In today’s global world, we are faced with a wide range of issues and phenomena from many different cultures. This level of communication and awareness is fairly new, as the global platform that makes this possible is also fairly new. The great amount of diversity we are exposed to in our daily lives creates the opportunity for conflict, a new level of understanding, peace and sometimes… a change of heart.
Concerning religion, or any life-shaping philosophy for that matter, this awareness and (often) close proximity to varied ideas promotes the process of ‘alternation’ rather than the more well know process of ‘conversion’. Conversion entails a switch to a completely different system of understanding, often strongly contradicting the previously adopted system. Whereas alternation is a far more gradual process indicative of the person’s previous inclinations, rather than a switch to seemingly opposing beliefs (Travisano 1970: 601).
Travisano argues our age is one of alternation (1970: 606). I must agree and attribute this shift to the global world. No longer are people of different religious backgrounds separated by geography or national boundaries. Very few homogeneous communities exist. Even those who live isolated in the physical world can often not escape the ever-widening grasp of media. Today almost everyone is exposed to religious and spiritual traditions different to their own. This exposure allows people to become familiar with different traditions, develop interests and follow new traditions. This scenario facilitates alternation over conversion due to the development of new beliefs and traditions in accordance to the person’s personality and existing inclinations.
Our increased exposure to diverse systems of belief not only promotes alternation over conversion, but may also promote an eclectic spirituality common to the phenomena often described as New Age. New Age thought has also rose with improved communication and transportation like alternation. Both alternation and New Age thought have thrived under the same conditions, and perhaps are directly traceable to the same cause: our increasingly global world.
Travisano Richard V. “Alternation and Conversion as Qualitatively Different Transformations.” In Social Psychology Through Symbolic Interaction, edited by G.P. Stone & H.A. Faberman. Waltham, MA: Ginn and Co., 1970: pp. 594-606.