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Marina V. Vorobjova
The President of Religious Studies Research Center "Ethna"
/St.-Petersburg, Russia/
E-mail: info@upelsinka.com

ASANAS and Religious Studies
(The Russian case)

 Introduction

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.

1. Terminology. 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.

2. Methodology. 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.

Alternative 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 of Russia.

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.

Searching for Spirituality

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.:

"Such various 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 against reductionism:

"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.

The 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 actions.

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 in rhythms.

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.

Small is Beautiful

However, even 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.


Literature:

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. Moscow, 2001.
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. London, 1998.
8. Marina Vorobjova. Traditional and nontraditional: paradoxes of coexistence. http://www.cesnur.org/2003/vil2003_vorobjova.htm
9. World Christian Encyclopedia. 2nd edition. A comparative survey of churches and religions in the modern world. Oxford University Press. 2001.

This Report was read on the Second International Conference "Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies" (University of Wolverhampton, England, 2004).
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