Those of us who try to define the new age movement through analyzing its religious or scientific components, are often faced with a huge diversity of unconnected facts, beliefs and traditions. Logically how can things as diverse as tarot reading and ecological activism be fitted into one framework or mindset? Yet, there is something distinctly global about new age aspirations that makes it a universal cultural phenomenon of our times. It has pervaded many areas of contemporary thought and ideas – including medicine, science, philosophy, the arts, literature, business, education and religion. Yet, to be labelled as a new ager, one does not have subscribe to any organised body or group. However, going by the hugely successful author of the book The Celestine Prophecy, which sold more than 8 million copies worldwide in 1993, author James Redfield wrote in the 1997 afterword :
Indeed, new-age philosophies often hinge on holistic and futuristic vision of mankind not only on planet Earth, but often in an extended cosmological sense. Implicit in this worldview is pan-theistic notion of an all-pervasive reality that may or may not be called God. This gives rise to a sense of spiritualism present everywhere in existence, and the philosophical view that ultimately reality lies beyond the natural and the observational domain, in the spiritual dimension. From a religious perspective, New Age does not subscribe to any one organised body of religious practise – the freedom to synthesize one’s personal worldview from multiple sources characterises the ‘New’ in New Age. While such lack of methodological orthodoxy does not perhaps get New Age movements ‘official’ endorsements from either science or established religious quarters, it perhaps is a good evolutionary fit for the current socio-political climate of personal ideological freedom and secularism.
How rigorous is the Science in new Age religion ?
New Age can perhaps be best viewed as an emerging interface between science and spirituality, the observational and not-so-observational. While methodological objectivity is the bedrock of scientific logic, spirituality is largely instinctual : the way we ‘feel’ assumes great importance. In that sense, scientific rigor can be actually construed as a limiting factor for those who give primacy to their own feelings. Shakti Gawain’s quote (1) on the matter is quite illuminating :
Nothing limits new age philosophy to adopt any worldview that can be considered strictly scientific; but limiting itself to scientific rigour limits the creative instincts and ‘syncretism’ that epitomises new age mind-sets. Syncretism can be loosely defined as attempts to reconcile various schools of thoughts and often contradictory beliefs, and has been an important part of our religious landscape for thousands of years. Science on the other hand is anti-syncretic to the extent that existing yet contradicting hypotheses are considered ‘temporary’ until further evidence disproves them. The several possible models in String Theory for instance, are not considered definitive descriptions of Reality, but merely possible models pending experimental confirmation (although some awareness is emerging that such confirmation may never materialise.) In philosophy and religion however, syncretism is entirely rational, and indeed crucial for its evolutionary pathway. It is this essential syncretic element that is perpetually ‘New’ about New Age : its readiness to explore, adapt and democratize.
While Science relies on experts engaged in relatively narrow fields of expertise, syncretic efforts are by no means outside the scientific domain. Albert Einstein, Alan Turing are just two of modern scientists who expanded their concern to matters far broader than their fields of individual expertise : whether to call them ‘New Agers’ or not is just a matter of definitions.
And this blurriness at its margins is the hallmark of the New Age world views, as a distinct counter-reaction to the set-in-stone methodologies for the pursuit of understanding.
1 Shakti Gawain, Living in the Light (San Rafael, CA: New World Library, 1986), 69.
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