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RLG 200 New Age Spirituality (Assoc. Prof. Dr. Serguey Ivanov): Home

About the Guide

This guide is created to instruct students taking RLG 200 New Age Spirituality the research and analytical skills needed to find, evaluate and use information effectivelly.


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Course Description: Content & Learning Strategies

   The 20th century development has formed definitive responses to the declining traditional (a) cultic/dogmatic spiritual principle and to the (b) church/parish organizational principle of human life. Regardless of our educated, or not so, opinion, the above-mentioned notions are in the basis of all social life in the Judeo-Christian civilization. We witness:

-          Either a complete denial of the very possibility of a spiritual dimension in human psychological life,

-          Or a materialization of the so-called "New Religious Movements" as a revision of the traditional religious pattern (we will not specifically deal with NRM in this course), including the outburst of religious/obscurantist fundamentalism since the early 1990s

-          But also an appearance of the "New Age Movement", which offers a completely new approach to human spiritual needs in the form of a new interpretation of the five-century old controversy science V.S. dogma-free spirituality. The New Age movement has been influential since 1840s in the realm of the Judeo-Christian cultural matrix. This phenomenon plays an important social and cultural role, and can be viewed as a form of “spiritual opposition” to the religious and political ideologies and establishments of today.

§  Please, note, that regardless of common definitions, spirituality and religiosity are not interchangeable notions: an agnostic can be a good-hearted, tolerant, life-appreciating, etc. spiritual person; enthusiastic members of various religious communities can completely negate human rights of other religious groups of people and claim, that all outsiders will be doomed to eternal damnation, burning in hell, etc., and even consider them unworthy as living beings, i.e. clearly display unspiritual (=inhumane) attitudes.

In lectures, discussions, and student papers/presentations participants will study the essence of the movement, existing explicatory scientific hypotheses on phenomena in the core of diverse religious claims, and the position of science and of the major institutionalized religions on diverse types of human spiritual experience (thinking, behavior, addictive cultic life, organizations, destructive sects, etc.).

The proposed course book provides a reliable summary of established observable facts and their main interpretaions. However, no concept, theory, hypothesis, or personal interpretation seems exhaustive at this stage of scientific assessment of any human spiritual claim. Hence, academic scepticism at all times will be our guiding star in speculations.

We will cool-mindedly study this objectively existing and influential aspect of modern Western social/spiritual life

-          We will not prove or disprove anything applying pre-formulated statements

-          We will not avoid anything that does not fit into one's pre-biased picture of "science" (using the latter as a wooden club for "dissenters" or "nuts")

-          Because science is a professional and moral obligation of studying all phenomena and accepting any results. Every educated modern person should struggle against turning science into a self-appointed modern "church".

I would propose, and may be even insist, that all who intend to take the course bear in mind the following important issue: it is rarely explained to modern people, that psychology and history of spirituality, religiosity, studies of mystical and religious experiences, of the symbolic world of mythologies, transpersonal psychology (one of the newest developments in anthropology) deal with extremely subtle and touchy subjects of the inner constitution of human personality. All our ancestors naturally accepted spiritual dimensions of human life, believed in some kind of gods, demons, ghosts and angels, lived in mental and emotional worlds (often intellectually inaccessible to us: e.g., all initial architects of modern Western civilizations claimed a contact with gods/God) creating human civilizations and cultures, art and many other things – without any exclusion. What has done one of the greatest damages to modern human’s world view and the observable corrosion of morality, general culture, and altruism is the primitive reductionist/determinist paradigm that claims material and physical conditions of life to represent the leading aspects of social and personal life. Sophisticated or illiterate, wealthy or poor, logical or illogical, humble or cruel individuals of any walk of life can heartily follow religious and/or spiritual choices; or even be members of a completely irrational self-destructive/criminal cult regardless of whichever non-mental aspect of their social, professional, family, etc. life. Also, all inhuman economic, political, social utopias of the 20th century were first born within individual minds of 19th century persons of standard for their time (general or specifically professional) scholastic, scientific, and religious education.

This moral reasoning course is intended to increase each participant’s personal world-awareness within the framework of cross-cultural/religious perspective. An open friendly discussion on human existence is critical in solving a wide number of problems (e.g., the right to choose, consciously and freely, one’s cultural and ideological environment without violating other people human rights). Everyone will have all opportunities to express opinion on the current spiritual condition of the Western civilization and human of today.

No matter if we accept or reject the New Age, it nevertheless raises questions like

-          What does it mean to be human? Are we just apes with slightly bigger brains?

-          What does make us unique, or is there anything unique about us at all?

-          Does an organized dogmatical "book" religion make people spiritual (this term being an antonym to "materialistic", "unscrupulous", but also to "religious" in the sense of belonging to a well-defined socio-ideological group with clear-cut limits border between "us" and "others")?

-          Are people, born and educated in other cultural/religious environments, "obsessed by demons"?

-          Is “spirituality” equal to religion, faith, superstition, or psychopathology? Is it possible to be tolerant, altruistic, compassionate, etc. (i.e. “spiritual”) without belonging to a religious organization and even without being necessarily “religious”?


Subject Guide