became psychologically incapacitated. Some were hospitalized. Says Britton, “there was one person Jack told me about [who] never recovered.”

Salinera/Salt Lake, photo by Mike Young at flickr
Salinera/Salt Lake, photo by Mike Young at flickr

[I witnessed several psychological breakdowns of meditating yogi-monks during my 14 years as an ordained monk within the Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order. These individuals ended up disturbed and in serious condition after years of intense meditation practice. One individual passed away soon after his mental breakdown. Another monk developed neurological tremors, and, after he left the Order, was not able to take care of himself. He was dependent on his parents, who tried to sue the Order for damages.

Harmful side-effects may be rare. But, I also know other individuals who had less severe psychological meltdowns with years of practicing meditation. Their mental and physical breakdowns were diagnosed  by medical doctors as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome), Depression, and Neuroses. These monks were prescribed medication and psychological treatment, which helped stabilize their health. Contrary to what the media and many marketers want us to believe, meditation does not always reduce the need for anti-depressants, relieve stress, nor cure ills. Sometimes, for some people, contemplative practices have harmful side-effects].

“We have a lot of positive data [on meditation],” she says, “but no one has been asking if there are any potential difficulties or adverse effects, and whether there are some practices that may be better or worse-suited [for] some people over others. Ironically,” Britton adds, “the main delivery system for Buddhist meditation in America is actually medicine and science, not Buddhism.”

As a result, many people think of meditation only from the perspective of reducing stress and enhancing executive skills such as emotion regulation, attention, and so on.

For Britton, this widespread assumption—that meditation exists only for stress reduction and labor productivity, “because that’s what Americans value”—narrows the scope of the scientific lens. When the time comes to develop hypotheses around the effects of meditation, the only acceptable—and fundable—research questions are the ones that promise to deliver the answers we want to hear.

TIME magazine’s 2 Feb 2014 cover (above, left) announces the arrival of the “Mindful Revolution.” The publication joins a flurry of recent examples confirming that a shift is taking place in the representation of meditation in American popular media.
TIME magazine’s 2 Feb 2014 cover (above, left) announces the arrival of the “Mindful Revolution.” The publication joins a flurry of recent examples confirming that a shift is taking place in the representation of meditation in American popular media.

In late January this year, Time magazine featured a cover story on “the mindful revolution,” an account of the extent to which mindfulness meditation has diffused into the largest sectors of modern society. Used by “Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 titans, Pentagon chiefs, and more,” mindfulness meditation is promoted as a means to help Americans work mindfully, eat mindfully, parent mindfully, teach mindfully, take standardized tests mindfully, spend money mindfully, and go to war mindfully. What the cover story did not address are what might be called the revolution’s “dirty laundry.”

Read my critique of the Time magazine cover story The Mindful Revolution Or Mindless Meditation?

“We’re not being thorough or honest in our study of contemplative practice,” says Britton, a critique she extends to the entire field of researchers studying meditation, including herself.

As a trained clinician, it can be hard for Britton to reconcile the visible benefits of contemplative practices with data unearthed through the Dark Night Project. More than half of her patients reported positive “life-altering experiences” after a recent eight-week meditation program, for example. But, she says, “while I have appreciation and love for the practices, and for my patients … I have all of these other people that have struggled, who are struggling.”

“I understand the resistance,” says Britton, in response to critics who have attempted to silence or dismiss her work. “There are parts of me that just want meditation to be all good. I find myself in denial sometimes, where I just want to forget all that I’ve learned and go back to being happy about mindfulness and promoting it, but then I get another phone call and meet someone who’s in distress, and I see the devastation in their eyes, and I can’t deny that this is happening. As much as I want to investigate and promote contemplative practices and contribute to the well-being of humanity through that, I feel a deeper commitment to what’s actually true.”

Read the full article The Atlantic: The Dark Knight Of The Soul

"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

Why Yoga Can't Save Us From Ourselves

SOLSTICE IN TIMES SQUARE 2011 / Mind Over Madness - Times Square, Manhattan NYC - 06/21/11
SOLSTICE IN TIMES SQUARE 2011 / Mind Over Madness – Times Square, Manhattan NYC – 06/21/11

How Yoga Became A $27 Billion Industry — And Reinvented American Spirituality

Across America, students, stressed-out young professionals, CEOs and retirees are among those who have embraced yoga, fueling a $27 billion industry with more than 20 million practitioners — 83 percent of them women, says Huffington Post’s Carolyn Gregoire in her article “How Yoga Became A $27 Billion Industry — And Reinvented American Spirituality”.

Yoga has come to be seen as something of a panacea for the ailments of modern society — tech overload, disconnection and alienation, insomnia, stress and anxiety. And in some cases, yoga may be one antidote to the modern speed of life that’s created a culture of stress and burnout. But inside of today’s instant-gratification culture, it’s very likely that yoga practitioners are just seeking a bandaid or quick fix for their bad habits, like being on the phone all day, in front of the TV, or on their computer.

Yoga Reflections, photo by judepics on Flickr
Yoga Reflections, photo by judepics on Flickr

Why do we have so much “stuff” on our minds and all this mental restlessness to begin with? Is Yoga or meditation really going to bring us inner peace and spirituality if we also continue our bad thinking habits, restlessness, and having groundless minds? If something is promoted as too good to be true, then it usually is. Or, if it’s a quick fix, then it usually isn’t. Why is it that we, especially Americans, seem to prefer to just pop a pill, go on a crash diet, or get enlightened on a weekend retreat?

Nature, solitude, and contentment have always been available and free to us. The best things in life have always been free– simple pleasures, relationships, and nature. The growing demand for complex “spiritual” programs or expensive yoga classes seems to be a symptom of a deeper cause, a festering wound we have allowed, that I’m afraid, won’t be cured by yoga. We cannot solve our problems, a wise person said, by the same thinking that created them. Anyway, why are we so hungry to find inner peace, tranquillity, and contentment? What marketing hype, peer pressure, or cultural indoctrinations have we succumbed to (this time)? And, why are we so eager and willing to pay a yoga instructor or follow a guru who promises to transform us or to turn us into someone better (eg. a more happy, healthy, self-realized person)?

Yoga seems to be an elitist practice, warns Gregoire, that’s inaccessible to the majority of Americans [because yoga instruction is expensive]. As one Bustle writer put it, “inner peace comes with a high price tag.”

More than 1 in 3 Americans describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, according to a 2012 Pew Forum survey. Yoga meditation has its benefits, but not without its costs, and those costs include years of diligent, disciplined practice. A quick fix or solution to our bad thinking habits, it is not. There is no easy, quick solution that will fix years of bad thinking habits and deep-seated nervous restlessness. Traditional yoga of the East, the mental discipline, is not something you need to buy a cushy floor-mat for and show up at a yoga studio to do. As a mental discipline and for presence of mind, yoga meditation can be beneficial, but only when practiced all the time and everywhere for years.

Friends, Cambodia, photo by Jonas Hansel
Friends, Cambodia, photo by Jonas Hansel

The rise of more people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” has made more popular than ever the belief that yoga is a spiritual panacea– the illusion, that if we just believe in this new age religion, this new-ancient faith tradition, and do a little yoga, we just might, this time, be able to save ourselves from ourselves. Many people and advertisements claim that we need to consume more goods and have more stuff to find excitement, joy, and meaning in life. But, learn to be skeptical of these false beliefs and appreciate the simple things in your life– immerse yourself in your thoughts, nature, relationships– and you can save yourself and give yourself a full and rewarding life instantly.

Read the full HuffPost article here How Yoga Became A $27 Billion Industry — And Reinvented American Spirituality.