“Bumper Car Ride Through a Maze of Spiritual Trips”: Multiple Involvements, Changes across Time, and Deep Structure in the Alternative Spiritual Milieu
James R. Lewis [+]
Oscar-Torjus Utaaker [+]
University of Tromsø
Prior to the cult controversy of the seventies, sociologists of religion reserved the term ‘cult’ for ephemeral spiritual groups that formed, attracted a following, and then declined and disappeared into what Colin Campbell termed the ‘cultic milieu’ (which would later be referred to as the ‘New Age’). In his analysis of this milieu, Campbell carried out what was, in effect, a Copernican revolution by shifting the ground of analysis from individual new religious movements (NRMs) to the larger spiritual subculture out of which these groups emerged. The cult controversy, however, interrupted this revolution by prompting sociologists to refocus on the more solid, sect-like groups that were at the center of social conflict. In the present chapter, we recover Campbell’s insight, both by refocusing on the larger alternative spiritual milieu as well as by analyzing some of the dynamic patterns manifested by members of new religions. Additionally, while participants in the New Age milieu are constantly shifting their involvements, there is a deep structure of values and self-understandings held by such seekers that remains stable and that we will describe and analyze. This discussion will in turn provide a backdrop for an analysis of survey data gathered from members of three different NRMs regarding their diverse, multiple spiritual involvements, both previous and concurrent. Despite the apparent external solidity of such groups, their participants tend to ebb and flow, indicating that, for many of their members, these NRMs are but one step in a much longer process of seekership.