by Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation (Bantam hardcover 2009, Bantam trade paperback October 2010).
In 1970, philosopher Jacob Needleman opened a new discussion about religion in America. His book The New Religions was one of the first scholarly works to consider esoteric and alternative religious movements not as oddball trends but as forces that reflected a serious and widespread search for meaning among young Americans.
A generation later, this discussion has been expanded by a broad range of mainstream religious scholars – from Catherine Albanese to Jeffrey J. Kripal to Ann Braude – who are transforming how we understand the nation’s alternative religious culture. New Age or metaphysical movements are no longer viewed within academia as fringe oddities but as crucial aspects of our religious history. This line of study should be encouraged. Without it, we cannot fully understand the nature of America’s religious life. Continue reading