Cover image for New Age and neopagan religions in America
New Age and neopagan religions in America
Pike, Sarah M., 1959-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xiv; 220 pages; 24 cm.
Format :


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BP605.N48 P55 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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From Shirley MacLaine's spiritual biography Out on a Limb to the teenage witches in the film The Craft, New Age and Neopagan beliefs have made sensationalistic headlines. In the mid- to late 1990s, several important scholarly studies of the New Age and Neopagan movements were published, attesting to academic as well as popular recognition that these religions are a significant presence on the contemporary North American religious landscape. Self-help books by New Age channelers and psychics are a large and growing market; annual spending on channeling, self-help businesses, and alternative health care is at $10 to $14 billion; an estimated 12 million Americans are involved with New Age activities; and American Neopagans are estimated at around 200,000. New Age and Neopagan Religions in America introduces the beliefs and practices behind the public faces of these controversial movements, which have been growing steadily in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century America.

What is the New Age movement, and how is it different from and similar to Neopaganism in its underlying beliefs and still-evolving practices? Where did these decentralized and eclectic movements come from, and why have they grown and flourished at this point in American religious history? What is the relationship between the New Age and Neopaganism and other religions in America, particularly Christianity, which is often construed as antagonistic to them? Drawing on historical and ethnographic accounts, Sarah Pike explores these questions and offers a sympathetic yet critical treatment of religious practices often marginalized yet soaring in popularity. The book provides a general introduction to the varieties of New Age and Neopagan religions in the United States today as well as an account of their nineteenth-century roots and emergence from the 1960s counterculture. Covering such topics as healing, gender and sexuality, millennialism, and ritual experience, it also furnishes a rich description and analysis of the spiritual worlds and social networks created by participants.

Author Notes

Sarah M. Pike (PhD, Religious Studies, Indiana) is Professor of Comparative Religion and Humanities at California State University Chico. She is the author of Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search ofr Coomunity (California, 2001), New Age and Neopagans in America (Columbia, 2004), and For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism (California, 2017). Her interests include new religious movements, religion and ecology, and ritual studies.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

This installment in Columbia's Contemporary American Religion series explores the rise of "New Age" and Neopagan religions in America, phenomena that are difficult to study because of the diverse array of people and movements that claim shelter under their umbrellas. Pike, who teaches religion at California State University, draws attention to the "main concerns and daily lives" of participants in these new religious movements, dissecting what healing rituals, self-awareness meditation and channeling mean to the people who practice them. Although most readers could do without the dissertation-like literature review that dominates the introduction, the remainder of the book is informative and accessible for the general reader. Pike writes well, with a journalist's eye for an engaging story and a scholar's sense of the larger historical picture. One particularly helpful chapter surveys the traditions' most visible groups and central teachings, which include an emphasis on nature, women's spiritual leadership, seasonal ritual and personal transformation. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

This work offers general readers a scholarly assessment of Neopaganism and the New Age movement. Neopaganism, or Wicca, seeks to revive rituals of pre-Christian paganism and update them to contemporary needs. The New Age movement offers personal spiritual healing and helps individuals create an ecologically sensitive and post-sexist world. Pike (California State Univ., Chico) provides an overview of key themes of these movements-their eclecticism, focus on personal spirituality, and relationship to feminism, alternative medicine, and utopian counterculture experiments-and traces their beliefs back to 19th-century traditions of mesmerism, seances, Swedenborgianism, and Theosophy. Pike manages to survey the terrain without turning her text into a laundry list of leaders and organizations. As such, her book provides a necessary complement to Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon, a journalistic account of witchcraft, and Paul Heelas's The New Age Movement, which examines the New Age movement in Great Britain.-Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Pike (California State Univ., Chico) explores the thought and practices of the neopagan and New Age movements, both of which are now highly visible on the US religious landscape. The author clarifies differences, but especially explores commonalities, in this sympathetic yet critical analysis. Both movements share common 19th-century sources, particularly the ideas of Helena Blavatsky. Even more directly influential was the 1960s countercultural call for complete social renewal. Holistic healing (of emotions and mind as well as body) is one key path to personal and social transformation that both groups pursue. Practitioners within these movements appropriate new sources of healing such as using herbal medicine and tapping spiritual fields of energy. A second concern centers on gender and sexuality. Believing that women had been repressed, many advocates anticipated a new age when repression would give way to equality. Third, the movements found in environmental issues their best path to helping society. Both introduced new rituals to visualize and sacralize their convictions. Pike observes that people are migrating from the old denominations to create new religious communities. She offers a superb introduction to the visions and practices of both neopagan and New Age movements. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All levels. W. L. Pitts Jr. Baylor University

Table of Contents

Ancient Mysteries in Contemporary America
Introduction to the Religious Worlds of Neopagans and New Agers
Early Varieties of Alternative Spirituality in American Religious History
The 1960s Watershed Years
Healing and Techniques of the Self
"All Acts of Love and Pleasure Are My Rituals": Sex, Gender, and the Sacred
The Age of Aquarius