History of Contemporary Spirituality
Full course description
This course delves into the socio-historical contexts of non-institutionalized belief systems at the intercultural
and interdisciplinary crossroads of “eastern” and “western” religious, philosophical, psychological and scientific discourses in modern western cultures. It looks at alternative beliefs and practices of Asian and Euro-American charismatic leaders and new religious movements—popularly referred to as “spiritual teachers” or “gurus” and “cults”— in Western Europe and North America, after 1800. Think of American Transcendentalism, Theosophy, Neo-Hinduism, Neo-Buddhism, Transpersonal Psychology as well as New Age movements and their offshoots.
Students will critically reflect on alternative quests for meaning outside conventional religions and sciences. In doing so, they will learn more about post-Enlightenment responses to the “age of reason,” post-colonial encounters between “eastern” and “western” traditions, and (meta)modern blends of methods and theories from different social and academic domains, which have culminated in a growing “cultic milieu” of “seekers” across contemporary western cultures. Seekers are people who identify as “spiritual, but not religious.”
During this course, students engage questions such as: Why have so many seekers in modern western cultures turned away from conventional western religions and sciences? Why are they turning to eastern and western esoteric traditions instead? How are they combining eastern and western methods and theories into new sources of meaning? What combinations have we seen in the recent past and which ones do we see around today?
At the end of this course, students should be able to:
- Identify social and (inter)cultural patterns and developments in the history of contemporary spirituality;
- Identify entanglements of “secular” and “religious” discourses in the history of contemporary spirituality;
- Explain how such intercultural and interdisciplinary developments have shaped contemporary spiritual beliefs and practices;
- Critically reflect on popular and academic perceptions of contemporary spiritual beliefs and practices, including your own;
- Apply methods and theories from the course to a case study that reflects contemporary spirituality.
None. This is an introduction to the discipline of Religious Studies—not be confused with Theology—with a focus on contemporary non-institutionalized “spirituality.” However, some students may experience it as an advanced course, because it introduces methods and theories that are not covered in other courses at UCM or even at UM.