…one of the great unreported stories in American religion—namely, the near-evaporation of the country’s once-thriving mystical, esoteric, and occult traditions. I particularly think of the New Age movement, which received its title around 1980, but which was deeply rooted in American religious history.
Think back to the world of the 1970’s and 80’s, and the mass public interest in esoteric themes: reincarnation and crystals, telepathy and UFOs, shamans and gurus, pseudo-American Indian practices. Once upon a time, news stories treated such themes as UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle as deadly serious and plausible. Recall the national upsurge of fascination with the Harmonic Convergence of 1987. Yes, plenty of people are still interested in such broadly New Age ideas—remember the baloney surrounding the Mayan calendar—but they have lost their presence in mainstream culture.
That is odd. What can it mean?
If this decline reflected a shift toward orthodoxy, that would be one thing, but it does not. Instead, I believe what we are seeing is a general reduction of interest in spiritual or religious matters across large sections of society, an evaporation of the broad but ill-focused concern that manifested itself in the supernatural boom of the 70’s. Whatever its harmful and downright silly aspects, that widespread spiritual activism and inquiry also contributed to the potent religious upsurge within Christianity and Judaism.
In other words, the first symptom we might expect of genuine American secularization would be a precipitous decline in activism and enthusiasm on the spiritual fringe, which is exactly what has taken place over the past two decades.
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