The first peer-reviewed article in the English language area that specifically addressed and used the term "new age" came in 1984 (Sebald, referenced in Sutcliffe & Gilhus, 2013, p. 6). Frisk (2000) has been researching new-age movements since the mid-1980s and was also behind the first study specifically on the new age in Sweden in the mid-1990s. She points out that such research done in the US is not automatically valid for Swedish conditions.
The question of where, when and how the new age arose is answered in different ways in literature. This probably has to do with what different writers choose to emphasize. Hammer (2004, p. 43) highlights that the religious or spiritual influences to the "new age" and the like can be traced back to the romanticism that was a counter-movement to the Enlightenment. Mesmerism, romantic pantheism, transcendentalism, spiritism, occultism, are phenomena from that epoch that have come in various ways to contribute to this modern spirituality. The New Age and the Occult, according to Hammer, have been "a kind of third track next to the Church and secular society." 76). Sjödin (2002) also highlights the connection to romanticism and describes the New Age as "[a] revival of early 19th-century Romanticism" (p. 75). Other researchers (Kärfve, 1998, p. 19) argues that the New Age even captured or manages ideas that go back to Gnosticism, a spiritual doctrine that was alive at the time of the rise of Christianity.
Frisk (2007a) places the emergence of the new age to the late 1960s and early 1970s. Different currents then flowed together with the utopian and socially critical youth movement that had arisen on the American West Coast, with hippie culture, the struggle for black rights, the resistance to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, a questioning of the ideals that existed for family formation, etc. Rothstein (1997, p. 23) shares the view that although the New Age and the like had some of their roots further back in history, it was on the American West Coast that the phenomenon took shape and grew strong. Wikström (1998) also highlights that it was in California in the 1960s that the cradle of the modern New Age movement stood. He writes that the New Age was a counterculture to Western consumerism and the movement also came to include a clear homogenization attitude (p. 28), according to which various phenomena were possible to bring together. Prominent figures in the New Age, for example, could be equated with the Biblical Christ, as these were perceived as imbued with the same spirit.
The era was portrayed in Milos Forman's 1979 film Hair. The title of the song "Age of Aquarius" that initiated the film, for example, was referring to the astrological notion that humanity is on the threshold of the age of Aquarius. Ferguson (1982, referenced in Wikström, 2008, p. 33) believes that two thousand years of war and darkness are over and that an equally long period of peace and love awaits.
Contributions to the doctrine itself have come from different quarters. The term "new age" was originally coined by the English author and neotheosophy Alice A. Bailey in the 1930s (Sutcliffe & Gilhus, 2013). It is Precisely Theosophy and its foreground figure Helena P. Blavatsky is listed by several authors (Rotstein, 1997; Hammer, 2004) as a significant influence for the New Age. Theosophy contributed, among other things, with the idea of reincarnation and also the idea that man's fate is shaped by how he lived in previous lives, so-called "karma". These were ideas that Theosophy, in turn, had taken over from Eastern philosophy but left its own mark on.
Hammer (1998) writes of the former that "[v]year's reincarnation belief is a distinct product of the modern: optimistic, individualistic, trend-sensitive, and formulated in a language that fits hand in glove in a world of science and rationality." 53). What characterizes this Western reincarnationstanke is, among other things, that development is based on constant progression. The very term "new age" reflects this optimism of progress. Hammer writes (2000) that the whole world "from our individual souls to planetary systems is undergoing constant evolution" (p. In this there is also a natural connection to Darwin, something that is most often lacking in the usual religions and creation stories. However, according to Theosophy and the New Age, unlike the doctrine of evolution, the development is "targeted" (Hammer, 2000, p. 23). On the fact that this conception now seems to have received so much acceptance among the common man, Hammer writes (2004): "In only forty years, reincarnation has gone from being a view spread among the members of some Theosophical and occult circles to becoming one of the most widely encompassed religious beliefs of our time" (p. 203).
About the latter concept, karma, and its importance today in the culture from which it was drawn, the same author writes:
There are a number of religious models of explanation that will explain why one is doing well and the other badly. Modern popular Hinduism usually invokes violations of taboo rules, evil spirits, witchcraft, obsession, or planetary influences. Karma remains as a theoretical concept, but is rarely used when explaining people's lot in life in practice (Hammer, 2004, p. 110).
Contributions were also drawn from various psychological school formations, including humanistic psychology, which in the United States at the time itself was a kind of counter-movement to behaviorism and psychoanalysis. Hammer (2004) writes that influences also came from the American New Thought/Human Potential movement and he highlights a kinship between the New Age and a specific North American, individualistic thinking, more precisely the notion that "it is a person's thoughts and will that make him who he is: if you decide and invest wholeheartedly, one can realize one's dreams" (p. Influences also came from the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung. Jones (1991) highlights what he sees as a similarity between Jungian theory and the New Age:
Jungian theory, like its creator, is profoundly introverted and individualistic – each person his or her own church, synagogue, or ashram. One has no need of others; everyone has within the self the collective wisdom of the human race (Jones, 1991, p. 5).
Unlike secular worldviews, the view of the New Age is "that even difficult experiences serve a purpose, that they have meaning in the light of one's spiritual development" (Hammer, 2004, p. 17). Furthermore, there is a strong trend
radically de-dramatize evil and suffering. Since it is often explained that we ourselves create the world we live in, we ourselves bear the ultimate responsibility for the suffering that can befall us. Basically, however, there is nothing that is unambiguously evil: the problems we face are rather challenges, opportunities for the human soul to absorb important experiences (Hammer, 2004, p. 143).
Kärfve (1998) writes that according to the New Age, "all life is a manifestation of the highest consciousness, and the purpose of all existence is to bring love, wisdom, and enlightenment to its completion." 18). Over time, the individual will achieve emotional and cognitive perfection. Those who have already reached this advanced stage are described as "advanced spiritual beings who are now free from the cycle of reincarnation and who continue to guide humans on Earth from their celestial abodes" (Chryssides, 2007, p. 6). These individuals are what Kärfve (1998, referring to Max Weber) refers to as "religious virtuosos — people who have escaped the light and [live] in its radiance" (p. 21).
This notion of the individual's potential, that there are "amazing dormant forces within the human being" (Hammer, 2004, p. 55), was something that Theosophy and American positive thinking shared. In addition, Blavatsky claimed that "[d]an enlightened man… could read directly in the Akashak chronicle, a kind of universe's own memory bank, where all the events in the entire history of the cosmos were stored. Within man's reach lay nothing less than omniscience" (Hammer, 2004, p. 55).
Heelas (1996, p. 2) has characterized the new age as "Self-spirituality". The image of God is immanent, rather than transcendent (Hammer, 2004, p. 22). "The New Self-Deification" sums up Kärvfe (1998, p. 17) the phenomenon. The question of whether God is personal or impersonal is not easy to determine. Sanner (1998) reflects on the fact that so much within the new spirituality is described in terms of love and comes to the conclusion that within this spirituality God and love are in some sense the same thing: "In the doctrine proclaimed within the New Age, love is regarded as something divine — well, perhaps one can even say that the god one worships within the New Age is love" (p. 116).
Supporters of the New Age often also have high thoughts about what this movement can bring to the world. Hammer (2004) writes of the self-image of new age followers: "One belongs to a spearhead in society, a group of people with higher knowledge, greater insight, who have progressed further in their spiritual development" (p. 333). Vitz (1977) writes on the same theme:
The proponents of New Age spirituality commonly present their position as a radically new worldview. In particular, they reject old cultural paradigms based upon science, secular philosophy, and traditional religion; these are all seen to have 'failed'… The proponents of New Age believe that they have been empowered to initiate a 'millennium of light that will redeem society from its obvious present ills ( Vitz, 1977, Kindle location 2010).
Organization and supporters
According to Hammer (2004), there are two groups attracted to the new spirituality, namely young people and women of middle age, and what unites them is their "intense search for meaning, their own identity and an independent inner voice" (p. 28). Young people are confronted with the realization that experts can contradict each other. Then there is room to think for yourself. Another driving force is to define one's own from parents and the adult world. For many women in middle age, they have long been subordinated to the needs of others:
Only in the middle of life began a process of emancipation, which could involve both a greater trust in one's own inner voice but also a lot of pain … Their desire to replace external authority with an inner compass is matched by the new age environment's emphasis on intuition and subjectivity (Hammer, 2004, p. 29).
Frisk (2000) proposes, with reference to the sociologist of religion Meredith B. McGuire, that it is possible to "see institutionalized religiosity as male-dominated, and the 'modern religiosity' as a kind of female protest" (p. 62). Frisk has interviewed many supporters and has, based on what they have told about their employment, also concluded that the New Age is a kind of popular religion (p. 60).
Change over time
Rothstein (1997) also describes the New Age as "a modern form of popular religiosity, a religious level that exists among ordinary people in parallel with the official religion of society." 22). However, he highlights research from the US that suggests that the new age there would be in decline. The New Age, according to Rothstein, had its heyday in the 1980s and since then such things as course centers and booksellers specializing in such literature have declined in number. He believes that there is a lot of evidence that the new age will become increasingly organized in the future. The real interested will join special movements.
This was written almost twenty years ago, based on experiences from another part of the world and the question is whether the forecast also applies to Sweden. Frisk (2007a) paints a partly different picture. According to her, a lot has happened in the early 2000s. As recently as the 1990s, many believed that movements like the Church of Scientology and Hare Krishna would continue to grow, but they haven't. On the other hand, disorganized neo-religion, such as the New Age, has gained increasing acceptance among the public.
Perhaps the new age and the like, although itself an expression of this, have increasingly come to be affected by the tendency that Wikström (1998) believes has affected many other institutions in society, namely that fidelity to idea-based organizations has decreased (p. 42f). This can also be understood from the increased individualization that several researchers write about. Wikström (1998) believes that there has been a general shift towards the "inner psychological experience world" (p. 7) and that a focus on internal transformation is something that belongs to the late 20th century. It is about the idealization of "the individual man's 'spiritual ability' to influence his destiny and the romanticization of man's inherent goodness. Evil, sickness, and suffering are rather a delusion" (p. 8). In this case, this could be consistent with the research data that showed that the positive reincarnation idea could have had such a large impact on the population. Hanegraff (1996, referencing in Sutcliffe & Gilhus, 2013, intro) has proposed a breakdown into a new age "Stricto," that is, the original, rebellious and reformatory new age, which over time has turned into a more individualistic new age "Lato" with a greater focus on individual self-realization. Hammer (2004) sees the same change, how in the beginning of the movement there was more talk about how humanity was facing a "spiritual and social revolution" (p. 23), while the focus today is more on the individual's personal or spiritual advancement. Other researchers question whether the term "new age" is even relevant anymore. Chryssides (2007) summarises these objections:
The hippies are passé, and so are their ideology. They were politically left-wing, rejecting the capitalist system and becoming society's "drop-outs" in the belief that by so doing they could bring about a new social utopia. Few hippies are still around, and the New Age, far from being in opposition to the capitalist system, has become a multi-million dollar industry (Chryssides, 2007, p. 12).
Hammer (2004) argues that the number of interested affects the status of a phenomenon. As long as there are only a few hundred sympathizers, it is an eccentric phenomenon. As soon as a few tens of thousands join, it's an interest group or subculture. When many millions accept the mindset, it becomes part of a general collective behavior. In the US and Sweden, Hammer argues that the new age has reached such a third stage (p. 95).