New Age Movement Back on Cultural Radar

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NewAgePride.org, a new Web site devoted to the development of the New Age community and its ideas, is addressing the "cultural identity crisis" experienced by cultural creatives and spiritual-but-not-religious folks.

I never identified myself as New Age before, but it's obvious to me that's still the only collective term that works to connect us

At 62, Judith Watson of Sarasota, Florida, was underemployed and feeling restless. She knew she wanted to spend more time passing her hard-won spiritual wisdom to a younger generation but had no idea where to start, or where to find her audience. She wasn't even sure how to identify her audience. She knew that at one time, her brand of idealistic spirituality had gone by the name New Age, but she had no idea what people called it today.
So one Sunday in July, Watson sat down at her computer and typed the words "New Age movement" into a search engine. She was surprised to discover NewAgePride.org, a site dedicated to the development of the New Age community and its ideas.

"I immediately felt hopeful," Watson says. "I thought, this is exactly what I've been missing, exactly what I need: a sense of community."

This is the kind of reaction the site's creator, Teena Booth, says she has been getting during the many months of the site's construction. Her inspiration came from a 2008 article about sociologist Paul Ray in which he noted that the scattered spiritual-but-not-religious community, which he calls cultural creatives, has been undergoing a "cultural identity crisis," causing them to feel isolated and alone in their spiritual journeys.

The Phoenix, Arizona-based Booth agreed the lack of a common identity makes it difficult for those who practice alternative spirituality to recognize each other and make connections. She also knew the term New Age has taken some knocks in popular culture, so she set to work on a site designed to better define and defend the emblem.

As soon as the first pages were up, Booth says, she started getting emails from all over the country. "I heard from people who used to call themselves New Age and felt they lost their spiritual identity when the term fell out of fashion in the 1990s. But I also heard from a lot of people who were unaware of the term but were happy and relieved to have a name to call their set of beliefs."

She also heard from author David Spangler, described by Encyclopedia Britannica as "the major architect of the New Age movement." He wrote Booth that he was "thrilled" to discover the site, and was especially gratified by the site's focus on collective transformation, an impetus of the early movement that was lost after a 1980s turn toward personal development.

"I felt like an old New Age workhorse ready to wear the saddle again," he wrote. "I was inspired."

Sharing a collective identity is vital for spiritual progressives, Booth contends, and not just as a cure for loneliness, but as the only way of building the social capital necessary to achieve their common goal of a more enlightened society.

"The mainstream has successfully defended the status quo by attacking and mocking the New Age, and making us hesitant to identify with each other," she adds. "Without an identity, we've been invisible to the larger culture. We've had no real voice when it comes to debating issues that matter. But with climate change and other scary things going on, we can't afford to stay invisible any more."

Booth hopes the site will encourage the spiritual-but-not-religious--about 30 percent of the population according to a 2009 Newsweek poll--to "come out of the spiritual closet" and recognize the importance of adopting a common identity.

Judith Watson is one who is definitely ready to connect to a larger community, and she immediately volunteered to serve as submissions editor for NewAgePride.org.

"I never identified myself as New Age before, but it's obvious to me that's still the only collective term that works to connect us," Watson says. "Finding the site has cured me of my restlessness. It's reminded me that I'm part of something bigger than myself."

The interactive site offers a wealth of information on the history, philosophy and politics of the New Age movement. Geared towards developing a robust community, visitors can participate in online discussions and post their photos and stories of their own spiritual journeys. A marketplace, calendar of New Age events, reading lists, and links to other resources round out the site. Submissions of opinion essays and articles about New Age subjects are invited.

For more information, visit http://www.newagepride.org.

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