Semi-ethical, semi-religious theory of cultural renewal.
So called ‘new-age theory’ is not a coherent doctrine, but a mixture of cultural, ecological, pantheistic and communalist beliefs which from the 1980s, particularly in North American and Western Europe, were presented as an alternative to ‘consumerist’ values.
Also see: communalism
Monica Sjooo, New Age and Armageddon (London, 1992)
New Age refers to a range of spiritual or religious beliefs and practices which rapidly grew in the Western world during the 1970s. Precise scholarly definitions of the New Age differ in their emphasis, largely as a result of its highly eclectic structure. Although analytically often considered to be religious, those involved in it typically prefer the designation of spiritual or Mind, Body, Spirit and rarely use the term New Age themselves. Many scholars of the subject refer to it as the New Age movement, although others contest this term and suggest that it is better seen as a milieu or zeitgeist.
As a form of Western esotericism, the New Age drew heavily upon a number of older esoteric traditions, in particular, those that emerged from the occultist current that developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Such prominent occultist influences include the work of Emanuel Swedenborg and Franz Mesmer, as well as the ideas of Spiritualism, New Thought, and Theosophy. A number of mid-twentieth century influences, such as the UFO religions of the 1950s, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the Human Potential Movement, also exerted a strong influence on the early development of the New Age. The exact origins of the phenomenon remain contested, but there is general agreement that it became a major movement in the 1970s, at which time it was centered largely in the United Kingdom. It expanded and grew largely in the 1980s and 1990s, in particular within the United States. By the start of the 21st century, the term New Age was increasingly rejected within this milieu, with some scholars arguing that the New Age phenomenon had ended.
Despite its highly eclectic nature, a number of beliefs commonly found within the New Age have been identified. Theologically, the New Age typically adopts a belief in a holistic form of divinity that imbues all of the universe, including human beings themselves. There is thus a strong emphasis on the spiritual authority of the self. This is accompanied by a common belief in a wide variety of semi-divine non-human entities, such as angels and masters, with whom humans can communicate, particularly through the form of channeling. Typically viewing human history as being divided into a series of distinct ages, a common New Age belief is that whereas once humanity lived in an age of great technological advancement and spiritual wisdom, it has entered a period of spiritual degeneracy, which will be remedied through the establishment of a coming Age of Aquarius, from which the milieu gets its name. There is also a strong focus on healing, particularly using forms of alternative medicine, and an emphasis on the notion that spirituality and science can be unified.
Centered primarily in Western countries, those involved in the New Age have predominantly been from middle and upper-middle-class backgrounds. The degree to which New Agers are involved in the milieu varied considerably, from those who adopted a number of New Age ideas and practices to those who fully embraced and dedicated their lives to it. The New Age has generated criticism from established Christian organisations as well as modern Pagan and indigenous communities. From the 1990s onward, the New Age became the subject of research by academic scholars of religious studies.