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Sacred Selves: An Ethnographic Study of Narratives and Community Practices at a Spiritual Center by Sean E. Currie A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Sociology College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Margarethe Kusenbach, Ph.D. James C. Cavendish, Ph.D. Danny L. Jorgensen, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 3, 2009 Keywords: career, conversion, ethnography, new age, new religious movements Copyright 2009, Sean E. Currie
DEDICATION This study is dedicated to Deborah and Soren for giving me their unwavering love, support, and patience throughout th e creation of this thesis.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I am deeply grateful to Maggie Kusenbach for her guidance throughout the research process as well as the tremendous amount of time, insight, and attention to detail she invested toward making this thesis a success. I would also like to express my sincere thanks to Jim Cavendish and Danny Jorgensen for their invaluable support and advice during this project. I am thankful to D oni Loseke, Maralee Mayberry, Pat Greene, and Joan Jacobs for their sincere interest in my success at the university. My work on this thesis has been an exciting, challenging, a nd enlightening experience. It was made possible by the owners and members of the Spirit Grove, who graciously welcomed me into their community. This thesis presents my research from a social scientific perspective; while it does not support claims to religious trut h, it certainly does not deny them.
i TABLE OF CONTENTS LIST OF FIGURES iii ABSTRACT iv CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION 1 CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW 5 The New Age Movement 5 Career and Conversion 10 Research Questions 12 CHAPTER 3: METHODS 14 Access 14 Methods and Data 15 Analysis 20 Methodological Insights 22 CHAPTER 4: SETTING 26 Place 26 Activities 29 Profile and Social Structure 31 CHAPTER 5: THE SPIRITUAL NARRATIVE 34 CHAPTER 6: COMMUNITY PRACTICES 47 Discovering the Real Self 47 Healing the Self 50 Embracing Diversity 53 Creating Order 56 Finding Proof 61 CHAPTER 7: CONCLUSION 67 REFERENCES 71 APPENDICES 78 Appendix A: Classes, Events, and Services held at the Spirit Grove in 2008 79
ii Appendix B: Overview of Participants 80 Appendix C: Interview Schedule 81
iii LIST OF FIGURES 4.1 Hierarchy and Roles at the Spirit Grove 31 5.1 Spiritual Career of Typical Spirit Grove Practitioners 35
iv Sacred Selves: An Ethnographic Study of Na rratives and Community Practices at a Spiritual Center Sean E. Currie ABSTRACT Many scholars have examined the relig ious phenomenon known as the New Age Movement, resulting in a large body of literatu re on the subject. Despite this abundance of prior research, only a small number of studies conducted in the United States investigate what it means to be a New Ager from the perspective of the members. In order to contribute to the academic unde rstanding of New Age identities and communities, I conducted an ethnographic study of an alternative spiritual center in the Tampa Bay area, here called the Spirit Grove. My research includes over fifty hours of participant observations, ten in-depth intervie ws, and an analysis of documents collected at the center. My findings i ndicate that Spirit Grove members typically follow a career trajectory consisting of five stages. Afte r they become member s of the community, practitioners tend to interpret their journey as a spiritual di scovery. Next, I identify and describe five community practices that are pe rformed at the center, including discovering the self, healing the self, embracing diversit y, creating order, and finding proof. In the conclusion, I discuss the larger implications of this study, including its limitations and possibilities for future research.
1 CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION We walk through the front doorway out onto the lawn. Martha, a minister at the center, instructs us to put our hands to our sides and to move them out and away from our body, palms facing down. In a semi-circle arrangement, all twenty-five of us slowly walk toward the first (and, reputedly, most powerful) psychic vortex area, which is in front of a live oak. When we reach the vortex area, many people begin to feel around by turning in circles or walking aro und the area, with their palms facing down and hands out, in an attempt to pick up on the vortex. Martha then has us form a large circle around the area where the vortex is supposed to be, which ends up being a di ameter of about 30 feet. She asks if anyone would like to step inside the circle so they may receive the healing energy from both the vortex a nd the channeled energy from us. Four people step inside and continue to hold their hands out with their palms facing downwards. Martha tells us to extend our arms in front of us with our palms facing the people in the circle. She instructs us to close our eyes and beam positive healing energy to them from our hands. I notice Cassie across from me duri ng this activity; she has her hands outstretched above her in a v like pattern, deviating from Marthas instructions. Her eyes are also open and she seems to be concentrating on the people in the circle intently, as she does not blink during this. Everyone else appears to have their ey es closed, and I now close my eyes as well. After about five minutes of beaming our energy to the people in the circle, Martha tells us to chant Aums during our next three collective exhales. After each of our next three inhales, we collectively chant Aum in a long and resonant t one. The monotone chorus of our voices creates a haunting sound. After we finish the chants, Doris, the cantor, sings by herself with no musical accompaniment. When she finishes, we applaud her and Martha concludes the sermon, telling us to go when and as we please. (Fieldnotes 20) I wrote the above fieldnotes after attending my tenth Sunday celebration service at the spiritual center where I conducted my researc h. This vortex episode is a key event because it captures many of the community practices that I discuss in this study, particularly how members engage in collectiv e healing and find proof of the spiritual
2 realm. It is also important because it mark ed a significant shift in my fieldwork. As I discuss in Chapter 6, the day before this event, at a psychic fair, one of the owners of the Spirit Grove, Karen, introduced me to se veral individuals as a member of their community. The next day, by participating in the vortex episode, I felt like I became even more involved in my role as a member. I realized that I was gaining an insiders understanding. Many spiritual practices that I previously regarded as extraordinary were now becoming familiar and normal to me. Despite its location on the religious periphery, the New Age phenomenon is significant because of its unique influen ce upon mainstream Western culture. For instance, celebrities such as Oprah Winfre y frequently promote New Age authors and ideas which are consumed by millions of people. The New Age Movement is also significant in its global and political views. Its adhe rents see humans as being interconnected; they appropriate religious be liefs and practices fr om many different cultures, combining them into a detraditionalized whole, eliminating political, national, and ideological boundaries. Therefore, because the New Age Movement embodies particular characteristics of modernity (Heelas 1996:4), it is an important topic of sociological study. Roof (1999) found in a longitudina l study on the contemporary religious environment in the United States that fourteen percent of Americans identify as metaphysical believers and seekers. Mc Ilwaine (2001:16) interp rets Roofs (1999) reference to metaphysical believers and seekers to include New Age beliefs and practices. Speculating on this conn ection, McIlwaine (2001:16) writes:
3 A number of factors lead me to w onder if the New Age Movement is one of the places in social space that exiles from the mainline have clustered. Studying the New Age Movement, then, c ould give us clues about what is going on outside the mainline churches something much understudied. Thus, by studying how the New Age Movement grows and changes, scholars may, in turn, gain understanding into th e changes occurring within the re ligious mainstream. The New Age Movement has been studied by many social scien tists and scholars of religion, resulting in a vast academic body of knowledge on the subject. The topics covered within these studies include, but ar e not limited to, res earch on the social characteristics of New Age adherents (Possama 2000, 2005; Rose 1998; York 1995), exegetic and hermeneutical analyses of New Age beliefs and practices (Basil 1988; Bochinger 2004; Hanegraaf 1996; Lewis and Melton 1992), the history of the New Age Movement (Basil 1988; Hanegraaf 1996, 1999; H eelas 1996; Jenkins 2000; Kyle 1995; Lewis 2004; Melton 1986; Pike 2004; Suttc liffe 2003; York 1995), case studies of various New Age groups (Kuhling 1998; Lewis 2003, 2004; van Otterloo 1999), and examinations of the New Age Movements impact upon mainstream culture (Albanese 2000; Bainbridge 2004; Campbell 2008; Le wis and Melton 1992; Robbins 1988). Despite the abundance of prior research on the New Age Movement not including studies in other languages (see Kemp 2004) only a relatively small number of existing studies provide examinations and reports of what it means to be a New Ager from the perspectives of the devotees (Bloch 1 997, 1998; Coco and Woodward 2007; Corrywright 2003; Jorgensen 1982, 1992; McIlwaine 2001; Suttcliffe 2000, 2003; Possama 2000, 2002, 2005; Prince and Riches 2000; Tucker 2002; Wood 1999). Heelas (1996:7) suggests that very few New Ag e organizations or activities their teachings and their
4 practices have been studied by way of su stained participant obs ervation. Moreover, much of the English-language research that uses a qualitative methodology is based on fieldwork and interviews conducted outside the United States, such as in the United Kingdom and Australia. Thus, th ere appears to be a need fo r more qualitative studies of New Age practitioners in the United States. In an effort to address this lacuna, I conducted an exploratory ethnogr aphic study at a New Age spir itual center in the Tampa Bay area in Florida which I have called the Spirit Grove. In this thesis, I examine how members of the Spirit Grove interpret their spiritual careers; I also analyze their co mmunity practices. I begin by discussing the literature on these topics, including the caree r concept in sociology. In th e methods section, I describe the fieldwork and interviews I conducted, di scuss how I analyzed my data, and reflect upon issues and insights I experienced as a researcher. Following this, I introduce the setting of this community and examine its soci al structure, noting a discernable hierarchy that exists in this otherwise egalitarian group. Further, in two separate chapters, I analyze my research findings and discuss how they rela te to the literature. My findings indicate that Spirit Grove members typically follow a care er trajectory consisti ng of five stages. I also identify and describe five community pr actices that are performed at the center, including discovering th e self, healing the self, embraci ng diversity, creating order, and finding proof. In the conclusion, I discuss the larger implications of this study, including its limitations and possibilities for future research.
5 CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW In this chapter, I discuss scholarly resear ch that has been conducted on the New Age Movement and related topics. In the first part, I examine how rese archers have defined the concept New Age. I here review the concept of identity and how it pertains to New Age adherents. I also analyze how research ers have contributed to an understanding of New Age communities by examining, for instance, how individuals operate within them and how they are structured. Second, I explain the career concept in sociology and how it applies to the community I studied. In this part, I also provide a brief overview of the literature on conversion to new religious movements. La stly, I conclude the chapter by discussing the mandate and re search goals of this study. The New Age Movement What is New Age? A primary difficul ty with studying the New Age phenomenon lies in defining it. Dawson (2006:191) states: The [New Age] movement . is united by a common stress on the sacredness of the self and on various s piritual processes of self-discovery that have either been invented or re covered from numerous traditional and usually pre-modern or margina lized cultures of the world. In this sense, New Age spirituality is linke d with following the inner path of spiritual self-development. Such a sp iritual transformation supposedly has the potential of causing drastic (generally positive) ch ange in individuals lives as well as in the world. In
6 another definition, Suttcliffe (2003: 29) states that the term New Age lacks predictable content and fixed referents by stressing that it is always interpreted vernacularly. Therefore, a concise, standard definition of the New Age seems to be impossible without limiting its complexity. Another scholar, Van Hove (1999:116), suggests that as a consequence of its complexity, sociologists and social scientists in general seldom agree on precisely what constitutes the central features of the New Age and how it should be defined. Hanegraaf (1996:522) is arguably the onl y New Age scholar who has attempted to provide an explicit and concise definition of New Age: The New Age movement is the cultic milieu having become conscious of itself, in the later 1970s, as constituting a more or less unified movement. All manifestations of this moveme nt are characteri zed by a popular western culture criticism expressed in terms of a seculari zed esotericism. Thus, the inability of scholars to come to an agreement on what New Age is seems to confirm the eclectic and complex natu re of the New Age Movement. Even the history of the term New Age is shrouded in myth and misconception. Bochinger (2004:21) discusses where New Ag e originated and expl ains its original, intended meaning: It was probably William Blake, the Romantic poet and copperplate engraver, who coined the term. He us ed it in 1804 in the sense of a New Church as depicted by the al leged ghost-watcher, Emmanuel Swedenborg. New Age is, therefore, us ed to express the expectation that there will be a new, alternative form of religion after Christianity. New Age was popularized in the 1920s and 1930s by Alice Bailey a Theosophist, British writer, United States immigrant, and spirit channeler (Jenkins 2000:87). Given the complex and varied events surrounding the history of the New Age Movement, it is
7 not surprising that New Agers have multiple perceptions of its origins. Indeed, one of most distinguishing ch aracteristics of Ne w Age thought is its eclecticism. With ecl ecticism comes a diffuseness enta iling that there are few clear divisions and boundaries, few organizations, but rather a milieu in which people acquire, absorb, and learn a variety of beliefs and practices that they combine into their own pockets of culture (Bruce 1996: 200). New Age has thus become an umbrella term which covers a wide variety of beliefs, practic es, and lifestyles. It includes esoteric and mystical beliefs that are borrowed from conventional religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Taoism. It also incorporates elements of religion from indigenous cultures e.g., Native American s in North America or Aboriginals in Australia (Possama 2002). Further, New Ag e spirituality has appropriated the preChristian traditions of ancient Celtic, Germanic, and Nordic cultures in addition to postmodern encounter groups, self-help semina rs, and secular and sp iritual therapeutic practices. And while Neo-Pagan and Wiccan religions are sometimes associated with the New Age Movement, they represent only a sma ll facet of the totality of New Age beliefs and practices. Thus, the New Age seems to be a movement which draws upon a wide variety of religious traditions, yet, in this process, it has ultimately been detraditionalized due to its pluralistic orientation. Studying the New Age Movement compara tively with other new religions is problematic because it lacks a central, char ismatic authority figure. The New Age Movement is modernist in orientation, meaning that it does not remove its adherents from the world into a controlle d, commune-like setting wher e members have exclusive
8 commitments which (Dawson 2006:11) describe s as being indicative of a traditional cult. Rather, modernist religions like th e New Age tend to be non-communal and open to segmented and plural communities (Daw son 2006:11). Pike (2004:ix) elaborates on the problems associated with studyin g New Age religions comparatively: They are fluid networks of indi viduals, organizations, books, and Web sites. They have been difficult to study, however, because they do not have founding texts or leaders but rather are highly decentralized, antiauthoritarian, and personalized, even though some small communities within the broader re ligious movements may focus around charismatic leaders and create authoritarian structures. Even using the term New Age has become problematic, prompting many researchers to use alternate terms when referring to the movements practitioners. For example, in their ethnographic study of the British New Age Mecca, Glastonbury (a small town in Somerset, England), anthropolog ists Prince and Riches (2000), found that some people in this community had reserva tions about being referred to as a New Ager. Prince and Riches (2000:52) state that not everybody in the Alternative Community in Glastonbury would permit them selves to be described by the term around one in ten seemed definitely to spurn such a self-definiti on. This created a problem with linking the observed practices of practitioners with the New Age Movement. The authors found that even t hough some of the people rejected the label New Ager they still subs cribed to what appeared to be New Age beliefs. Thus, the New Age identity is both a label and a set of meanings. It is possible for people to reject the label New Age as an identity yet still hold beliefs that are associated with this identity. New Agers, due to the highly eclectic nature of their belief system, seem to be destined to find probl ems with any cultural or organizational
9 construction of their religious identity. Th erefore, it appears that New Agers can only satisfactorily identify themselves with rega rd to their spirituality on an individual, personal level rather than a collective one. In sum, despite the varying definitions scholars have constructed for New Age spirituality, there is one salie nt feature that stands out among them: eclecticism. New Agers appropriate many religi ous traditions and alternative spiritualities in their personalized blend of spirituality. Since there is no overseeing authority, one may fashion ones beliefs and practices according to personal preferences. This eclecticism extends beyond beliefs into the overall struct ure of the movement. There are no formal organizations or national representations. How, then, is New Age spirituality a collective movement? Since New Age spirituality is so eclectic and its adherent s are so individualistic, how do they work together to form and maintain a community? At first sight, it seems quite paradoxical for individuals who hold highly individualistic religious beliefs to embrace a community environment for their religious practices. On e answer lies in a cu ltural structure that binds them into a cohesive whole: the cu ltic milieu. Campbell (1972:121, authors emphasis) explains that because the cult ic milieu is much broader, deeper, and historically based than the contemporary movement known as the underground, it includes all deviant belief systems and their a ssociated practices. Also, the cultic milieu is not just a resulting phe nomenon of the 1960s counterculture, but it is an enduring part of every documented society (Kaplan and L w 2002:4). Thus, by its own nature, the cultic milieu is in contraposition to mainstream society; it supports a deviant culture.
10 What, then, holds the cultic milieu togeth er? Kaplan and Lw (2002:4) maintain that individuals or seekers in the cultic milieu are united by a mutual rejection of the traditional beliefs and values of their socie ties. Such seekers are understood as people who move from group to group or practiti oner to practitioner looking for wisdom, enlightenment, and self-knowledge and there by consume esoteric or occult goods and services (Jorgensen 1992:65). Overall, aside from its emphasis on seekership, the cultic milieu provides a very diverse and tolerant environment that allows members of nonconventional spiritual communities to e xpress their own individuality while simultaneously being able to take part in an association of like-minded people who exchange spiritual ideas and goods. Career and Conversion As I previously discussed, New Agers are seek ers. Seekership implies mobility between spiritual communities. Seekers transitions and experiences within these communities may be understood as a kind of career tr ajectory. Hughes ( 1958:63) defines the sociological concept of career as the moving perspective in which the person sees his life as a whole and interprets the meanings of his various attitudes, actions, and the things which happen to him. In other words, th e career is a conceptual framework that describes how individuals make sense of their life course. According to Barley (1989:49) there is an objective and a subjective aspect to ones career. At the objective level, the car eer refers to those institutional forms of participation characteristic of some social wo rld: a stream of more or less identifiable
11 positions, offices, statuses, and situations that served as landmarks for gauging a persons movement through the social milieu (Barley 19 89:49). Therefore, the objective career is defined by the official roles one occupies throughout ones life. In contrast, the subjective career is focused on the indivi duals experience of th e careers unfolding (Barley 1989:49). Thus, the subjective career is constructed by the interpretations that individuals give to their caree rs, which allows them to explain where they currently are and how they got there. It enables individuals to align themselves with the events of their biographies (Barley 1989:49). This la tter conception of th e career is strongly reminiscent of Hughes (1958) ideas, as discussed above. In my analysis, I refer to Hughes (1 958) and Barleys (1989) concept of the subjective career in examining the narratives told by members of the Spirit Grove. These stories include post hocinterpretations of their life events leading up to their discovery of the center. With regard to New Age adherents, a si gnificant part of their spiritual career involves the point where they converted to their present beliefs or found a community of fellow practitioners. Lofl and and Starks (1965) conve rsion model maintains that there are seven conditions that must occur in order for a prospective recruit to convert into a non-active, verbal conve rt and then into an active, total convert. However, Lofland (1978) states that the conversion model was not intended for use beyond his study of the Unification Church. Rather Lofland (1978) asserts that it was meant to be an example of how one might construct a mode l for a specific movement. Drawing upon Lofland and Starks (1965) model, I created a five-step model that is uniquely suited to
12 the spiritual career narratives told by many Spirit Grove memb ers (see Chapter 5). This model is not intended to be generalizab le to other spiritual communities. Conversion, however, may not be an accurate term to describe this process of transition. According to Travisano ( 1970:601), conversion implies a radical reorganization of identity, meaning, life. A nother scholar, York (1995:16), discusses a more appropriate term that is also used by Tr avisano: alternation. Alternation entails a less extreme conversion process that complime nts individuals preexisting world views (York 1995:16). Likewise, Possama (2000:372) states that this concept accommodates New Age seekers tendency to shift to one sp iritual community and then leave it after a time. Therefore, since the depth of commitment and permanency associated with a conversion cannot generally be found among New Age seekership, I prefer using the term alternation to describe the process by which they join spir itual communities. In sum, my review of the career and c onversion literature yielded usef ul conceptualizations that aided my data analysis during this study. Research Questions In my review of the literature, I had identi fied two questions as important. At the beginning of my research, my first question wa s: what does it mean to be a member of the Spirit Grove community? The second questi on I pursued was: how is this community structured? Through participant observati on and in-depth interviewing, I sought an understanding of what it m eans to be a member of this community and how it is organized. I also endeavored to gain an understanding of the Spirit Grove members
13 definitions of their spirituality from their own perspectives. In other words, what does New Age mean to them? Do they feel that this term applies to their beliefs? If not, with which term or terms do they prefer to use instead? Origina lly, I focused on these two questions during my interviews with participants and in observations. However, during the course of my study, my research questions shifted somewhat. Approximately halfway through my observations at the cen ter, I transitioned from focusing on participants beliefs to pa ying more attention to practices of the community. I other words, I began to concen trate more on what people did at the center than what they believed. This shift was due to my recognition of co llective practices that were characteristic of the Spirit Grove community. Another shift in focus occurred while I anal yzed the data. During my analysis of the interview transcripts as we ll as many of the experiences I recorded in my fieldnotes, I began to realize patterns in the narratives I had collecte d. Therefore, my question on practitioners identitie s shifted to a more dynamic and practical focus on how people became members over time. It is these two themes the communitys spiritual narrative and practices that I focus on in the analytical sections of my thesis In the next section, I discuss the research methods I used in conducting my study.
14 CHAPTER 3: METHODS In this chapter, I discuss how I received access to my re search site, the Spirit Grove community. I then describe the methods of data collection I used participant observation, interviewing, and document analys is. Next, I explain how I analyzed the data. In the final segment of this chapter, I reflect upon several methodological insights I gained during the research process. Access I have a longstanding academic interest in religion, particular ly new and marginal religious movements, and I thus wanted to study a group that practiced alternative spirituality for my thesis project. I knew about a state-wide Paga n gathering that took place once a year in northern Florida, yet I did not know of any local groups or communities in the Tampa Bay area. In the process of locating potential research sites, I discovered the Spirit Grove through an internat ional website that serves as a source of news and networking for witches and pagans of the world. By using a reference tool on this website, I was able to access links to the various events that were taking place in Florida, and I came across an advertisement for a psychic fair at the Spirit Grove in the Tampa Bay area. I called the owners to find out more about the fair and their center. Intrigued by their answers, I decided to attend the psychic fair to explore the center and to determine whether it would be an appropriate re search site.
15 In early February 2008, at the psychic fair I met with the two owners, Karen and Cassie (a mother and daughter), in person and told them that I am a sociology graduate student interested in studying alternative religions and that I was interested in conducting an ethnographic study of their center. Th e owners consented and seemed quite enthusiastic about the idea. They provided me with a current schedu le of events at the center and told me about some of the upcomi ng events for next month. I informed them that I would not be able to start conducti ng my research until the end of spring or beginning of summer. According to Karen a nd Cassie, the summer was an ideal time for me to conduct research at the Spirit Gr ove, since they had planned an abundance of workshops and events because people would have more free time to spend at the center. In May 2008, I obtained formal consent from the owners to conduct my study at the Spirit Grove. I included their written agreement along with my application to the Institutional Review Board (IRB). In late May, my study received IRB approval and I began in-depth investigation a month later. All my res earch took place between June 2008 and November 2008 at the Spirit Grove. S pirit Grove is a pseudonym. All names of people mentioned in this thesis are also pseudonyms. This was done in order to preserve the anonymity of both the commun ity and the individuals within it. Methods and Data In this section I discuss seve ral methods that I used to collect the data for this study. I chose to conduct participant observations becau se my research questions address issues that were best investigated through my imme rsion into the lived experiences of members
16 of the Spirit Grove. Further, I conducted se mi-structured interviews, during which I used a prepared interview schedule. This permitted me to carry out the interviews in a consistent format, but also in a natural, conve rsational style. Usi ng an interview schedule also allowed me to obtain a deep er understanding of particular issues that I would not be able to adequately address through particip ant observation and in formal conversations with members. Lastly, I colle cted documents (various pamphlets, brochures, and flyers that were disseminated to members at the center) and analyzed them as well. Combined, these three methods greatly facilitate d my investigation of the center. Participant Observation. I conducted 28 field visits totaling over 50 hours of participant observations, resulting in 114 single-spaced pages of fieldnotes. My observations involved attending Sunday services and various other classes, all of which are listed in appendix A. I attended the non-denominational Sunday church service, held at 10:30 a.m., 17 times. At first, I attended more discussi on-oriented classes, such as New Thought Explorations and Practical Spirituality in order to become familiar with the beliefs and ideas that circulate with in the center. Later, I focused on attending classes that involved spiritual practices in a more hands-on format, such as Yoga for Non-Pretzel People, drumming circles, and candle therapy classes. Instead of going into the field with a preconceived notion of how the community might be structured, I attempted to refrai n from imposing any previous theoretical knowledge upon this site, instead buildi ng theory from the ground up (Charmaz 2001:335). Furthermore, I felt it was important to employ the concepts used by the study participants so that the members meanings would be preserved in the research, much like
17 how the term esoteric community was used by Jorgensen (1992) to describe in members own terms a segment of th e cultic milieu he was studying. During my observations, I decided not to take jottings (Emerson et al 1995: 1738) or scratch notes due to th e nature of the sett ing. I believe that doing so would not have been conducive towards my acceptance in to the community. Making periodic notes while immersed in a small, intimate, particip atory environment might have distracted me and fellow participants. Moreover, it may have compromised my ability to gain their trust. Therefore, I always waited until I wa s removed from the setting before I recorded my observations. This usually occurred direct ly after attending an ev ent or class at the center, as I would type up my fieldnotes on a computer as soon as I got home. Interestingly, the more observations I conduc ted, especially at the church services, the shorter my fieldnotes became. At first, I attempted to recall every detail of what happened during each event, yet later I began to narrow down my fieldnotes to particularly noteworthy incident s. I found that, early on, I ce ntered my fieldnotes almost too much on the beliefs and philosophies that were discussed during the sermons and in classes. Therefore, I later focused more strongly on observable practices in order to balance out my earlier ob servations. Since the world of everyday life as viewed from the standpoint of insiders is the fundamental reality to be described by participant observation (Jorgensen 1989:14), directly involving myself and taking an active part in the co mmunity was a crucial part of my ability to the provide an emic description of the Spirit Grove. In my notes, I concentrated on how members make sense of their interactions and surroundings, yet
18 moreover I also focused on my own thoughts a nd feelings about my involvement in the setting. I thus located myself within the context of my fieldwork, taki ng note of my own emotions and thoughts during my time there, since these emotional dynamics and cognitive concerns are intertwi ned in the lived experience of doing fieldwork (Ibarra and Kusenbach 2001:415). Thus, I used my own th oughts and experiences as valid data in my fieldnotes. Furthermore, since ethnographic fieldwork cannot be accomplished without attention to the roles of the researcher (Coffey 1999:23), I documented how I negotiated and constructed ethnographic self hood in the process of my fieldwork. By this, I mean I was attentive to how I presente d myself and how I was percei ved at the center. I also guarded against becoming ove r-familiar (Coffey 1999:24). In other words, by being mindful of myself in the field, I was able to observe, participate, and gain an understanding of what it is lik e to be a member of this co mmunity while maintaining my role as a researcher at the same time. Interviewing. I conducted ten in-depth recorded in terviews with members, totaling twenty hours and 190 single-spaced pages of transcripts. These interviews were conducted with owners, ministers, teachers, and practitioners of the Spirit Grove (see appendix B for an overview of interviewee char acteristics). I used a prepared interview guideline (see appendix C), which allowed me to ask a fixed set of questions, yet also further explore topics of interest accordi ng to the direction the interview was taking according to the personality of the interviewee.
19 I sampled the interviewees in a manner that aimed at obtaining a diverse representation of the center. I thus interviewed six i ndividuals who were regular members. The other four had more official ro les, such as owning the center, being part of the ministry, or teaching a least one class there. One of the six practitioners I interviewed, Lena, was in the process of beco ming a minister at the center. I was thus able to obtain the perspective of an indi vidual who was moving through the hierarchy of roles within the community. Women comprise most of the members a nd official at the Spirit Grove. Many times, I was the only man present during a class or a Sunday service. Therefore, due to the sparse presence of men at the center, I interviewed only one man and nine women. As shown in Appendix B, the age of participan ts ranged from 23 to 56 years. All but one interviewee (Jaden, an African American wo man) are Caucasian. The education level among participants ranged from high school to a completed masters degree. Four of the interviewees were single; the ot her six were either married or in a relationship. All these characteristics of interview ees are roughly representative of Spirit Grove members at large. Document Analysis. Lastly, I collected docum ents, including pamphlets distributed for the Sunday services, workbooks for the various meetings and seminars, postings on the centers website, emails regard ing upcoming events, and similar materials to further augment my unders tanding of the setting and to add background information. Interestingly, I found that the personality of each minister clearly shows in the Sunday sermon programs that they create and distribute to attendees. While most of the classes I
20 attended did not involve the disseminati on of documents, a nota ble exception was the candle therapy class where I was given a spiral-bound workbook with information relevant to what we were being taught in the class. In addition, on two separate occasions, I asked ministers for their se rmon notes after they had led a Sunday celebration service. Referring back to thes e documents allowed me to gain a detailed understanding of beliefs and practices from the ministers perspective. Analysis By triangulating these met hods participant observati on, interviewing, and document analysis I investigated the complexities of meaning that emerged from my site. Using triangulation also helped esta blish external validity to my interpretations. Thus, by comparing the data from my fieldnotes, in terviews, and documents, I corroborated the reliability of my findings. I now discuss the techniques I used in analyzing my data sets and in developing the fina l draft of this study. In the analysis of my fieldnotes and in terviews, I employed coding (Emerson et al 1995:143) to categorize speci fic items, and memoing to elaborate on my insights during this process. I used ATLAS.ti a computer-aided qualitative data analysis program when coding and memoing. This allowed me to be very thorough in my analysis. For example, the program allows us ers to fit many codes within a small margin, as opposed to the limits that come with writing down codes by hand. I created conceptual categories during the initial open coding process and then later grouped them into focused codes. Composing memos he lped me to explore the data even further,
21 as memo-writing spurs you to start diggi ng into implicit, uns tated, and condensed meanings (Charmaz 1995:40). From these memos, I began to generate theoretical ideas that aided my writing of early drafts. Using document analysis, I searched for themes that were prevalent throughout the pamphlets, booklets, and flyers. I particul arly looked for themes relating to spiritual practices and identity narrative s. I then compared the themes I gained from analyzing documents with the themes found in my fieldnotes and interviews. I began generating theoretical ideas du ring the final phase of analyzing and interpreting my data. My th eoretical investigat ions primarily involved sensitizing concepts and employing grounded theory. According to Jorgensen (1989:112-113), the process of sensitizing concepts involves investigating whether or not the concepts generated from the research effectively apply to the empirical world thus, the data I collected. For example, I made sure the conc lusions I generated were consistent with the fieldnotes, interviews, and documents I anal yzed. By using grounded theory (Charmaz 2001:335), I allowed my analysis to be driven by the data itself. My empirical and theoretical observations, then, were gr ounded in the sense that they emerged inductively and not from existi ng theoretical constructs. The analysis and interpretation of eth nographic data is a hi ghly inductive and laborious process that involves several steps. I found that these step s are not linear, as I often returned to the data or thematic code s in order to revise or refine my emerging ideas. Thus, my overall analysis continued through several cycles.
22 Methodological Insights In this section, I discuss two methodological insights I gained as a result of my research at the Spirit Grove. The first is the importan ce of the role of the re searcher in the field setting. The second is negotiating honesty and deception. Researcher Role. Immersion is one of the most si gnificant goals that researchers strive for when entering a fiel d site. Being mindful of ones role as a researcher is important when establishi ng trust and gaining accepta nce by those in the host community. Being open about my intentions fr om the very start of my research helped prevent members suspicions of me later on in the research process. This aided my immersion into the community, as members gave me a certain identity and had me figured out. For example, the individuals at my site occasionally commented to me how funny it is that I told them I came to th e center to do research, because, in actuality, the universe brought me there for a reason, just like everyone else who comes there, and that I am no different from other members. They perceive my stated intentions to do research as just a legitimation for why I really was there: to become part of their community. From this, I have learned that insiders interpret the researchers presence within the site not in terms of the resear chers agenda, but from their own worldview. My gender is also an important aspect of my role as a researcher because it has an independent meaning at the cente r that is outside of my control. Most members of the community are women in their 40s and 50s, so I was privy to conve rsations about the patriarchal and dogmatic structure of mainst ream churches. Nearly everyone I have spoken with mentioned this at one point or another. However, I wonder how my gender
23 affected my ability to gain the position of an insider at the Spirit Grove. How many conversations was I not privy to because I was a man? Did being a man partially alienate me from the field? Conversely, my status as a father (to my newborn son) may have endeared me to them as a family man. Also, my age may have placed me into a son role with some members, since I am young enough to be their son. Nonetheless, my presence at the center as a man seemed to be regarded positively, as I recall a minister once remarked that the increasing attendance of men at the center is good, as it confirms that the New Age of human consciousness is upon us. When developing rapport with participants researchers should not only strive to understand how they are perceive d within the host setting; they should acknowledge their own feelings as well. Being able to compre hend ones presence within the site from the perspective of insiders requires that one suspend what one thinks about the site. Consequently, one must often negotiate many different feelings dur ing ones research. For instance, during the vortex episode, as illustrated at the beginning of Chapter 1, I became aware of the liminal state I had entere d into that is, simultaneously being an outsider and insider. While walking toward the vortex with everyone else, I started to feel a genuine sense of belonging in the comm unity. At the same time, I soliloquized as to why I was participating, as I felt somewhat uncomfortable performing my search for the vortex because I did not believe it ex isted. However, I found that the more I participated in similar events as those, th e less uncomfortable I b ecame. Their practices became familiar to me.
24 The researcher, at the onset of studying a new setting, is perhaps better off playing the role of a novice if he or she is to be successful in understanding what is going on there. However, the more one is involved in ones research site, the more familiar one will likely be with the setting. While this allows the research er to gain a deeper insight into the setting as an insider, it also reduces the researchers ability to see the setting as an outsider. Thus, I found my fieldnotes from the first few weeks of observation to be invaluable, as they allowed me to reflect upon the data as an outsider. After nineteen weeks of fieldwork at the Spirit Grove, I was steeped in the perspec tive of the insider and could no longer see the community from the outside. I had become familiar, although not over-familiar. Honesty and Deception. I also found that I had to ne gotiate telling the truth or lying to members about my feelings. Du ring my observations at my site, a few individuals (usually the owners) would occas ionally ask me about what I had found so far. Not wanting to commit to anything I mi ght say then, I would tell them things that they already knew about themselves, such as their focus on in dividuality and selfspirituality, their eclectic appropriation of various re ligious traditions, and their philosophy of compatibilism (a seemingly paradoxical synthesi s of free will and determinism). I sometimes wonder what my fieldwork expe riences would have been like if I had been completely honest with them about my day-to-day findings while immersed in the setting. Since the data collec tion process in participant obse rvation is one that involves a continuous inner dialogue with oneself in which todays observations may contradict
25 my findings from yesterdays sharing that information with those in the community while one is still conducting the research woul d seem to only prove detrimental to ones research. And what purpose would it serve to tell them anyway? As in everyday life, we do not share all of our soliloquies and inne r monologues with those around us, so the same should hold for the research setting as well. Thus, a certain modicum of nondisclosure seems to be a necessary component in the participation of everyday life as well as in research. In this chapter, I presented the me thodological component of my study. I discussed the manner in which I gained acces s to the Spirit Grove and the methods of data collection I used at the si te. I also discussed how I analyzed my data and some of the methodological insights I discovered through out the course of my research. I found that being reflexive about relati onships in ones research site is important in ensuring the successful initiation and continuity of ones fiel dwork. In the next chapter, I describe the main features of the Spirit Grove comm unity, including how it is structured.
26 CHAPTER 4: SETTING In this chapter, I discuss the physical setting, activiti es, and some of the characteristics of the Spirit Grove community. The Spirit Grove is unique in the Tampa Bay area, since there does not seem to be a spiritual comm unity like it in the area aside from various Wiccan and Pagan groups. Place The center is situated in an upscale, middleclass area of single family homes, often built around lakes, and upon land that used to be oran ge groves. The center is set on a large, wooded plot of land away from the main road. It is accessible from the main road by a driveway, where two small signs driven in to the ground near the road indicate its presence. Grass-grid cement pavers compri se the long driveway, which forks around a large live oak before leading to the parking lot of the center. The parking spaces, which accommodate approximately ten to fifteen ve hicles, are designated by wooden railroad ties placed at the western perimeter of the fr ont yard. A bench, seating three people, faces a large live oak tree at the western porti on of the yard next to the parking lot. A three-foot bronze statue of Kwan-Yen, the Chinese goddess of mercy, stands in front of the tree, facing the bench. A screened-in, me dium-sized in-ground pool lies at the east side of the house. Numerous plants grow around the wooden deck that is attached to the back of the house the main en trance to the center. The house is a large, two-story home
27 with two rooms and a bathroom upstairs and fi ve rooms downstairs, as well as a kitchen and second bathroom. All of the floors in the house are hardwood. The entrance to the center is facilitate d by a handicapped accessible ramp leading up to two wooden double doors with push-bars instead of doorknobs. Entering through the doors leads directly to the first room, which is the gift shop. A large wooden desk sits against the opposite wa ll, facing the front doors. Atop th e desk are the cash register, a computer LCD screen, and an assortment of items, such as stones and crystals, jewelry, medallions, as well as a stand holding schedules of the events held at the center. To the right of this main gift shop ro om lies another room containing items for sale, such as incense, tarot cards, books, essent ial oils and fragrances, statuary mainly reflecting Buddhist and Hindu religious symbolis ms and plaques, music CDs of various New Age artists, and New Age-themed gree ting cards, which are displayed on tables, shelves, and stands. (The room behind the entrance room contains a large table with a wide assortment of stands and platforms w ith several stones, crys tals, and jewelry on them.) On the south wall are several racks with display clothing, most of which are womens clothing, such as dresses and blous es, all of which look loose and flowing. Bookshelves line the north and west walls, which are filled with books on spirituality, such as The Celestine Prophecies and The Essence of Now A large, publically accessible bathroom is visible to the west of this room. To the left of the entrance room is the kitchen area. To the north is a hallway leading to the front door and a wooden staircase leadi ng upstairs. To th e east is another
28 room, which is used for the Sunday celebrati on services. To the north of the Sunday service room is a smaller room with a brick fi replace. This was the room originally used for the Sunday services before it was moved to the larger room to the south, since the increase in attendance required more space. The wooden staircase leads to a hallway, to the right of which is the yellow room, which is used for classes. This room is painted yellow, per its name, and has a futon and an armchair with a coffee table. Several folding chairs are put away in the closet; they are used for the va rious classes held there. The second, smaller bathroom is accessible from the upstairs hallway. To the west of the bathroom is a bedroom, which is not used for classes. This is the only room in the house that does not fulfill a function fo r the Spirit Grove as a spiritual center. Otherwise, both the upstairs and downstairs leve ls, as well as outside areas, are used for various events. Next, I describe the history of the Spirit Grove. In the following selection from her interview, Cassie de scribes how the Spirit Grove came to be: My Mom and I went on a trip to Lilydale, New York, which is a community of psychics. And one of her friends suggested that maybe we start a so it was a smoothie shop and then it became a smoothie shop with crystals in it, a nd then it became a crysta l shop, and then it was a metaphysical center, and so, um, probably, Id say in 2002 . we decided to get a house. The realtor told us it was zoned properly for business. It was not. And we had to do about two years of construction work, you know, moving through the bureaucracy of the county to be able to open this place. So, finally, we opened this place in April 2005. And I cant believe we bought this house in November of 2002. So this has been like six years that Ive been doing this, trying to move this dream along. Cassie explains that starting the center was an arduous endeavor whic h took several years
29 to accomplish. Even though Cassie and Karen bought the house in 2002 and started the center in 2005, they only estab lished their ministry in Janua ry of 2008 with a handful of members. During the gap between purchas ing the house and star ting the center, the owners experienced several se tbacks with meeting city a nd county codes which required many investments. Nonetheless, the Spir it Grove community has slowly grown ever since it officially opened. I witnessed the center grow during my time there from June 2008 to November 2008. For instance, th e weekly Sunday services grew from approximately ten to fifteen members in June 2008 to twenty to twenty-five members in November 2008. Although this may still seem like a small group, the service had to be moved to a larger room at the center in order to accommodate th e larger number of attendees. The classes held at the center currently range from approximately twenty people for a drum circle to only two people, including the teacher, for a spirituality discussion group. At the time of this writing, the Spirit Grove is continuing to grow. While the center was once closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, it is now open seven days a week, allowing the owners to host more classes, services, and events. Activities A wide array of activities at the cente r include weekly, biweekly, monthly, and occasional or one-time events (see appendix A for a complete listing). They are led by various teachers, which include the owners, ps ychics, and other experts. At least two classes are held at the center every day, but on some days, four or fi ve classes are offered, with Yoga being the most frequent one. Some classes meet upstairs and some meet
30 downstairs. Often, there are different classe s being held at the same times upstairs and downstairs. Since the center has a gift shop, it dr aws a significant amount of people who consume spiritual goods, but do not attend any serv ices or classes. This aspect of the center strongly resembles an audience cult format, whereas the therapist-client orientation of many of the classes offered s uggests a client cult format as discussed by Stark and Bainbridge (1985). The center makes no profit from the Sunday services. All profits come from retail sales in the gift shop and from a share of th e teachers profits when they hold classes or offer services. Fees are charged for particip ation in all classes, yet not for the Sunday service. However, sometimes teachers take love donations which implies that the fees are not mandatory but generally encouraged. Many of the classes that are held at th e center focus on healing oneself of the negativity experienced in daily life. Other classes are educational in that they teach participants various spiritual tools and techniques, such as astrology and candle therapy. Some classes are discussion oriented, such as Practical Spiritualit y and New Thought Explorations. More physically involved classes are also o ffered, such as a healing drum circle, yoga, Tai Chi, and belly dancing. Also held at the center pe riodically are psychic fairs, guest appearances from authors in th e New Age community, Wicca classes, and full moon circles.
31 Profile and Social Structure According to the owners, the Spirit Grove has approximately one hundred regularly attending members, with approximately nine ty percent of them being women. Roses (1996) quantitative study on the social characteristics of th e New Age Movement reveals that women outnumber men from 70 percent to 30 percent. Thus, compared to the New Age Movement overall, the membership of the Spirit Grove is more heavily female. The age of members ranges from early 20s to la te 60s and early 70s, with the most common age in the 40s and 50s. Most of the member s at the center are White, middle-class, and have at least a high school education. Ma ny members have associates and bachelors degrees, and a few have masters degrees. My interviewees (see Appendix B) are thus roughly representative of the Spirit Grove community members. There is a discernable hierarchical orga nization of the roles of those in the community. In Figure 4.1, I outline this stru cture. The lowest strata, consumers, Figure 4.1: Hierarchical Stru cture of Roles within the Spirit Grove Community Owners Ministry Teachers Practitioners (Members) Seekers Consumers
32 constitutes the largest number of all people who come to the center. Consumers are typically gift shop customers only; they ente r to purchase various goods, such as incense, candles, crystals, etc. Cassie, the co-o wner, explained in her interview: We have a just kind of a shopping group, you know, not really like wanting to get too much involved, bu t just kind of wanting to see the things and maybe they like crystals and they want to get crystals, but theyre not necessarily they dont want to become entrenched in the lifestyle. The more a consumer frequents the gift shop, th e more likely that person is to sample a class. Therefore, consumers are always poten tial seekers and practitioners. Next, seekers are individuals who actively explore religious solutions to their problems (Dawson 2006:80). Seekers attend partic ular classes when they are offered, yet have no real commitment to the center and do not particip ate in other events. In contrast, regular attendees of church services, classes, or other events coul d be called practitioners. Next, teachers are the recognized experts in the community. They lead various courses and are responsible for providing the di verse array of offerings that characterizes the Spirit Grove. They may or may not have any other involvement in the community in terms of attending church services or other clas ses. Further, the ministry is composed of teachers who have received their ministerial license. These individuals underwent some form of formalized spiritual training pertin ent to the beliefs and practices found at the Spirit Grove. There are no nati onal or regional seminaries under which they operate. Currently, there are five ministers that ma ke up the ministry of the church. Each minister conducts the Sunday service on a rotatio nal basis. Together, the ministry covers an assortment of different religious and spiritu al beliefs and practices. Lastly, the owners
33 are responsible for managing the center, incl uding making decisions on what activities to offer. The owners hold a unique position at th e center, as they have the most authority and responsibility, yet they pe rsonally offer or lead only a small amount of services. No official membership is available for people who wish to join this community; there are no card-carrying members. Jane, a minister, referred to the center as a memberless church, which seems an appropria te description since there are no official requirements or expectations for people to attend church or classes. One may attend whatever events one wants, provided one is able to pay for them. Everyone who shows up and participates will be a member after a point in time. However, the Spirit Grove offers a training program to interested indivi duals who desire to embark on a trajectory toward becoming a minister. During my resear ch at the center, there was one individual, Lena, who was in training for the ministry. In this chapter, I described the physical se tting of the Spirit Grove, noting its inner and outer features and I brie fly described how the owners started the center. The activities include classes, services, and ev ents held weekly, biweekly, monthly, and occasionally (see Appendix A), most of which require a fee in order for one to attend. There is a loose hierarchy at the center, which I described in more deta il. In the next two chapters, I describe the major findings of my research at the Spirit Grove.
34 CHAPTER 5: THE SP IRITUAL NARRATIVE In this chapter, I introduce the sociological c oncept of career and appl y it to the narratives told by Spirit Grove members. I describe the spiritual career as a dynamic process consisting of five stages: (1) disenchantment with prior beli efs, (2) crisis, (3) desiring new meaning and belonging, (4) discovery of th e Spirit Grove, and (5) post hoc spiritual legitimation of this journey. I also discuss the concept of conversion and its relevance to the spiritual career. The concept of career plays an important ro le in my analysis of the Spirit Grove, since in order to understand peoples thoughts, feelings, and actions we need to inquire into how they arrive at definitions of th e situations in their lives (Karp 1996:75). Hughes (1958:63) definition of career is very useful; he defines it as the moving perspective in which the person sees his life as a whole and interprets the meanings of his various attitudes, actions, and the things which happen to him. Based on Hughes (1958), I define the spiritual car eer as a kind of life trajectory. It is an interpretation of the changes, developments, and transitions that occur in ones spiritual life. Accordingly, I look at how participants become members of the Spirit Grove community by examining how they construct and interpret their careers in a spiritual perspective. It is important to emphasize that people do not usually find the Spirit Grove at the start of their spiritual journey. Likewise, fi nding the Spirit Grove is not necessarily an endpoint; it may not be the conclusion to a me mbers spiritual career future changes in
35 ones beliefs and community memberships are po ssible. Most individuals come to the center after having tried other pa ths first. Often, they failed to find a spiritual community where they belong. Figure 5.1 illustrates the spiritual career that is typical of Spirit Grove practitioners. Figure 5.1: Spiritual Career of Ty pical Spirit Grove Practitioners The first necessary stage is for members to ex perience difficulties, struggles, or feelings of disillusionment with their prior religious beliefs or communities to which they belonged. This disenchantment could be a re cent occurrence or a longstanding issue. I will give several examples to bette r illustrate this stage. Rebecca, for instance, became disillusioned by church tithes twi ce. The first time she became disillusioned was when her Jewish temple made it a requirement that members tithe a certain percenta ge of their yearly salary. She then left the temple and, some time later, started attending a Unitarian church. In addition to her problems with the Unitarian church being too Christian, she again had to deal with financial matters pertaining to her religious comm unity. In her interview she e xplained that the church had made plans to build a new building and began asking for more money from their congregants: Post hoc spiritual legitimation of ones career Discovery of the Spirit Grove Desire for new meaning and belonging CRISIS Disenchantment with prior beliefs
36 They built a building and then they wa nted more money. I understand that they need the money, but then I deci ded that I wasnt going to do this again. You had to sign a piece of pa per and say that you were going to give and then you would get a bill ever y month. And I said, Naah, thats just not right. Thus, for Rebecca, both the temples and c hurchs focus on capitalism and materialism tainted her spiritual commitment. This cau sed Rebecca to reconsider membership in those communities and eventually leave. Barbara, recalls the difficulties she experi enced after she realized her Presbyterian church could no longer provide her the fulfillment she needed: Ive tried avoiding religion and spirit uality probably because I thought it was just causing me too much confusi on and pain, but in the end, I really had to be among it. I had to be enmeshed in it because the absence of it just doesnt fit me. There came a time when I was going to the Presbyterian church here in town that, even pulling you know, having my boyfriend drop me off we were pulling up in the parking lot and I was so confused about religion I w ouldnt say lost, but thats not a good word I was floundering so much. I w ould start crying in the parking lot about going into there. And hes lik e, Why are we taking you to this place that makes you so unhappy? And that went probably for, off and on, for the last four of five months of the nine that I went there. Because I felt torn in so many directions; th ings didnt make sense, and putting religion onto it just kind of putting that template over the things that already didnt make sense, trying to explain them with religion made them feel more painful. I was pushing away all religion and everything, and it took me that to realize that I needed it in my life. I simply had to find a more open-minded path. Barbara needed religion and spirituality in her life, but was not able to find fulfillment through conventional religious communities sin ce they lacked openness and receptivity to new ideas. She realized that she needed to search for a community that would better suit her beliefs. Next, after experiencing some disenchant ment with their beliefs, practitioners typically experienced a life crisis that was not spiritual in nature. Some examples of
37 these crises include the death of a family me mber, financial difficulty (i.e., bankruptcy), a severe medical condition (i.e., cancer), divo rce or ending a relationship, substance abuse (i.e., alcoholism), loss of a job, the onset of depression, and relocation. This crisis is a central component of Spirit Grove members past lives. Several members I spoke with before and after classes and Sunday services to ld stories about how th eir prior beliefs did not work for them and how they experienced a crisis some time afte r this realization. For example, in an interview, Sharon, a regular member, makes reference to her struggle with her prior beliefs and the crisis which followed: I got forced to go to church as a ch ild. I didnt feel like I was getting anything out of it other th an believing in God and praying. So later on in my life, I tried the Baptist Church, which wasnt good. I felt they were very judgmental and very cliquish. Th en I arrived at a crossroads in my personal life. Things just werent working for me. Sharon experienced long-term difficulties with her prior relig ious beliefs and communities. She then arrived at a crossroads or crisis point in her life. At that point, she realized that things were not working for her and that she needed a change. Brenda, a new member, experienced a cr isis after relocating to Tampa; she felt especially isolated. She then sought out a community in which she could meet with others and practice her spiritua lity. Another seeker, Richard, told me in a conversation that he left his fundamentalist church becau se their beliefs no longer made sense to him and that he had become interested in non-dogma tic spirituality. Shortly before coming to the Spirit Grove, he had a divorce and his bank foreclosed on his home. And Lena informed me that she had been largely confined to her house due to her cancer treatment. The experience of these crises is often followed by the third stage in the spiritual career.
38 Third, while experiencing a crisis, member s then begin to desire new meaning and a sense of belonging in their liv es; at some point, they begin searching elsewhere. This marks the next phase in practitioners spiritua l careers. For example, after she left the Unitarian church, Rebecca went for a peri od without being a part of any religious community, which she describes in the following as being a very difficult time in her life: I went through three years of ju st absolute hell nowhere to go, really no support to really turn to in terms of really getting out of your own life and knowing there is somethi ng more, or something better within yourself, or outside of your self, whatever it was. Rebeccas story shows that, even though sh e desired new meaning and belonging, she went a period in her life wit hout it. She left her church and experienced a three-year period where she was not part of any religi ous community. Even though she wanted to have spiritual meaning and a sense of be longing in her life, she could not find a community that offered those things. For many members, the desire for new meaning and belonging caused them to seek out a new community in which to prac tice their beliefs. Barbara, for example, decided that she needed to find a more ope n-minded path in order to fulfill her needs because she had to be enmeshed in religi on because the absence of it just doesnt fit me. After relocating, Brenda needed to find a community that would accept her and where she would practice her spiritualit y. Following Richards divorce and houses foreclosure, he sought out a pla ce where he could learn more about his new spiritual path. Thus, while experiencing crises followi ng their disillusionmen t with their prior beliefs, these individuals felt the need to sear ch outside of the mainstream religions and
39 move into the non-conventional cultural periphery the cultic milieu in order to find a religious community that would be rewarding for them. The fourth stage in practitioners spiritual careers is when they discover the Spirit Grove. I found that most people reported discov ering the center either by driving by the driveway entrance (where their sign is displa yed), through advertisements in local health, wellness, and alternative spirituality magazine s, or online. Sharon, for example, saw one of their advertisements in a wellness magazi ne she picked up while shopping at a local health food store. She was alre ady interested in a lternative spirituality and meditation, so the advertisement caught her attention when she was perusing the magazine. Similarly, David discovered the center through an ad he saw in a local magazine while looking for crystals for spiritual purposes. Rebecca, however, was introduced to the Spirit Grove by a neighbor who was already a member. Afte r talking with her friend about their new beliefs and the center, she then started attending S unday services. Rebecca said that she did this without any prior exposure beyond the conversations w ith her neighbor. Others went to the Spirit Gr ove to browse the gift shop or to take a class, such as meditation or discussion group. After thes e initial experiences, members reported becoming further involved with the center by attending more classes, frequenting the center more often, and, for some, even beco ming teachers and ministers. While some people stay at the center, such as my interv iewees and many additiona l practitioners with whom I spoke, other people never return after their first or first few visits. However, when individuals become more deeply involved in the community meaning that they become practitioners they tend to re-interpret thei r discovery of the cen ter in a spiritual
40 way. It is to this last phase that I now turn. The last stage of the practitioners spiritu al career is disti nguished by a shift in how individuals interpret their journey. After becoming members of the Spirit Grove community, many practitioners look back upon th eir spiritual career and interpret their discovery of the Spirit Grove as being divi nely guided. Members of this community often construct a post hoc spiritual narrative e xplaining how they were actually guided to the center, instead of their discovery bei ng a chance event due to a social relationship. To many members, it is not by mere accident or coincidence that they have discovered the center. Rather, they retroactively attri bute a cosmic significance to their discovery of the Spirit Grove. For instance, Lena tells the following stor y about the day she decided to visit the center: I drove past here all the time to go to the health food store, and one day, somethin was just tellin me to stop in here. And so I stopped in and they just happened to be holding that pr actical spirituality discussion group, and, um, I came in and I joined the gr oup and we talked and I was just like Wow. This is really cool. Barbara describes a similar ex perience in her interview: I thought, Well, I have all this time. Its Wednesday, lets go check them out. So I came up and I talked to Karen oh my gosh for probably an hour, and we just chatted and she told me about the services and all this stuff. And it was a friendly, advice-f illed conversation a nd I just told her that I had always driven by and one da y I just decided to go in. It was strange. Both Lenas and Barbaras accounts describe th eir decision to visit th e Spirit Grove as an unplanned and spontaneous event. Lena clea rly explains that there was an external influence that something suggested she go; Barbara seems bewildered as to what
41 persuaded her to stop by: it was strange. Thus, for both of them, an outside influence guided them to the center. Some members even describe how they were led to the center more than once. In her interview, Sharon, a regular member, attr ibutes spiritual guida nce as the reason why she came back to the Spirit Grove after it temporarily closed: Sharon: I came to a meditation, and I was excited about this new path. I had done a lot of reading, getting all this information. It was exciting. Me: And then you went to the meditation. So then what happened? Sharon: And shortly thereafter, they clos ed to renovate due to problems with the county, so I was at home and raising my children and was happy with that. And then I came back divinely guided. Thus, for Sharon, the reason why she return ed to the center was not only because it excited her and that she enjoyed going, it was also due to the influence of an exterior, spiritual agency. Karen, the owner, corroborates these legi timations, explaining that she believes people come to the Spirit Grove not by their own agency, but through divine intervention: The only thing we did was advertise our center and our products in one of the magazines and then people came Its just like th ey do now. You can see, we dont have any real presence into the community. Weve got two little signs out in front, and people come They come when they need it. They find it. I dont know how, its just that they do. I have no idea how. People come by here all the time. (Im itates someone elses voice) I drive by here every single day! I didnt kn ow this place was here! Whoa! God brings them here. We dont do anything. Karen sees herself as only having a very minimal role in how people discover the center. Rather, she attributes agency to the center. Thus, each of account seems
42 to tell the story of how they found the Spirit Grove as being a reversed discovery. They did not find the center; the center or a divine entity found them. All of the above accounts remove individua l agency from members. Individuals come to the Spirit Grove because God decided they should be there. Similarly, the owners, Karen and Cassie, describe that th ey purchased the property because they felt they were spiritually guided to do so. Sharon even explains that the Spirit Grove owners decision to buy the house was not of their own choice, but accord ing to a larger, divine plan: I think Karen and Cassie were somehow picked for this and it came to them. They were somehow divinely pick ed for this. So there will be more [centers similar to the Spirit Grove]. I think there are angels and saints and ascended masters all around us and all over the place. Theyre setting us up for more love and joy on this planet. Sharons account explains that sh e feels as if the owners were divinely chosen to create a community. According to her, the Spirit Grove is but one of many spiritual centers that will be established throughout the world by di vine beings who will guide people to start them. She utilizes a post hoc spiritual narr ative not only to interpret her own spiritual career, but to describe th e origin of the owners of the center as well. Constructing post hoc spiritual narratives lets members legitimate how and why they discovered the center. They interpret th eir life path as bei ng spiritually significant and that they were externally guided by a divine force to seek out the Spirit Grove. Discovering the Spirit Grove provides memb ers a way in which they introduce new spiritual meaning into their lives. Lastly, several members, as well as the owners, even legitimated my own
43 presence at the center as bei ng divinely guided. The fact that I came there to do research, they felt, was just an excuse for me to hang out at the center and eventually become a part of the community. In their view, I was led to the Spirit Grove; I did not decide to go there on my own. Thus, these spiritual legiti mations may be used by members to explain anyones presence in their community within the parameters of their worldview. The spiritual career is essentially a narrati ve used to construct a meaningful sense of identity for practitioners. However, what seems like personal narratives told by individuals could be viewed as an organiz ational narrative (Loseke 2008). Loseke (2008:669) explains: Organizational narratives of identity are created by the organizers and workers in ongoing organizations, programs, and groups designed for people who evaluate themselves, or w ho have been evaluated by others, as having troubled identities in need of repair. The Spirit Grove, then, has created an organi zational narrative which focuses on repairing the self; it communicates to members that they are in need of such healing. (I will soon discuss this in more detail in Chapter 6.) Since what people de fine as real is real in its consequences (Thomas and Thomas 1928), the existence of an organizational narrative influences how individuals in terpret their careers once they decide to become a member of the community. Hence, the organizationa l narrative informs i ndividuals personal narratives. In Chapter 2, I asked if N ew Agers can only sa tisfactorily identify themselves with regard to their spirituality on an individual, pers onal level. Given the results of my analyses, this does not seem to be the case. Indeed, it seems that they adopt an organizational narrative th e spiritual career when cons tructing their new identity.
44 Discovering the Spirit Grove was an impor tant stage in prac titioners spiritual careers, as they found a community where they could obtain new meaning and a sense of belonging in their lives. In many cases, this process would normally be defined as a conversion experience. Howeve r, for practitioners of Ne w Age spirituality, the term conversion does not accurately describe that experience. Since conversion implies a radical re-organization of identity, mean ing, life (Travisano 1970:601), it does not adequately describe what Spirit Grove practit ioners experienced. As I will discuss in Chapter 6, members embrace diversity among one another at the center; they may hold differing beliefs and appropriate spiritual pr actices from a wide variety of religious traditions and innovations. Their goal is not to have uniformity of belief among members, but everyone seeking their personal truths. Alternation seems to play a significant role in the spiritual career of practitioners at the Spirit Grove. Their na rratives illustrate the alternation process described by Possama (2000), Travisano (1970), and York (1995). Alternation, then, is a much better concept, since it entails a less extreme conversi on process that compliments individuals preexisting wo rld views (York 1995:16). Spirit Grove members do not usually experience a drastic, life-changing moment when they discover the center. The alternation process is a more gradual conversion, in that individuals do not immediately make firm commitments within spiritual comm unities; they often remain more fluid and ephemeral. Since, after experiencing a crisis, members began seeking new meaning and a sense of belonging with others, they were ope n to new ideas and growth. When they find
45 the Spirit Grove a community in which seekers are mobile they, much like in Possamas (2000:372) study, might visit one or many groups or simply stop seeking for a while. This is because alternation entails continuous mobility and that members do not radically change their beliefs and pr actices. Rather, they maintain a loosely structured community where they may ente r and leave freely without making firm commitments. Alternation adequately describes the relationship between seekers and practitioners at the center. Seekers sample one or two classes and then move on to other religious communities to suit heir needs. Pr actitioners are seeker s who, after attending a number of classes or events develop a bond with the commun ity and decide to stay and commit to the center, thus becoming members. According to my interviewees narratives, they had transitioned at some point to from being seekers to being full members. This marks members transition to focusing their commitment in this particular Bund, which, according to Heatherington (1994:2) is: An elective form of sociation, in whic h the main characteristics are that it is small scale, spatially proximate and maintained through the affectual solidarity its members have for one anothe r in pursuit of a particular set of shared beliefs. Thus, the Spirit Grove community, as a Bund, seems to promote alternation, since it is open to the public and draws many seeker s who are not committed members of the community, but who rather part ake in particular services and may move on to other religious and spiritual communities. Often, I met individuals at Sunday services and classes that I never saw again during my re gular attendance at the center. For those individuals who stay, the app eal of belonging to a cohesive group may cause them to stop
46 seeking and become consistent attendees, thus, embarking upon a new phase in their career at the Spirit Grove by becoming practitioners. In this chapter, I examined how the sp iritual career of the typical Spirit Grove practitioner unfolds. I deconstructed each step of the career process and analyzed the narratives told by my informants which illustra te this trajectory. In the first stage of practitioners spiritual careers, they report experiencing proble ms with their prior beliefs. Then, at some point, they experience a crisis in their lives that causes them to search for new meaning in their lives and sometimes to seek a sense of belonging in a new community. During some point after this, pract itioners discover the Spirit Grove. They attend classes and services and became memb ers of the community. Once they find the Spirit Grove a place where they may practice their spirituality with accepting, tolerant, and like-minded others they adopt the orga nizational narrative a nd they spiritually legitimate their discovery of the Spirit Grove.
47 CHAPTER 6: COMMUNITY PRACTICES In this chapter, I examine five practices th at pertain to the Spir it Grove: (1) discovering the real self, (2) hea ling the self, (3) encouraging dive rsity, (4) boundaries and rules, and (5) manifestations of the spiritual world. I conclude this chapter by discussing my findings within the context of the academic literature on these issues. Discovering the Real Self To be a denizen of the Spirit Grove means that one believes that each person owns an essential identity a real se lf. Turner (1976) identifie s two ways individuals accept evidence of their real selves. The first is through an institutional locus, where the real self is seen as something that is accomp lished or arrived at. From an institutional locus, the real self is revealed through the deliberate pursuit of institutionalized goals (Turner 1976:991). The second means of accepting the real self, according to Turner (1976), is through the impulsive locus, where the true self is seen as something to be discovered. In this sense, the real self is revealed only wh en inhibitions are lowered or abandoned (Turner 1976:993). Thus, accordi ng to Turners (1976) study, Spirit Grove members would be classified as impulsive. One spiritual practice in the community is to uncover who one really is underneath all their self-created problems and illusions, and what they allow the external world to impos e upon them. Members use various spiritual technologies from yoga and meditation to candle burning and drumming to uncover
48 the real self which they have ignored and stifled in the past. For example, during one Sunday celebration service, Doris, th e cantor, offered a testimony of a real self reali zation she recently experienced: Doris tells us how she had a vision r ecently where she saw her inner real self. She says that when she sa w her inner self, it was absolutely beautiful in appearance and in spirit. At the time, she was experiencing a personal trouble, and she was seekin g guidance from within. She then received a message from her inner se lf, which she repeated aloud (the actual words are printed in the program). After she tells us her story, we begin a meditation chant where we si ng the communication she received. Doris received a message from her real self dur ing a time of personal cr isis. This is very much like, if not actually, glossolalia, since the words are not of a ny particular language, but are divinely inspired by Doris. This essential real self is a being who has complete control over his or her life and who is sacred and divinely empowered. Affirmations to ones real self, such as the following passage, are regularly recited by congregants during the close of the Sunday services: I am God-Goddess. I am love. I am creator. I am divine. I am glorious. I am beautiful. I am all that is. Holy is my being. My universe begins and ends with me. All is perfect with my creations. Amen, and so it is. This passage is often printed in the Sunda y service program, and is an epitomizing statement of the Spirit Groves members identity narrative. Individuals at the center endor se an essentialized concepti on of the self, in that
49 one has to peel through layers of socialization and indoctrinat ion to reach the core person of which one really is. As shown in the preceding affirmation, positive and empowering qualities are inherent in the real self. One does not only feel and express love, one is love. One does not worship or aspi re to emulate a god or goddess, one is God-Goddess. During a spiritual discussion group, Kare n (who led the discussion) explained what each of us being God-Goddess means: Now your body, in physical manifestation, you are God incarnate. Now when you say youre God-Goddess, its ha rd for people to take that in. Your body is just a manifestation of the bigger manifestation. You are God and you have manifested this body, and so you have created a separate entity so you can experien ce this reality; your body is a tool. Karen mentions that it is diffi cult for people to conceive of themselves as being a divine entity. Hence, one of members main spiritua l goals is to overcome their egos and allow their true divinity or real self to surface. In this sense, they are discovering a new sacred self. Thus, a vital component in discov ering the real self for members of the Spirit Grove is recognizing that they are God-Goddess. Since most people have difficulty thi nking of themselves as God-Goddess, individuals who come to th e Spirit Grove often must unl earn their prior religious indoctrination. Jane, a veteran minister who recently joined the cen ters ministry, spoke with me after a class one afternoon about new members, and how many must go through this unlearning process. I recalled the convers ation later that eveni ng in my fieldnotes: Jane says that she thinks some people who initially come in here can only relate to God on a transcendent level because thats the way theyve been taught to believe. By coming to the center, they will ev entually see that God is inside them and everyone and everything else in the world. She
50 thinks thats why they offer prayers to God and treat God as an exterior entity sometimes in the services. Saying that there is a correct way to think about God implies that there is a favored belief that the ministry communicates to individuals who come here. That God is within you that you are God-Goddess seems to be a central tenet among the minist ry at the center. However, not all of those in the congrega tion tend to believe that, especially newer members. Therefore, they are regarded as be ing in a transitory stag e (i.e., in a conversion period) where a significant part of discovering the real self is discovering that God is immanent rather than transcendent. According to Mason-Schrock (1996:177), the true self is a powerful fiction, and that people in Western cultures can feel be reft, incomplete, and confused without this construct. A significant portion of Spirit Gr ove practitioners spir itual work involves discovering the real self, theref ore it could be because they feel something is missing or wrong in their lives. Perhaps this may expl ain why members feel they need to heal themselves. Further, Mason-Schrock (1996: 177) argues, people i nvoke the notion of a true self or real self when they believe th ey are acting consistently with closely held values that is, when they are acting authe ntically. Given that Spirit Grove members conceive of the real self as being God-Goddess or the unive rsal life-force, then acting authentically means acting as a divine bei ng. In the next section, I will show how practitioners practice healing the self. Healing the Self As listed in Appendix A, many of the classes and services offered at the Spirit Grove
51 focus on repairing ones own or anothers dama ged self. The seeker or practitioner may choose from a variety of methods in which to seek such healing. The notion that one needs to heal a wounded or damaged self is a prominent idea at the Spirit Grove. This is understandable, since individua ls tend to discover the cen ter after experiencing a life crisis. The services and classes offered by the center take on a self-help format where practitioners engage in a colle ctive act of self-affirmation and spiritual healing, such as energy channeling or Reiki. These practices often take the form of guided meditations that focus on healing events where all me mbers share their healing energy with one another, usually involvi ng physical contact. An excellent example of such practices is the group healing activity described above in the vortex episode. Not only did we focus the healing session on several particular members during that event, but we created a reciprocal format where each person in the room was both healing and being healed by another. The techniques used to heal others were typically through touch, b eaming, that is, sending out energy from a distance, and music. The physical contact that is shared am ong members, such as putting our hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us, seems to create a more intimate and comfortable environment for each person there. Physical contact reminds us that we are embodied selves and not just spiritual beings tr apped in a fleshly shell. Consequently, the body serves an important role in the healing process, in that members selves may be healed through physical cont act (e.g., group healing sessions ) and physical activity (e.g., yoga or dance).
52 Even at a drumming circle, there wa s a healing session afterwards, which involved directing our ener gy to a woman seeking healing while a Reiki master performed healing work on her: Samuel, a Reiki master, traces specia l symbols in the air above certain areas of the womans body while Diane, a practitioner, lays flat on the massage table. Without touching he r, he uses his hands, holding them over her in some places, such as the forehead and the abdominal area. Looking very intense and focused, he draws counterclockwise spiral-like symbols above her forehead and abdomen, appearing to draw something out of her body. Soon after doing this he switches di rection, using clockwise spiral symbols to infuse he r with positive energy after draining out the negative. Hannah, the drum-cir cle leader, periodically points the end of her djembe toward Diane s body while playing along with us, directing a flow of sound and energy toward her. Members also use non-physical healing pract ices during classes and services that are often linked with spiritual messages. The following fieldnote excerpt is from a Sunday service led by Jeffrey, a guest minister and acknowledged psyc hic at the center: Jeffrey tells us about the year 2012 and how it signals a time of great spiritual awakening and transformation for humanity. He talks about how we need to get over and fix our spir itual blocks, such as dealing with emotional issues that keep one from healing spiritually. He emphasizes that one has to accept oneself fully and to love all parts of oneself even the things we dont like about ourselves. Jeffreys sermon about 2012 gives a sense of urge ncy to the idea of healing ones self and the need for self-acceptance. Members in this community often learn about the importance of healing through lectures and sermons such as Jeffreys. In sum, healing at the Spirit Grove takes place in many ways, through physical contact and through non-physical energy work and intellectual lear ning. Self-healing, then, was a prevalent theme among the various cl asses, services, and events held there. Church sermons consistently focused on self-h ealing and various exercises in order to let
53 go of unwanted, negative energy. Practitioners assemble in order to fix or heal each others selves. Yet this implies that there is a damaged self currently in need of help. I found it interesting that there was an assumption by teachers and ministers that, if one showed up, then one must be in need of healing. Thus, the self as conceived of at the center is constantly being wounded or damaged. Irvine (2000), in her study of members of a Codependents Anonymous self-h elp group, finds that merely attending a meeting is enough to qualify one as being co -dependent. To the group, ones attendance at a meeting is enough to merit ones codependence. Similarly, coming to the Spirit Grove is proof enough to members that one is need of healing. Thus, there exists a tension between discovering the divine, real self and healing ones current self. Ones healing never seems to be finished, even though the goal is to have a full realization that one is already perfect. Encouraging Diversity New Age has become a popular term to descri be the highly individu alistic and eclectic form of spirituality practiced at the Spirit Grove. However, ma ny members do not like the term New Age and do not use it when de scribing their beliefs and practices. In fact, they do not use any formal label to desc ribe themselves as a collectivity other than that they are connected with the universe (i.e., we are God-Goddess). During my research, I rarely heard anyone refer to themse lves as belonging to a religion or spiritual system. The only time I witnessed someone referring to herself as belonging to a particular religion was during Janes S unday sermon, where she talked about New
54 Thought as being her religion. It was not assumed or expected that others share her religious affiliation. This is one example illu strating that, at the Spirit Grove, labels are largely irrelevant. The communitys encouragement of divers ity is a feature th at many members find attractive. Brenda, a new member of the community who recently relocated to Tampa from out-of-state, explained to me in an info rmal conversation after a church service what it is about the Spirit Grov e that she likes so much: The only places in Brendas small town where she could go and share spiritual experiences with people were in traditional churches, which always sought to dogmatically tell her what is right and wrong and how to act and think about herself and th e world. Members were always reminded that they were Christians and that they had to accept certain things about the bible. Brenda says that it was t oo rigid and close-minded. Since no one really tries to affix a labe l on her here, it makes her feel free and accepted. She doesnt have to live up to anyone elses standards anymore. Were all one here. Its so nice, she told me. The fluidity and tolerance regarding different beliefs at the Spirit Grove strongly appeals to Brenda and makes her feel free and conn ected with others. She feels united with fellow members who follow their own individuali zed spiritual paths. The lack of dogma, or forceful messages imparted to individuals at the center wa s a major part of her desire to become a member. In another example, Gwendolyn, a spirited wo man in her 70s, further explained to me what makes the Spirit Grove a diverse community: Gwendolyn, explains that we are ever ything and nothing here, so theres no point in trying to put ourselves in a particular mold and call ourselves this or that, New Age or whatever. She says that this place is like a buffet where you can have a little bit of this and whole lot of that one day, and then have something completely different another day. She tells me that this is one of the greates t things about the Spirit Grove.
55 According to Gwendolyn, individuals at the cen ter cannot be labeled since they are so inclusive and eclectic. She explains that the buffet-style religion practiced at the Spirit Grove allows members to pick and choose mean ings and practices. In order to create a non-confrontational environment, members take a non-critical stance toward one anothers beliefs. This is i ndicative of religious individua lization, since, according to Luckmann (1967:99) once religion is defined as a private affair, the individual may choose from the assortment of ultimate m eanings as he sees fit guided only by the preferences that are determ ined by his social biography. Thus, in religious individualism, individuals crea te what ultimately works for them, instead of adhering to an established doctrine. Gwendolyns comm ents illustrate this practice well. Why would individuals who are on a pe rsonal, self-styled path towards enlightenment seek out other people with whom to practice and discuss their spirituality? At first glance, it seems paradoxi cal that such individualists w ould want to get together as a community. But the Spirit Grove has crea ted a setting where in dividuals professing expertise on alternative spiritual practices make their knowledge and wisdom available through seminars and classes. Although everyone is on their own path, mutual collaboration between individuals allows for a beneficial exchange of ideas, goods, and services that augment one anothers spiritual journey without any forc e or pressure. In sum, members encourage and embrace diversity, maximizing the cohesion between individuals at the center in their shared rejection of the paradigms, the orthodoxies, of their societies (Kaplan and 2002:4). Thus, members of the Spirit Grove focus on finding their own spiritual truth, rather than accepting established doctrine. This
56 pluralistic orientation to spiritual knowle dge, as opposed to a uniquely legitimate one, along with deviating from conventional religi ons, places the Spirit Groves organizational structure firmly into the category of a cult, according to Wallis (1976) typology. Further, the Spirit Grove fits two of Stark and Bainbridges (1985) three cult typologies. First, it is an audience cult, since many Ne w Age adherents simply consume New Age ideas and goods, giving the movement no formal or lasting organiza tion. Second, it is a client cult in that New Age centers, such as the Spirit Grove, host teachers who offer various services, much resembling the relatio nship between a therap ist and a client. However, it does not resemble a cult moveme nt because it is not highly organized and since New Age communities typically allow members to move in and out of other religious communities and do not require exclusive memberships. Creating Order While there is a great amount of openness a nd freedom among members of the Spirit Grove, it is not a chaotic environment. Th ere are acceptable and unacceptable levels of spiritual contents and performances at the Sp irit Grove. In fact one can be too New Age. In the following, I give several ex amples of how order is created through sanctions and agreements. Jane, a new minister at the center, expl ained to me what is meant by being too New Age: And my thoughts on the Spirit Grove are one of the reasons why I like them is because theyre really not too New Age-ish. You know, like a lot of the New Age stores well, first of all, they say theyre a New Age
57 store, and then they have all these psychic fairs and th ey have all the psychics and the laying on hands. Th e Spirit Grove doesnt do that. Janes comments indicate that there are spirit ual practices that she would rather not host at the Spirit Grove. This seems to imply that a measure of moderation is preferred amongst some members of the centers upper hi erarchy. Thus, there is a limit to the range and intensity of members practices at the Spirit Grove. Contrary to Janes assertion, the Spir it Grove does have monthly psychic fairs which involve psychics performi ng various divinatory readings for customers. However, I have not witnessed any psychics performing th e laying-on of hands or spirit channeling. Jane seems to classify such practices as being more extreme, and thus undesirable services. The Spirit Grove seems to be a home for a moderate form of spirituality. The most popular and most frequently offered classe s at the center involve physical activity, such as Yoga, Tai Chi, or Belly Dancing. Th e center offers a wealth of other moderate classes, such as Yoga for Non-Pretzel Peopl e, which implies that some varieties of yoga are too extreme and not suited for the Spirit Grove clientele. It is little surprise that more intense forms of spiritual practice are not offered, as the center seems to fill a niche which draws people interested in, and attracted to, moderate spiritual practices. Thus, while the Spirit Grove encourages diversity and tolerance among members practices, the emphasis on moderation regulates the extent of those practices in the community. Next, I move from discussing inadequate contents to rules about style and performance. Members that have a higher pos ition in the communitys hierarchy tend to be more expressive, intense, and active in thei r participation in group sp iritual activities.
58 Those who occupy positions of authority within the community structure have a certain level of expectations by regular members to meet. Holding a highe r position within the community hierarchy may also provide the t eachers, ministers, and owners with more confidence in expressing themselves than a regular practitioner. For example, in the vortex episode in Ch apter 1, while all participants had their eyes closed and arms stretched out in front of them while sending their healing energy, Cassie deviated from the group, keeping her eyes open and raising her arms up high. Since she is the co-owner of the center, her position within the comm unity is respected. Even though she may deviate from the collective practices of regular members, I never witnessed an instance where she was confront ed regarding her actions. Thus, members appear to accept Cassies moments of ac ting in a manner of her own choosing. Moving on to another example of creating or der, there is a co nstructed notion of what is normal and deviant behavior at th e center. I witnessed people openly talking about hearing voices and receivi ng communications from angels, spirits, faeries, and even the deceased. The individuals telling these a ccounts were almost always regarded with respect their claims were unchallenged and more or less accepted by others. However, on the other hand, I was privy to several inst ances where members regarded certain other people as being crazy if they did not confor m to unspoken standards of what constitutes normality or sanity there. For instance, during classes or Sunday se rvices, there were times when certain people were regarded as bei ng crazy due to their behavior, such as asking too many questions, being too emotional, or voici ng aloud opinions about the materials being
59 discussed in a class. Such an instance o ccurred during a church service where I noticed that a man was in attendance that I had not previously seen: Throughout the service, I notice that a ta ll (63 or so) man in his mid-tolate twenties sitting in a folding ch air near the corner by the kitchen who keeps getting up and wandering around the house during the service. He has oily, black, curly hair, a black con cert t-shirt, blue jeans, and tattoos down both of his arms which are visibl e past his short sleeves. He has a deep and loud voice which resonates very audibly during the spoken and sung parts that we partic ipate in during the service. He often makes offhand comments (such as Mmhmm affirmations) when people are talking. I notice that Cassie gets a wide look in her eyes whenever these incidents occur. I recall her telling me that was this crazy guy who is going to start coming to the services. Judging by her react ion, I wonder if this is him. After the service, Cassie confirmed my susp icion that this was, indeed, the man she mentioned prior to the service. As I could te ll by labels and nonverbal sanctions, he acted in a way that evidently violated norms of e xpected behavior during a church service. Church services at the Spirit Grove are re gularly filled with singing and voicing aloud testimonials to ones spiritual experiences; these acts are performed during established portions of the service. Thus, there is a sens e of normal behavior that is expected of individuals at the center. Failing to conform to these norms, despite being in an accepting and tolerant environment, marks one as deviant or crazy. Even with the heavy emphasis on highly personalized spiritu al paths and belief systems, there still remains visible in labels and sanctions a demarcation between normal and deviant people at the center. Thus, members have cr eated rules on how to be spiritual at the Spirit Grove. Another theme of order and moderation I observed at the center involved the owners decisions on what to sell and what not to sell in the gift shop. During her
60 interview, I asked Karen if ther e is anything that she would not sell in her gift shop. She explains: I would not bring in a lot of the I d ont bring in the, uh, sexual stuff. You know, even the Tantric sexual stuff, books and that sort of thing, just because its personal. You know, wh at you do in your own home life, I dont care about. But I dont want that to be reflected on us. So, if I were to bring that sort of stuff in, then Id give the extremists ammunition. I dont want to have to be guarded. I don t want to have to be scrutinized. Karen prefers not to carry merchandise with sexual content in or der to avoid being stigmatized and ridiculed by certain antagonistic outsiders whom she calls extremists. Since she has experienced a history with neighbors causing problems and taking down the centers signs by the road, Karen tries to av oid conflict with them. Therefore, while the boundaries regarding spiritual contents and practices may be fluid in this community, striving for moderation, and not a ppearing to be extreme, seem to be the underlying aims. Overall, the boundaries and rules informally established at th e Spirit Grove tell much about the individuals who constitute its membership. Since moderation is a prevalent theme at the center, from the goods so ld in the gift shop to the types of classes and spiritual practices held at the center, it may be inferred that there are certain people who would feel welcome and others that woul d feel unwelcome at the center. Thus, the owners and ministry have created a standa rd of normalcy for the community. Even though they are accepting of many otherwise abnormal spiritual beliefs and practices, these individuals are moderate in some ways. Given that the main demographic of the center are White women in their 40s and 50s who are middle-class, it is conceivable that conceptions of normality and abnormality would be different than if the community wa s comprised of working-class Black men in
61 their 20s. Thus, the informal boundaries and rules for what are considered normal or deviant behaviors at the center seems to be determined by the cultural and subcultural values and experiences of typi cal members of the community. Finding Proof Evidence of the supernatural is often discovered at the Sp irit Grove by members with acknowledged expertise namely, the teachers a nd ministers. This proof reveals to individuals in the community that the spiritu al realm is real and tangible, and may be apprehended with the senses. Such evidence situates members spiritual beliefs in the physical world. For instance, during a psychic fair, I witnessed two instan ces of such supernatural evidence. In the following fieldnotes excerpt, I describe how a psychic detected my own supposed supernatural abili ty at a psychic fair: Morgan, a psychic, is in the kitchen along with Lena and Karen. He is a light-skinned, freckled man in his ear ly-to-mid 40s, with graying blonde hair cut short and parted to the side. He is wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans. When Karen introduces me to him, he steps to the side so he is directly in front of me and begins st aring very intently at something far above my head near the ceiling. His facial expression is one of surprise and wonder, as his mouth is agape a nd his eyes are wide open and fixed on a single point. He says, Wow, what is that ? Confused, I smile and look at him and Karen with my eyebrows raised. Morgan says to me, What is this here? and points to an area several feel above my head. Its like this spik e of energy; Ive never seen anything like that before. Are you psychic? No, but I have done tarot a nd rune readings before. Karen interjects, Youre a psychic if you do readings; so yes, Seans a psychic.
62 Morgan claimed he could see things I did not have the faculties to perceive. He made the invisible visible. Belief in his psychic ability and expertise is already established in this community, as customers pay him for psyc hic readings. His reading of my aura was not challenged by anyone while I was there. In fact, Karen corroborated Morgans psychic assessment of me even after I denied being psychic. How I defined myself to them seemed irrelevant because they po ssess an authoritative position within the hierarchy of the community. They may make knowledge claims a bout what spiritual properties may be present and who possesses spiritual aptitude. Other noteworthy instances where proof of the spiritual realm was shown happened during a Sunday service I attended. As previously mentioned, a psychic vortex (a hot spot of psychi c energy) is claimed to exist in two areas outside the center in the yard. I first learned about the vor tex through Lena at the psychic fair, who informed me that Cassie pointed it out to her. During the last half of the church service, Martha tells us that we are moving the se rvice outside to the vortex (see the opening fieldnotes of this thesis). Gathering around the vortex and spiritually healing the individuals inside the circle manifests the vor tex in a physical space. I observed most, if not all, members making efforts to locate the vor tex. No one said they could not find it. Even after the service was over, several indivi duals remained in the area to feel out the vortex. The vortex episode shows how the intang ible can be made tangible. This is one of the key practices at the cente r. It shows members that the supernatural realm exists. Even the center itself has been conceived as a spiritual manifestation with its own life. Karen, the senior owner, sees the center as a living entity that ta kes care of itself and
63 keeps undesirable people away from it. Cassi e, the junior owner, believes she has a special connection with psychic energy that pervades the area according to her: I found out and I had always kind of had this resonance that, you know, especially with, like, the vortexes an d the things the land itself has its own energy that has been here for a ve ry long time. And that has nothing to do with me. And I have seen people come in and have their own things that have nothing to do with me, but have something to do with the place itself. Thus, for Cassie, it is not the center that is a spiritual manifestation, but the land itself. Conceiving the center as something that is beyond their control absolves Karen and Cassie from assuming responsibility for what happens there. These instances show how powerfully spiritual claims are made among members at the Spirit Grove. The plausibility of manifestations of the spiritual world is legitimated by established experts at the center. If the owners, Cassie or Karen, or members of the ministry reported to the congregation that th ey could not feel or locate the vortex, the plausibility and visibility of the vortex would most likely be put into question. Claiming that a spiritual current is present on the grounds of the Spir it Grove sacralizes the center. This feature then exists indepe ndently of the agency of its members and has become a sacred space. In this sense, the land, and by extension, the center becomes a spiritual entity in-and-of itself to members of the community. Finding proof of the spiritual world at the center is a way in which members ward off the inherent precariousness of thei r belief systems. Many of their spiritual practices, such as psychic or spiritual h ealing, are not widely accepted in mainstream society. Therefore, internal maintenance structur es need to be in plac e in order to justify their beliefs. Bergers (1967) concept of the process of legitimation fu lfills this necessity.
64 Legitimations are also answers to any que stions about the why of institutional arrangements (Berger 1967:29) Thus, the Spirit Grove community, as a microsocial religious institution, has created physical mani festations of their spiritual beliefs and practices which, then, establishes a kind of burden of proof for members. Not only do they practice their beliefs in the abstract (e.g., through prayer s), but their spirituality is knowable through the physical world as well. These manifestations of the spiritual world allow customers, seekers, and new practitione rs to be socialized into the communitys spiritual beliefs and practices. Thus, if an individual has a questi on or issue about the legitimacy of the spiritual practices at the center, they may be shown the evidence either by being exposed to physical manife stations, such as the vortex, or to the legitimated expertise of teachers and mini sters offering spiritual confirmations (e.g., Morgans ability to read my aura). Legitimations, such as the spiritual manifestations at the Spirit Grove also remind the members of answers to lifes uncertainties. Sometimes legitimations need to be repeated. Finding proof of the spiritual re alm needs to occur for members of the Spirit Grove. These legitimations need to be in pl ace during periods of crises in peoples lives, as it is during these period s when the barriers between order (meaning) and chaos (meaninglessness) become questionable. Berger (1967) sees a very important relationship between legitimation and religion. He states that religion has been the historically most widespread and effective instrumentality of legitimation (Berger 1967:32). Since legitimations serve to mainta in the nomos or meaningful world order, they are most efficient when they hide, as much as possible, their constructed character
65 (Berger 1967:33, authors emphasis). A ccording to Berger (1967), religious legitimations impose upon social institutions an ultimately valid ontological status, that is, by locating them within a sacred and cosmic fra me of reference (p. 33, authors emphasis). Placing social institutions agai n, in a microsocial sense, the Spirit Grove in this perspective causes them to be seen as originating from the divine arrangement of the cosmos. Since the purpose of legitimati on is to maintain the socially constructed world a reality that is defined collectively by humans legitimating it in a religious or spiritual context sacralizes it. Thus, in a religiously legitimated society, social institutions and the social order take on the character of being sacred since these things are thought to derive from a divine source. Th e spiritual practices at the Spirit Grove that create these manifestations, then, are locate d within a cosmic frame of reference and the entire universe is seen as being humanly significant (Berger 1967:28). Hence, the function of religious legitimations is fulfilled best when those legitimations are understood as being divinely-ordained and part of the sacred order of the cosmos. In this sense, members see the Spirit Grove taking on the appearance of being linked together with the divine. In this chapter, I discussed five commun ity practices that I found in my analysis of the Sprit Groves community. First, the notion of the real self assures members that there is something essential to each individual beyond their own socializations. Members work on overcoming their egos and becomi ng their real self. Second, members practice self healing at the center on a regular basis, presuming that each individual is damaged in some ways and in need of being fixed. Third, the Spirit Grove is
66 characterized by embracing diversity and pr omoting acceptance of different viewpoints and spiritual practices among members. F ourth, while there is a great amount of openness, it is not a chaotic environment. Thus, members of the center create order by encouraging acceptable contents and disp lays and sanctioning deviant and inappropriate ones. Lastly, finding proof enta ils constructing legitimations in order to convince members in the community that the spir itual realm is real a nd tangible and that the center is indeed a sacred place. Finding pr oof of the spiritual world is a way in which members ward off the inherent precarious ness of their belief systems.
67 CHAPTER 7: CONCLUSION In the first chapter of this thesis, I desc ribed the New Age Movement as a religious phenomenon that deserves to be studied because it embodies particular aspects of modernity, may give scholars further insight into the changes specifically, religious individualism (Luckmann 1967; McGuire 2002) that are occu rring within the religious mainstream, and appears to be understudied qualitatively in the United States. In Chapter 2, I reviewed the litera ture pertinent to the New Age Movement and my research concepts. In Chapter 3, I discussed the met hods I used in my study, along with some of the insights I gained from my research. In Chapter 4, I described the setting for my study, noting its physical features activities, and its profile and social structure. In Chapter 5, I discussed the five-step spiritua l career of typical members of the Spirit Grove. I noted that members do not convert to the center, but rather they alternate. Finally, in Chapter 6, I examined five commun ity practices that I identified throughout the course of my research at the Spirit Grove : discovering the real se lf, healing the self, embracing diversity, creating order, and finding proof. Many of my findings corroborate the findings other studies of New Age communities. For instance, the beliefs and practices of members at the center were comparable to those described in Suttcli ffes (2003) study on the Findhorn community and Prince and Riches (2000) Glastonbury stud y. In most cases, Spirit Grove members spiritual beliefs and sense of a real, divine self is in direct conformity with the
68 descriptions of New Age spirituality as disc ussed by Heelas (1996) and Possama (2005). The structure of the community is also compar able with other studies. Like Jorgensens (1982, 1992) findings, I found that there exist identifiable roles among members of the community; some occupy positions of more au thority (e.g., ministers and teachers) than others (e.g., seekers and practitioners). I also found that, while the Spirit Grove does operate within the cultic milieu, it, much lik e in Possamas (2000) study, also acts as a Bund, in that a significant cohesiveness in th e community comes from affective ties that are forged with others during cl ass, services, and events. The career concept was especi ally useful in this study. I employed the concept of career to describe the spiritual life path of Spirit Grove me mbers prior to their discovery of the center. By using the concept of the sp iritual career, I believe that scholars can gain a better understanding of the history and biography of practiti oners within new religious communities. While the concep t of career was originally us ed in studies on the sociology of work, it has been adequately appropriated in the sociology of relig ion. I expect that this frame will be used in future studies, especially of religious movements where individuals follow a transient and mutable trajectory. The process of alternation rather than conversion, in my study emphasized an appropriate concept when examining how N ew Agers transition from one religious community to another. Given that people a lternate into self-styled religion and New Age spiritualities, I believe that the stricter c oncept of conversion will become less useful in describing the transitions people ma ke in their spiritual lives. My study has several limitations. First, I concede that the small amount of
69 interviews I conducted may have limited my study. Interviewing more members of the center which would, ideally, include customers and seeker s who have only visited the center once or twice might have allowed me to obtain a more varied set of narratives. And certainly, finding ways of interviewing indivi duals even before their first visit to the Spirit Grove would be especially helpful in understanding the sp iritual career of practitioners before they have the chance of adopting the organizational narrative. This would allow me to pinpoint which moment me mbers begin to construct post hoc spiritual narratives after discovering th e center. Interviewing early customers and would also permit me to obtain information from people w ho may not stay interested in the Spirit Grove and thus leave the center at some poi nt. This will also facilitate a better understanding of the peopl e who actually stay. Another limitation is that I did not focu s on social class or race in my study. Since the New Age religion is primaril y practiced by White, middle-class women, studying minority persons within the New Age milieu, including men, might reveal important information. Corrywright (2003) di sclaims negative depictions of the milieu based on these variables, such as it being ex clusionary or elitist, but does not analyze their significance. Bruce (2002:88-89) offers in sight into the sociolog ical significance of these variables, but does not commit a full analys is of them. Thus, an investigation into this direction is needed in future research. We need to know more about why the New Age Movement is primarily made up of Whites. Why are there so few Blacks or Latinos who practice New Age spirituality? Why have women dominated the movement? W hy is the middle-class overrepresented?
70 Why is there a lack of working class a nd poor New Agers? Investigating the significance of race, gender, and social cl ass within the New Age Movement could provide important insights into the nature of this religion. Not only is studying New Age communities important, scholars also need to know how they influence and are influenced by conventional religions. Hence, learning about mainstream religion and its connections with new or marginal religions will also facilitate a better understanding of the rise of New Age spirituality. Houtman and Aupers (2007) have argued that too much attention ha s been given to the study of the processes of religious decline. Thus, more research needs to be conducte d on the rise of new religious movements outside of the conven tional Christian realm of society. By understanding why and how people leave ma instream churches and enter New Age spirituality centers, a more complete understa nding of the entire religious scene in our culture may be obtained. Lastly, more cross-cultural comparisons of alternative spiritual communities need to be conducted. Only by building an internat ional, as well as interdisciplinary, body of research may scholars develop a comprehensiv e and representative understanding of the New Age phenomenon. We need to st udy the New Age Movement as a global phenomenon in order to understand how New Ager s negotiate living in societies with established world religions that have longstanding traditions and orthodoxies. Thus, more studies need to be conducted on New Age communities in various parts of the world in order to properly document how the New Age Movement is spreading and transforming.
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79 APPENDIX A: CLASSES, SERVICES, AND EVENTS HELD AT THE SPIRIT GROVE IN 2008 (Listings in bold indicate that I attended the event, followed by the number of attendances) TWICE OR MORE A WEEK : BIWEEKLY : Satsang: Meeting with Trut h Adi Shakti Dance Experience Yoga for Non-Pretzel People (1) New Thought Explorations (2) WEEKLY : MONTHLY : Candle Therapy (2) Byron Katie Study Group Course in Miracles Study Group Drumming Circle (1) Life Makeover Workshop Full Moon Meditation Meditation Full Moon Ritual (1) Mystical Circle for Women New Moon Ceremony Practical Spirituality Discu ssion (3) Psychic Fair (1) Psychic Development Reconnective Healing Share Spiritual Belly Dance Sunday Celebration Service (17) YEARLY : Tai Chi for Health and Harmony Ch ristmas Eve Candlelight Service Tarot for Beginners Day of the Dead: Messages from Spirit Weight Loss Program Thanksgiving Dinner Wicca 101 Wicca 201 ONE TIME EVENTS : Womens Spiritual Strength Trai ning Community Yard Sale Yoga (Beginners Hatha) EF T Personal Coaching Session Yoga (Fusion) Potluck Picnic: Breast Cancer Fundraiser Yoga (Kundalini) The Secret of Money Yoga (Nidra) Timing Your Life with Astrology Yoga (Slow Flow) Visit from Tim Ward, Author
80 Role Owner Owner Minister Teacher Practitioner, Minister-intraining Practitioner Practitioner Practitioner Practitioner Practitioner SelfReported Religious Identity Spiritual New Age Hippie New Thought Advaita Vedanta ( Hinduism ) Spiritual Love New Age Lite Hippie Spirituality Wiccan OpenMindedly Spiritual Religious Background Presbyterian Presbyterian Presbyterian, Religious Science Catholic Baptist Mormon Catholic Atheist, Judaism, Unitarianism Baptist, Atheist, Religious Science None Presbyterian, Baptist Marital/ Household Status Widowed, Single Single Married Single Married Married Married Single In a Relationship In a Relationship APPENDIX B: OVERVIEW OF NTERVIEWEES Education High School Diploma Bachelors Degree Bachelors Degree Associates Degree Some College High School Diploma Masters Degree Bachelors Degree Masters Degree High School Diploma Race or Ethnicity Caucasian Caucasian Caucasian Caucasian Caucasian Caucasian Caucasian African American Caucasian Caucasian Age 56 28 54 34 43 54 50 32 26 23 Gender Female Female Female Male Female Female Female Female Female Female Name Karen Cassie Jane David Lena Sharon Rebecca Jaden Wendy Barbara
81 APPENDIX C: INTERVIEW SCHEDULE Biography 1. Tell me a little about yourself. Wher e were you born? How did you grow up? 2. What kind of religious services did you attend when you were growing up? 3. How long have you lived in Tampa? Do you have a partner/family? Where do you work? Current Personal Beliefs 4. Could you describe your spiritual jour ney to me? Official memberships? 5. What religion(s) or spiritual practice(s) do you identify with? a. How important are these belie fs and practices to you? 6. How do your beliefs and spiritual practices affect your daily life ? Please walk me through any spiritual practices or rituals you might engage in on a regular basis. a. Have you attended or conducted any bap tism, marriage, funeral services, etc. in accordance with your religious/ spiritual beliefs? Please describe. 7. What does the term New Age mean to you? a. Would you use this term to describe your personal beliefs? If not, what other term do you prefer? 8. Where else in your daily life do you see c onnections to your religious/spiritual beliefs? a. Do you discuss your beliefs with family members or friends? b. Do your friends tend to share these beliefs? c. How significant are your religious/ spiritual beliefs at work?
82 APPENDIX C: INTERVIEW SCHEDULE (CONTINUED) Activities at the Center 9. How did you find the Spirit Gr ove? How did you get involved? a. What kinds of events and classes do you participate in ? How often? Any special events? b. Are you planning to attend future events at the Center? If so, which ones? 10. Do you consider yourself to be a member of this community? How so? 11. Do your friends come to the center? How many people do you know here? Is there a special connection or relationship that you sh are with the people here? 12. How would you describe the re ligious/spiritual beliefs of the people who come to the Spirit Grove? Additional Questions 13. Where do you see yourself in the future, spiritually and in everyday life? 14. What is your: (1) age, (2 ) race, (3) education, (4) marital/household status? 15. Is there anything I havent asked or me ntioned that you would like to tell me about? 16. Do you have any questions for me?
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Currie, Sean E.
Sacred selves :
b an ethnographic study of narratives and community practices at a spiritual center
h [electronic resource] /
by Sean E. Currie.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 82 pages.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
ABSTRACT: Many scholars have examined the religious phenomenon known as the New Age Movement, resulting in a large body of literature on the subject. Despite this abundance of prior research, only a small number of studies conducted in the United States investigate what it means to be a "New Ager" from the perspective of the members. In order to contribute to the academic understanding of New Age identities and communities, I conducted an ethnographic study of an alternative spiritual center in the Tampa Bay area, here called the Spirit Grove. My research includes over fifty hours of participant observations, ten in-depth interviews, and an analysis of documents collected at the center. My findings indicate that Spirit Grove members typically follow a career trajectory consisting of five stages. After they become members of the community, practitioners tend to interpret their journey as a spiritual discovery. Next, I identify and describe five community practices that are performed at the center, including discovering the self, healing the self, embracing diversity, creating order, and finding proof. In the conclusion, I discuss the larger implications of this study, including its limitations and possibilities for future research.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Advisor: Margarethe Kusenbach, Ph.D.
New religious movements
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.