Scholars have attempted to explain why New Age spiritual phenomena has grown in popularity in recent decades. Many discussions focus on the differences between New Age and ‘conventional’ World Religions. And more specifically, why the properties of New Age might be more attractive to the modern person on an individual level. Some thinkers go broader, looking at secular societies where New Age has flourished, to see what societal factors might give reason to the rise in popularity of New Age. But I would like to focus this article on a principle discussed little in academic circles: ‘community’.
In the literature, the term community may be used to discuss organizational structure. But thus far, it has been utilized little to explain how our changing notions of ‘community’ have made this the new, spiritual age. What constitutes as community has changed. In the past, a community might be a group of people that live in the same geographical area, people you are related to by blood or sanctioned binds (i.e. marriage or adoption), or people that adhere to the same belief system you follow. All of these determinates for community are fairly straight forward and definite. They have tangible boundaries. But now boundaries are being drawn in new ways that allow for more diversity within communities. I attribute this shift to globalization.
We are exposed to more diversity now than ever before. Scholars writing on New Age often identify globalization as a factor, but only as a means for greater availability of diverse spiritual beliefs and practices. But globalization doesn’t just give us more choices, it makes diversity a constant and integral part of our lives. We are getting close to people and ideas from different backgrounds. We are embracing diversity, and in turn, we are building communities that allow for and thrive on it. This new-found value for diversity is making homogeneity an unnecessary, and perhaps even undesirable, characteristic for communities.
In many World Religions, members are defined by and required to adhere to the same doctrines or spiritual law. They profess their beliefs, worship, and ask for guidance through the same sanctioned means. With our global world allowing for more diversity within defined communities, spiritual diversity can flourish in groups of supportive, open-minded groups, giving way to the ‘New Age’. We no longer need for communities to be united in every thought and action. Members simply need to have a mutual respect for one another and a common interest. In the case of New Age, that interest is personal / spiritual growth. While group members have that one commonality, their means of exploring that interest is not prescribed.
Under traditional religions it seems the means of exploring matters of the spirit are predetermined and enforced. The resultant, shared experiences bring about stronger community bonds among members. But New Age communities seem to be just as tightly knit without those sanctioned experiences. In New Age phenomena, the freedom of individual exploration provides flexibility to accommodate many deep and powerful experiences, while the respectful and open-minded nature of the group keeps members intact, involved, and interested.