New Age Religion and Western Culture

Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought

By Wouter J. Hanegraaff

Subjects: New Age
Series: SUNY series in Western Esoteric Traditions
Paperback : 9780791438541, 594 pages, November 1997

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


A Preliminary Demarcation of the Field



1. Channeling


A Brief Characteristic
Channeling as Articulated Revelations
Channeling Modes and Developmental Processes
The Sources (Edgar Cayce; Eva Pierrakos; Jane Roberts; A Course in Miracles; David Spangler, Ramala; JZ Knight; Sanaya Roman; Shirley MacLaine)


2. Healing and Personal Growth


The Alternative Therapies
Healing as a Religious Phenomenon
Main Currents
The Sources (Eva Pierrakos; Ken Keyes, Leonard Orr & Sondra Ray; Shakti Gawain; Sanaya Roman; Henry Reed/Edgar Cayce; Jean Houston; Stanislav Grof; Ken Wilbur; Michael Harner; Roger Walsh; Louise L. Hay; Chris Griscom; Shirley MacLaine; Fritjof Capra)


3. New Age Science


The Quest for a Unified Worldview
New Age Science as Naturphilosophie
Main Orientations
The Sources (David Bohm; F. David Peat; Michael Talbot; Ilya Prigogine; Erich Jantsch; Rupert Sheldrake; Fritjof Capra; Ken Wilbur; Arthur M. Young)


4. Neopaganism


The Phenomenon of Neopaganism
Neopaganism as Magic
Main Orientations
The Sources (Janet & Stewart Farrar; Vivianne Crowley; Starhawk; Zsuzsanna Budapest; Marian Green; Caitlin & John Matthews; Murry Hope)


5. New Age in a Restricted and in a General Sense


An Historical Sketch
New Age sensu stricto: The Mellenarian Vision
New Age sensu lato
The Sources ( David Spangler; George Trevelyan; Gary Zukav; Marilyn Ferguson; Fritjof Capra; Peter Russell; Willis Harman; Shirley MacLaine; Matthew Fox)



6. The Nature of Reality


1. Introduction: Attitudes to Experiential Reality
2. The Meanings of Holism


A. The Ultimate Source of Manifestation
B. Universal Interrelatedness
Parallellism and Bootstrap Philosophy—Systems Thinking—The Holographic Paradigm
C. Other Meanings of Holism


3. The Evolutionary Perspective
4. Some Additional Issues


The Transcendence of Space-Time—Mind and Matter—The Wilbur Controversy


7. Meta-Empirical and Human Beings


1. Introduction
2. Divine Beings


A. God
B. Christ


3. Intermediate Beings


A. Beings of Amibiguous Status
B. Entities, Angels, and Other Intermediate Beings


8. Matters of the Mind


1. Introduction
2. Human Beings


A. The "I am God" Theme
B. The Constitution of Human Beings
The (Higher) Self—The Unconscious—Ego and Personality—Subtle Bodies—The Brain


3. The Metaphysics of Mind


A. The Psychologization of Religion and Sacralization of Psychology
B. Creating Our Own Reality
The Law of Manifestation and its Implications—Self-Responsibility—The Mechanics of Changing Reality —Creating Illness and Health
C. Inner Realms
Cartographies of Consciousness—Journeys through Inner Space


9.Death and Survival


1. Introduction: The Experience of Death
2. Other Realities
3. Reincarnation and Beyond


New Age Reincarnation and its Attractions—The Process and "Mechanics" of Reincarnation—Past-Life Recovery


10. Good and Evil


1. Introduction: The Paradox of Ethical Holism
2. The Structure of Cosmic Justice


Non-Dual Ethics and the Problem of Relativism —Evolutionist Karma


3. The Negative


Limited Consciousness—Psychological "Negativities": Sin, Guilt, Fear


4. The Positive


Holistic Consciousness—The Positive: Love, Surrender, Forgiveness


11. Visions of the Past


1. Introduction
2. Beginnings


Cosmogonic Myths—The Descent of Man


3. From Atlantis to the Holy Land


Atlantis—Egypt and the "Great White Brotherhood"—The Essenes and Jesus


4. The Age of Pisces


Christianity—The Rejection of Reincarnation—Cartesian/Newtonian Thinking


5. Historical Religious versus Universal Spirituality


Exoteric Religious—Perennial Wisdom


12. The New Age


1. Introduction
2. The Age of Aquarius


The Timing of the New Age—The "Pathos of Change"—The "Moderate" New Age—The Age of Light


3. The Shift from Old to New


The Potentials of Crises—Evolution of Consciousness—The Human Contribution: Creating Critical Mass—Images of Intervention


4. Epilogue: Controversies over the New Age Seneu Lato



13. Towards a Historical Perspective on New Age Religion


1. A Short Evaluation
2. Perspectives on the New Age


Hans Sebald—Christof Schorsch—J. Gordon Melton (cum suis)—Christopher Bochinger


3. Desiderata for Academic Research


14. A Historical Framework


1. The Modern Hermeticist Revival and The Emergence of Western Esotericism


A. "Esotericism" as Technical Terminology
B. The Origins of Western Esotericism
C. The Components of West Esotericism
Philosophical Frameworks: Neoplatonism and Hermeticism—The "Occult Sciences": Magic, Astrology, Alchemy—The Theosophical Component: Christian Kabbalah
D. The Worldview of Western Esotericism


2. Esotericism between Renaissance and Enlightenment


A. The "Inner Church" and Esotericism
B. The Factor of Reformation "Spiritualism"
3. A Clash of Worldviews


15. The Mirror of Secular Thought


1. Esotericism Between Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment


A. The Emergence of Romanticism
B. The Emergence of Occultism
Emanuel Swedenborg—Franz Anton Mesmer—Modern Spiritualism—Conclusion


2. The Impact of the Study of Religions


A. The Theosophical Synthesis
Proto-Theosophical Perspectives—The New Theosophy
B. The Orient and American Transcendentalism


3. Evolution as Religion


A. The "Metaphysical" Context
B. The Theosophical Context
Spiritual Progress after Death—Reincarnation—The Law of Evolution


4. The Psychologization of Esotericism


A. Harmonial Religion
American Mesmerism and the Rise of New Thought—Functionalist Psychology—Harmonial Religion and the Sacralization of the Psyche
B. Carl Gustav Jung
Jung and German Romanticism—The Cult of the Interior Sun—Gnosticism, Alchemy, and Jungian Psychology


16. Conclusions: The New Age Movement and the Nature of New Age Religion


New Age as Culture Criticism—New Age as Secularized Esotericism—A Final Problem: The Demarcation in Time—Postscript


Appendix: Primary New Age Sources (in alphabetical order)


Index of Subjects

Index of Names

Presents the first systematic analysis of the structure and beliefs of the New Age movement, and the historical emergence of "New Age" as a secularized version of Western esoteric traditions.


Recent years have seen a spectacular rise of the New Age movement and an ever-increasing interest in its beliefs and manifestations. This fascinating work presents the first comprehensive analysis of New Age Religion and its historical backgrounds, thus providing a means of orientation in the bewildering variety of the movement. Making extensive use of primary sources, the author thematically analyses New Age beliefs from the perspective of the study of religions. While looking at the historical backgrounds of the movement, he convincingly argues that its foundations were laid by so-called western esoteric traditions during the Renaissance. Hanegraaff finally shows how the modern New Age movement emerged from the increasing secularization of those esoteric traditions during the nineteenth century.

Wouter J. Hanegraaff is a Research Fellow at the Department for the Study of Religions at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. He is coeditor of Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times, also published by SUNY Press.


"There will be no book like this for some time to come. It should be on the reading list of any student of religion and brings into the foreground a needed agenda for those in the humanities and social sciences, and will be valued by all those who appreciate fine, clear writing. I wish I had written it myself. " — Antoine Faivre, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Sorbonne

"Finally, someone has mastered the vast literature of, and reality which is the New Age movement, and produced a comprehensive and authoritative survey of its major themes and most important leaders. Hanegraaff's effort should immediately become the foundation upon which future research of the movement will be constructed. " — J. Gordon Melton, Institute for the Study of American Religion, Santa Barbara

"This is the best critical study of New Age thinking hitherto available. An outstanding achievement. " — Garry W. Trompf, School of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney