Although New Age spirituality is superficially popular, it makes little difference to the overall secularisation of the West. Most involvement is shallow. People buy a few books, listen to a lecture, perhaps think: "['hat's interesting' — and do nothing more.
The most popular parts of the New Age are not magic, the occult, divination techniques or Hindu and Buddhist philosophies; they are the relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga and massage. Much of the New Age is not an alternative to traditional religion; it is an extension of the doctor's surgery, the beauty parlour and the gym.
Although New Agers often use words like 'radical' and 'alternative', the effect is anything but. The anxious, repressed merchant banker who learns to meditate and gets his regular shiatsu massage does not throw up banking and become a youth worker or an eco-warrior. I le just becomes a happier and more relaxed merchant banker.
But even if the merchant banker does decide to throw it all in, buy a farmhouse in Wales and start a pottery with a side-line in horoscopes, the impact on the rest of the world is minimal. In the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century British evangelicals were responsible for a vast amount of social reform. They put a stop to child labour in factories and mines. They stopped young boy sweeps being forced to climb up the chimneys of Georgian houses. They restricted the length of the working day. They put an end to a system by which men were paid their wages in pubs. They ended slavery. They also founded schools, penny savings banks and public libraries. Because they were united by common convictions, these religious believers formed a powerful social movement. New Agers cannot combine in that way because they are not united by a common creed and are too individualistic and consumerist.
Finally, the impact of New Age spirituality is weakened as it gets sucked into the cultural mainstream. Consider the fate of yoga. It came to this country from India as a series of bodily disciplines intended to encourage spirituality, union with the Supreme Being. Now it is often just a style of exercise. My Aberdeenshire neighbour who goes to a yoga class has no idea that it has anything to do with Hinduism. The same thing is happening to feng shui. It used to be concerned with the location and flow of spiritual forces. Now, like Shaker furniture, it is just another decorating style. As the New Age has become popular, so it has become trivialised.
! Task 8. Read the last passage of the article and write your own variant of the conclusion. Express your understanding of the problem of the conventional religion decline in Great Britain and the future of the New Age and other alternative spiritual movements.
The societal influence of the New Age movement should not be exaggerated. In the context of secularisation, the numbers of those interested in New Age spirituality — however loosely defined — would come nowhere near compensating for the millions who have left the mainstream churches in the last 40 years.
Most interest in New Age spirituality is slight. Unlike previous religious innovations, such as Methodism in the early industrial age, the New Age affects only the lives of those involved and makes no difference at all to the rest of the world.
SUB-UNIT 2.2. The Secularisation Debate
sTask 1. Read the following statements and decide if they coincide with your own attitude to religion:
1. Conventional religions are in a state of decline.
2. People’s interest in religion is growing although it is not expressed through attendance at church services.
3. The fact that religious participation and the power of the religious institutions are in decline does not mean that personal religiosity is in decline also.
4. Regular church-goers are people from older age groups.
5. People might have given up on religious institutions but they still believe in something or someone.
6. Church has lost its power in such spheres of social life as economy, social welfare, social control and health care.
Ö Task 2. Read the article where different approaches of three outstanding sociologists to the issue of “religion” in the contemporary society are presented. Decide which of the statements above reflect Bruce’s, Stark’s or Davie’s position. According to your answers, whose arguments are closer to yours?
The Secularisation Debateby John Walliss
For some sociologists religion is in terminal decline, seemingly eclipsed by science and rationality. In contrast, others argue that, whilst organised forms of religion may be in decline, there is a persistence of religion 'beyond the church and the chapel' in things like new religious movements or the New Age. Others argue that the growth of forms of fundamentalism, in Christianity and Islam, represents a resurgence of religion in the contemporary world.
I am going to look at three positions within the secularisation debate:
· First, I will discuss the work of the pro-secular Steve Bruce, in which he argues that, before very long, Christianity in Britain will decline past the point of no return, and that many denominations will become extinct by 2030.
· Second, Rodney Stark (1999), a Bruce opponent, asserts that religion is not in decline quite simply because it was never that popular anyway. In contrast to the image we have of a highly religious past (which is central to Bruce's argument), Stark claims that in fact we are more religious now than ever before.
· Finally, I will look at the 'believing without belonging' thesis developed over the last decade by Grace Davie, who argues that many of us may not belong to a religion but may still cling to religious beliefs. We are 'believers' but not 'belongers'.
‘Christianity in Britain’
For Steve Bruce (2001), the prospects for religion in the modern world are not good at all. As he sees it, Christianity has been in a state of decline in the UK for at least the last 150 years and definitely over the course of the last century. During the twentieth century, church attendances dropped from almost 30% of the population to 10%. In the same period, the number of children attending Sunday schools fell from 55% of the population to just 4%. The number of full-time clergy dropped by 25% over the period: only 57 men were training for the priesthood in the UK in 1999 (a drop of 30% from 1979). Not only are those who attend religious services predominantly in older age groups but, perhaps more importantly, there is little statistical evidence for any significant religiosity amongst the young who could one day replace them.
All this, Bruce claims, is a far cry from the fortunes of Christianity in former times. In the Middle Ages the church was the dominant social institution in Europe, having enormous social power. Popes could mobilise armies in several countries for the various Crusades and call monarchs to order. Monarchs, themselves, justified their status through reference to a 'great chain of being' that stretched down from God, through the Pope, through the monarch to the lowliest serf. Churches and cathedrals were built on a vast scale; monasteries became the only centres of learning; and Latin — the language of the Church — became the language of cosmopolitan intellectuals. The church touched the lives of everyone through its administration of rituals at the key stages of the life course: births, marriages and deaths.