Week 6: New Age (Religious) Movements + Holistic Health

We began this semester exploring the social and historical contexts surrounding American relationships with healing and medicine, specifically around the themes of a value of things deemed “natural” and distrust of the medical establishment. 

Last week, we started to delve into the Holistic Health Movement of the 1970’s as an extension of American preoccupation with alternative healing. As you learned in those readings, the Holistic Health Movement and New Age religious values are so entangled as to be inseparable. 

This week, we’ll be exploring more about what informs New Age and American Metaphysical understandings of the world, common orientations despite the vast number of practices that fit under the umbrella of New Age practices, and some common criticisms aimed at the movement. 

A few themes that begin in these readings and continue throughout the semester include: questions of re-interpretation and continuity, issues of appropriation and syncretism, and the evolution of the New Age and Holistic Health movements in relation to the spiritual and medical marketplace.



Last week, part of your assignment was to:

If you haven’t already, do that IMMEDIATELY. 

Next, create a page on your EduBlogs and title it the name of the first project you are going to tackle. 

In this page, I want you to give me as many detail as you can about what project you’ve chosen – what’s the project, what’s the topic or healer or modality you’ll cover, etc. If you’re attending a healing session or interviewing someone, post that information here and wait for approval from me before you reach out to the healer. I’ll communicate with you via comments, so make sure to respond promptly to my comments

This is also a space where you’ll post drafts of the materials, so I can keep track of your progress. Again, it’s important that you promptly respond to any comments or advice I post in the comments. I’ll also ask you to make adjustments or turn something in; these individual due dates are always on Sunday evenings, unless otherwise negotiated with me. 



“The New Age Movement and Western Esotericism”, Wouter J. Hanegraaff (pg 25-50) – iCollege

  • Describe each of the different stages of development in the New Age movement
  • According to the author, how has the New Age movement transitioned? Do they interpret this as a sign of success or failure? 
  • According to the author, what religious trends are sometimes mistakenly categorized as New Age? 
  • How do the course theme of resistance and accommodation relate to the development of New Age movements? 
  • Describe the relationship of mind, body and spirit in the New Age movements.
  • According to this tradition, what is the relationship of healing to spiritual and physical wellbeing? 
  • What is the relationship between science and the New Age movements? 
  • Despite the variety of practices and beliefs that fall under the umbrella term “New Age”, what are some of the common themes and beliefs? 
  • How does the author articulate the difference between “re-interpretation” and “continuity” in these movements? 
  • What is the role of individualism in New Age values? 
  • Describe the impact of the capitalism market economy on the New Age movement (and religious traditions in general). 

“Metaphysical Healing and Health in the United States”, Brett Hendrickson (pg 347-355) – iCollege

  • How does Mind Cure and New Thought view health, illness and healing? How does this manifest in the Metaphysical / New Age traditions? 
  • How do New Age traditions understand wellness? 
  • Describe the continuum of New Age healing approach the author notes on page 350. How does this relate to earlier readings of taxonomy of healing traditions and our course theme of the process of legitimation that CAM modalities undergo? 
  • What is “universalization”, ahistoricity, and decontextual in the New Age context? Why is it understood to be problematic?
  • What is the relationship of Euro-American Metaphysicals to their own history? 
  • Define the terms appropriation, syncretism and borrowing. How are they different? What is the role of power (cultural, systematic, etc), and when is it “okay”? 
  • What is the relationship between CAM modalities (especially those with New Age and religious undertones), and the overwhelming Christian context in the US? How have different academics and social commentators approaches this syncretic adoption? 

Well + Good, “Spiritual Activist Rachel Ricketts Challenges White Women to Rethink Wellness”

  • How does Ricketts define wellness, in both the individual and communal sense? 
  • How does her activism relate to wellness? How does she define “spiritual activism”?
  • What criticisms of “wellness culture” does Ricketts highlight? 
  • What does Ricketts mean by the statement “wellness is political”? 
  • What does she mean by the phrase “violent experiences” in wellness spaces? 
  • What ideals is Ricketts’ hoping wellness spaces move towards? 
  • How does Rachel Ricketts’ article relate to our readings up until now? What connections do you see? 

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This powerful message from @iyaamiaje sums up the work I do day in and day out.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ White Supremacy. Is. Trauma. For both the oppressed and oppressor in varying ways. It causes mental, physical, emotional and spiritual harm. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ It is a sickness. A dis-ease that results in people of color, especially Black and Indigenous womxn, enduring violence – physical or otherwise – day in and day out. It disconnects while people from their heart space + robs them of inner peace.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ As Toni Morrison said “if I take your race away, and there you are, all strung out. And all you got is your little self, and what is that? What are you without racism? Are you any good? Are you still strong? Are you still smart? Do you still like yourself? I mean, these are the questions. Part of it is, ‘yes, the victim. How terrible it’s been for Black people.’ I’m not a victim. I refuse to be one… if you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a serious problem. And my feeling is that white people have a very, very serious problem…"⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This is a POTENT time my bbs. We are ALL being called upon to step the fuck up and wake ourselves from slumber. We are undergoing an intense re-activation. Are you ready? Are you working with the energy, or straining against it?⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Are you committed to healing the trauma that is white supremacy and creating an entirely new reality? I sure as hell am. Join me. xo R

A post shared by Rachel Ricketts (she/her) (@iamrachelricketts) on


  • Western Esotericism
  • Theosophical Society
  • Age of Aquarius
  • New Religious Movements
  • Spiritual Marketplace
  • Chakras
  • Subtle Energies
  • Humanistic Psychology
  • Transpersonal Psychology
  • Neo-pagan
  • Neo-shaman
  • Dualism
  • Reductionism
  • Occultism
  • Self-Religion / (higher) Self
  • Metaphysical Religion
  • Synchronicity
  • “Spiritual but not Religious” / SBNR
  • Mind Cure
  • New Thought
  • Universalization
  • Ahistoricity / Decontextualization 
  • Racist Heteropatriarchy
  • Internalized oppression
  • Spiritual Bypassing
  • Gaslighting
  • Hierarchy of Healing

Meta-Reflection: A reflection on your reflections

I spent the good part of three hours today reading through your first EduBlog reflections and the comments. While I spent a substantial amount of time making sure to comment on each of your reflections, I wanted to take a moment to reflect myself on what I saw in your responses as a whole. I won’t be able to do this every week, but its important to me that 1) you know that I’m reading and reflection on your thoughts and 2) that I can do a similar project that I’m asking you to do. 

So here we go! A few themes that I noticed while reading your reflections today, and my response…

(side note:  I’m now wishing I had started tracking the topics and main phrases y’all used to make a word cloud — oh well, next time)


A general distrust and distaste for modern medicine and big pharma

Over the course of the semester, this theme will arise again and again. The idea that modern Western medicine is missing the mark somehow – whether it be the lack of time spent with patients, the strong drugs with adverse side effects, the over prescription of said drugs, or a limited (rather than holistic) scope of practice that focuses only on the body and not the “whole person.”

What I hope you realize through the next weeks is that this dissatisfaction with heroic medicine / regular medicine / biomedicine (whichever medical system has the hegemonic power) has pervaded the American psyche. This is not a new phenomenon nor a return to past – it’s always been there. 


Issues with accessibility to regular / biomedicine — 

Connected to the distrust of regular / heterodox medicine is the general sense that it’s inaccessible, not just to patients, but also the process of “legitimation” made it an inaccessible profession to any person that wasn’t white and male. While I didn’t assign the chapter this time around, Baer has an excellent discussion of the role of corporate capitalism in the rise of biomedicine. He pays special attention to the Flexner Report. It’s stated intent was to ensure that medical practitioners were held to a high standard for the protection of patients, but a (unintended?) consequence was the closure of many medical schools that allowed women and Black doctors.

A related issue is the prohibitive cost of healthcare from regular physicians. As we’ll see a bit in this week’s readings (Week 3), regular medicine was typically more expensive than alternative modalities — it most definitely is now. In terms of Thomsonian medicine, he imagined the ultimate democratization of healing — “every (hu)man (their) own doctor” — (but I’d also push back on the idea that these early healers were completely altruistic and “good hearted” as some of you mentioned in your reflections; they were still making good money selling the rights to their approach).

The conversation of accessibility healthcare will become more complex as we work through the syllabus: first with conversations about the Holistic Health Movement and New Age healing (usually upper- or middle-class white women who have disposable income), but then broadening our conversations to different types of CAM that may (or may not) appeal to other communities, especially Black, Indigenous, and immigrant communities that face discrimination and trauma by the biomedical community. 

My questions for you here are: Throughout these different historical periods, what are some of the barriers of access to regular / biomedical care? And what happens when biomedical care doesn’t “work” / cure (in the case of chronic illness)? How do you imagine some of these issues relate to who practices / is a patient of alternative medicine? What about biomedical care seems insufficient, and how are the values of alternative medicine filling those gaps? 


A desire for “natural” and “holistic” — 

Time and again in your posts I read comments about how y’all (or your families) were much more receptive to healing modalities that were “natural” – whether that meant an avoidance of prescription meds because of their side effects, or because “clean living” and healthier lifestyles lead to less disease in the first place, or that modern medicine is limited in effectiveness and needs to “integrate” with alternatives… These are also not new or modern concepts. As we’ll see in this week chapters, but especially in the Holistic Health movement, these values are consistently part of American’s views on healing. 

A few more questions to keep in mind as we continue to read: How do all of these communities define “natural”? What does “holistic medicine” mean, especially in the context of the Holistic Health movement? Despite alternative medicine’s attention to “holism” , how does it continue to be “limited” (per Baer)? 


Personal and familiar use of a variety of “alternative healing” practices

Thank you all for sharing your personal and familiar / community experiences of CAM healing! Some of the practices that y’all mentioned included:  folk and ethno- medicine (teas, herbs, tinctures, oils), parochial medicine (incense, prayer for healing), and some New Age healing (crystals, energy healing).

I’d love to know more about all of these practices, especially the folk medical traditions used in your family – to the extend that you’re willing to share. Some of the most powerful reflections and connections to material happen when we talk about things related to your life, your family, your community… One student even mentioned calling their mom to share that a leader from their religious communities was mentioned in the one of the chapters — that made my day! And while that won’t happen every week, hopefully once or twice throughout the semester we’ll touch on something that resonates with your experience. 

Another great source of content for your reflections would be the integration of how you see CAM pop up in your daily life. Snap pictures while you’re at the grocery store waiting in line (so many health magazines draw on CAM and holistic health movement ideals), at the esoteric shop (New Age healing), the tea that your grandma make when you’re sick or the tonic that a friend sends from abroad (folk medicine, herbal remedies, “Eastern” healing). Once you start looking, you might see it everywhere! 

On a personal note, as a child of California hippies (my mom was at UC Berkeley in the late 60’s and my dad considers himself a (neo)shaman (yes, in all the very problematic ways) — most of the content we’ll cover this semester (at least the modalities that are marketed to middle-class while folks) is familiar to me and feels a bit like “home” — and I find it really fascinating (and an opportunity of growth to encounter all the problematic ways I was raised) to explore the history of practices that were just a part of my background growing up.