ASANAS and Religious Studies
(The Russian case)
What is New Age?
If you ask this question in Russia, answers will differ greatly. Some
will say that New Age is a synthesis of various movements that emphasize
their attention on spiritual needs of human beings. Some will note
that it is a popular sect that has recently become widespread. Some
will not be able to answer at all, even thought they subconsciously
believe in New Age ideas.
The thing is
that in spite of growing popularity of New Age in Western and Eastern
Europe and even though this movement does see large popularity among
population, the boundaries of its spread in Russia are not clear and
it is often entwined in other religious teachings. Besides, there
are too few qualified researches published in Russia that would be
able to shed some light on the essence of this teaching and would
objectively describe this phenomenon.
That is why
we run into two problems when we talk about New Age in Russia from
a point of view of a Religious Studies researcher.
What do we understand under the name of "New Age"? As a
rule, it is very difficult for researchers to come to a unified opinion
on this matter because the very material of the research Ц religious
movements of New Age character Ц is much too diverse.
The scientific approach to research of alternative spirituality may
also greatly differ because every territory of multinational Russia
has its own specific historical and ethnical features.
We will discuss all this below.
This article is an overview and it does not claim to cover everything
because it is limited in its volume. Our main task is to describe
the spectrum of problems of alternative spirituality and to outline
perspectives of research in the sphere of New Age on the example of
Russia. We would be happy if this article served as an invitation
to further dialogue between researchers of religion from different
countries in order to identify parallels of development of alternative
spirituality and possibilities of comparative research of the New
Age movement image.
Thinking of New Age
When we speak
of alternativeness of religious thinking we mean that it is alternative
in respect to something that had already existed earlier. Right now
a term "traditional religions" which are opposed by "nontraditional"
new religions is very popular in Russia. We dare to suppose that alternative
thinking is an alternative to traditional thinking, that being shaped
historically and having its own traditions within the boarders of
a particular state. In the case with Russia this "nontraditional"
alternative thinking is opposed by, first of all, historically present
religions, which are:
1. Christianity. The majority of Russians confess Orthodoxy. According
to official statistics 73 998 000 people identify themselves with
the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP), which
is 50.4 % of the population and 87.8 % of Christians of the country.
There are other Orthodox churches besides ROC MP (The Assyrian Church
of the East, the Armenian Church, the Bulgarian Church, the Georgian
Church and the Greek Church, Old Believers and alternative Orthodox).
Catholicism (1 311 200 people) and protestant movements (approximately
0,7 % of the population of the country) are widespread in some regions
2. Islam. 7,6 % of the population of the country confess Islam (they
are mostly Sunnite) and that is 11 137 043 people.
3. Buddhism. Traditionally Buddhist territories have always been Buryatiya
and Kalmykiya. A total of 582 900 people confess Buddhism in Russia,
which is 0.4 % of the population of the country.
Judaism is also considered a religion traditional for Russia (0,7
% of the population of the country = 951 076 people) and so are ethnic
beliefs of peoples of Russia (for example, shamanism Ц 0,8 % of the
population). All data is quoted according to World Christian Encyclopedia.
It is understood that everything traditional is conservative and everything
alternative is liberal, does not have any religious dogmas and goes
beyond the boarders of what we are used to both in our traditional
religious life and in our everyday life. Alternative thinking has
a particular kind of bravery to cast a challenge to the society and
it stands against it in its very substance. Before we move on to concrete
examples of outcomes of alternative spirituality, let us give a general
definition to the New Age movement.
New Age (New Era, New Century) is a spiritual movement that appeared
in 1970-s in Europe. New Age combines in itself teachings of yoga,
occultism, theosophy, pantheism and other religious beliefs. In New
Age great attention is paid to personal experiences of a person.
The main goal of New Age is to reach spiritual maturity through establishment
of realization of divine nature and mastering spiritual techniques.
Followers of New Age believe, that changeover from the astrological
age of Pisces, in which we live, to the age of Aquarius will lead
to a change in the world and in human beings. World culture of the
age of Pisces is of anthropocentric, analytical, rational, patriarchal
and eurocentric character. The age of Aquarius will be built on cosmocentric,
synthetic, mystical, feministic and polycentric worldviews. The place
of such religions as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity
and others bringing the humanity only a part of the Truth will be
taken by synthetic spirituality Ц the basic characteristic of an era
new in quality Ц the era of Aquarius.
It is the very search for the Truth which is brought to us in fragments
by various religions that is the main driving force of the New Age
movement. We suppose that it is because rules of this search are liberal
and may differ that the New Age movement itself is so diverse.
There are more
the 5 thousand of various New Age religious groups in the world today
and they represent teachings of different directions. However, if
we decide to find out the exact number of organizations confessing
the New Age teaching in Russia, we will not find any data in the official
statistics, that is annually published by the Ministry of Justice
of the Russian Federation and includes the exact number of religious
communes and organizations operating on the territory of Russia.
However, this does not at all mean that there is no alternative spirituality
in Russia. Thousands of people confess the New Age teaching, but perhaps
in a form slightly different from the way it expresses itself in Western
and Eastern Europe.
Thus, if you take a reference book on Russian occult and pagan movements
(the so called neo-paganism), you will be surprised by the multiplicity
of various religious movements present in contemporary Russia. All
of these movements make achieving of spiritual maturity their main
goal and push for mastering spiritual techniques. And this is far
not everything. Various courses will help you get introduced to philosophies
of the East by the help of yoga and other exercises that are commonly
regarded as "healing".
Should we consider all these movements typical examples of alternative
spirituality and related to the powerful New Age movement that many
practice in the West? I think so.
We lean first of all on works by Western researchers when we make
this conclusion. Wouter J. Hanegraaff a scholar from the Netherlands
gives the following characteristics to New Age thinking in his article
"New age religion and secularization".
Firstly, New Age tends to dualism in its various forms: therapeutic
(the duality of spirit and body), religious (the stand of God the
Creator against the created beings), ecological (the stand of man
against nature) etc.:
forms of dualism should be replaced by 'holistic' alternatives: God
and man are one in their deepest essence, therapies must treat 'the
whole person' and the healing process of spiritual development at
one and the same time, humanity must rediscover its lost connection
with nature, and so on".(1)
Secondly, New Age stands
"the universe does
not resemble a dead mechanism but a living organism permeated by a
spiritual force, and the dimension of the spiritual itself cannot
be reduced to purely material processes".2
And, finally, New Age
is characterized by esotericism and gnosticism that have provided
a new phenomenon more widely known as occultism in the XIX-th century.
And now if we go back to Russia, we will be assured that in reality
many religious teachings (including those that exist only within Russian
territories) that are commonly regarded to as "new religious
movements" (and more often simply as "sects") are nothing
else but examples of alternative spirituality and are closely related
in their spirit to the New Age movement.
I suggest we look at particular examples of such religious movements
and find out specific features that may relate these movements with
the New Age movement.
Rhythm of the Universe
A religious organization
called "The White Lotus" counts the beginning of its existence
since the end of 1980-s Ц the beginning of 1990-s; it was founded
by V. I. Skubayev and is present on territories of Russia, the Ukraine
and some other states. Eastern religious practices of Buddhist direction
were made the foundation of this teaching.
Followers of this teaching believe that material thought precedes
action and, thus, forms it. A human being is a flow of conscience
between the Divine spiritual (the Sun) and the Divine material (the
Earth) beginnings. In order for the Divine design of evolution of
conscience to go through all plans of being and to reach the material
beginning without violations a keeping of the very founding principle
of the law of synchronization is necessary: a "thinner"
plan directs a more "vulgar" one and is the reason for it.
Creativity that was planted in human beings by the Creator is necessary
as a program for them to come to a realization of their Creator. According
to followers of this teaching, a human being ought to be happy.
The source of materialization of life in the Universe is the never-ending
Spirit of love. It is necessary to see the Universe inside oneself
and to realize principles of balance and love. Only then the Universe
will enter the body and spirit of a human being, feeding them and
giving them true power. According to the White Lotus the final goal
is to reach harmony of perfect balance, i. e. to understand the rhythm
of the Universe. The main task is to learn to intercourse with any
flows (of people, of events, of things) in harmony and to not get
into conflict with them.
The Sun and the Earth are the two beginnings connected with human
beings in a unified flow. The Divine and the Material that thrust
for reunification. God the Creator and his creation Ц a human being
realizing his Creator. The Universe and a human body filled with its
powerЕ All this is nothing else but examples of dualism in its various
shapes. The final goal of followers of the teaching Ц to reach spiritual
maturity Ц also leads us to thinking that this movement is similar
to New Age.
Another example of alternative spirituality may be the "Radasteya"
movement ("Rhythmology", "Teaching of a Live Rhythm");
founded in 1995 in Russia, it has sections in Russia, in the Ukraine,
in Lithuania, in Uzbekistan and in Kazakhstan. The founder and leader
of Radasteya is a Miass native Evdokiya Dmitriyevna Marchenko. Followers
of this movement call themselves "radastei" or "radasteitzi"
(radost' means joy in Russian).
Radasteya is a syncretic teaching that combines numerology, astrology
and cryptaesthesia. According to the main principles of the teaching
the creation consists of the Shown (our visible, perceivable and understandable
world) and the Unshown (a higher plan of being). The Earth consists
of time and space and life on it originated from 200 spirits that
broke apart and became billions of people. Every human being is a
shown rhythm that turns into a beam of light and comes to Earth refracting
differently in various environments.
The soul of a human being is born by a water, the spirit is born in
the mountains and only the body is born from earthly parents. The
task of a human being is to unite the body, the soul and the spirit
into one beam and become the so called "beamy human". A
person must fulfill this predestination in order to not fall under
the influence of karma laws, otherwise he or she will come back to
Earth. Those able to become "beamy humans" move on to the
sphere of Unshown and begin acting as independent beams.
In order for a person to be able to fulfill his mission and become
a being of harmony he has to master the Rhythm. Therefore, the main
task of Radasteya is to teach Rhythmology that, according to E. D.
Marchenko is located between philosophy and psychology which describe
the nature of the surrounding world and motivation of an individual's
A "time steering-wheel" is calculated for everyone in Radasteya
(it is a set of individual rhythms). Every follower of the movement
has a personal "beam address", a "light address"
and a "sincere name". Every follower is ordered a strict
vegetable diet, reading and singing of rhythms. Members of the movement
come together for "radasti" (meetings with E. D. Marchenko),
collective meetings and school meetings where they learn to speak
Thus, we have an unacceptance of reductionism, an underlined esoteric
knowledge ("sincere names" and "beam addresses"
are hidden from uninitiated people) and the same dualism that is seen
in the Shown and the Unshown.
All of the above testifies that even if there is no term "New
Age" in the name of one or another movement, it is the same alternative
spirituality on which New Age thinking is based.
when there is a superficial likeness between new religious movements
and the New Age movement there are also differences which make us
doubt the adequacy of their character to the New Age movement. Ms.
Eileen Barker names separate groups of people, who express various
principles and perceptions (in essence they are not one unified movement,
but this is what we call New Age) and marks one from our point of
view very important feature which we would like to point out. She
says that, as a rule, followers of New Age do not tend to aggressively
plant their ideas. From our point of view, this is exactly what could
be an important criteria for separating New Age movements from new
religious movements of occult and neopagan character.
Although, we can also attribute these features of movements named
above to specifics of alternative spirituality in Russia (for example,
there are known facts forceful propagation of the Radastei teaching*).
We believe that among these features there is one more that must be
named because it is an important directive in the New Age movement.
This directive changes the very essence of perception of New Age in
Russia and in the West. We are talking about secularization - an important
factor that is changing the appearance of Western states. Not only
tradition, religion itself is becoming a "non-format" thing
for young and middle-aged people. There is a flow back of believers
from churches regardless of what we are talking about Ц a traditional
Christian confession or a new religion that may also loose its meaning
for people searching for a new spirituality.
So, what is New Age? A Liberation of Human Potential or a step back
to a fall of rational scientific thought? Is alternative spirituality
really an alternative to human spirit which is partially depraved
by achievements of civilization? We hope to find answers to these
questions in discussions and debates with our colleagues.
1. Eileen Barker. New
religious movements. Practical introduction. St. Petersburg, 1997.
2. Barbara Ann Brennan, Thomas J. Schneider. Light Emerging: The Journey
of Personal Healing. Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub, 1993.
3. Wouter J. Hanegraaff. New Age Religion and Secularization. NUMEN.
Vol. 47, 2000. Leiden, Boston, Koln. Pp. 288-312.
4. Wouter J. Hanegraaff. New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism
in the Mirror of Secular Thought. New York. 1996.
5. History of Religions in Russia: The tutorial Editor N.ј. Trofimchuk.
6. Marchenko E.D. Learn on the Earth. Chelyabinsk, 1996.
7. New Religious Phenomena in Central and Eastern Europe / Edited
by Irena Borowik, Grzegors Babinski. Krakow, 1997.
8. Religion and Social Change in Post-Communist Europe / Edited by
Irena Borowik, Miklos Tomka. Krakow, 2001.
9. The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the
Transformation of Religious Movements / Edited By David G. Bromley.
8. Marina Vorobjova. Traditional and nontraditional: paradoxes of
9. World Christian Encyclopedia. 2nd edition. A comparative survey
of churches and religions in the modern world. Oxford University Press.