Paul Heelas
Professor Paul Heelas, Erasmus University Rotterdam 2012 Paul in earlier days at Oxford, 1969
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I'm an anthropologist/sociologist of spirituality/religion, with an especial interest in contemporary spirituality, cultural/social trajectories since the Romantics, and how spirituality serves as a vehicle for a more expressivistic and humanistic world.


The trajectories of 'New Age' spiritualities of life
counter-cultural spiritualities of the sixties; seminar spirituality (exemplified by est) of the seventies and earlier eighties; holistic mind-body-spiritualities of subjective wellbeing culture of recent decades. Whilst serving at Lancaster University, Department of Religious Studies - latterly as Professor of Religion in Modernity – I explored these and other changes in a trilogy of volumes published by Blackwell: The New Age Movement (1996), a co-authored volume,The Spiritual Revolution (2005), and Spiritualities of Life (2008).

Spiritualities of life in action
most especially 'transformation' of the self; spiritual humanism (including 'third force' Sufism) serving as a worthwhile source of significance or politics of value; CAM (healing and wellbeing); and the 'transformation' of business. Publications are underpinned by research on 'indigenous psychologies', including 'emotions'; and criticism of the 'reduction to consumption' claim.

Comparative and theoretical study of spiritualities of life
Whilst serving as Senior Research Professor in the Sociology of Contemporary Spirituality, Erasmus University Rotterdam, I edited a four volume collection of essays, from around 90 scholars, entitled Spirituality in the Modern World. Within Religious Tradition and Beyond (2012). The collection incorporates essays which reflect my long-standing interests in locating spiritualities of life within cultural developments (like Charles Taylor's 'massive subjective turn'), within sociocultural theory (including theorization of socializing the subjective), and within an international, comparative frame of reference. I'm especially interested in deepening the study of spirituality by working with a 'golden triangle', composed of the apex of spiritualities of the secular, the apex of the sacred of transcendent religious theism, and the apex of the inherent sacral of the inner life.

Transgressing the secular
During the last decade, I have devoted increasing attention to exploring the meaning of terms like 'secular' and 'sacred', whether the secular is self-sufficient or insufficient, what it means to transgress the secular, and explaining transgression by the processes of idealization and vitalization. Currently, I'm most concerned with exploring the transgressive potentials of 'life itself': the life force, vital affect, at the heart of CAM or Sufi healing, for example.

I've devoted over three years to intensive field research: Nepal (Sherpa religion), London (Programmes Ltd and Exegesis), Brazil (holistic Rio de Janeiro), India ('New Age' Madras and environs), Pakistan ('New Age'  Islamabad and environs). I've lived for over six years in Nepal, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Uganda, and Pakistan.

Three major research projects

Study of Exegesis and Programmes Ltd ('The Business of Transformation and the Transformation of Business')

The Kendal Project ('Patterns of the Sacred in Contemporary Society')

The Burnley Project (See Andrew Holden Religious Cohesion in Times of Conflict: Christian-Muslim Relations in Segregated Towns (2009))

Introductory passages from some recent essays

'On Transgressing the Secular: Spiritualities of Life, Idealism, Vitalism'

In Steven J. Sutcliffe and Ingvild Saelid Gilhus (eds), New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion. Durham: Acumen; in press

The context of this essay is set by two major schools of thought. On the one hand, it is argued that the secularization of Christianity ends with the secular, a condition that is self-sufficient. Emile Durkheim (1971), Steve Bruce (2002) and David Voas (2009) are among those who argue the case. On the other, there is the argument that the secular is insufficient. Insufficiencies generate transgressions of the secular condition; movement into the non-secular. A hegemonic secular age is but a pipe dream. Among others, Georg Simmel (1997), Peter Berger (1999) and Charles Taylor (2007) argue along these lines. 

The incontestable marginalization of Christianity means that it is now possible to test the idea that the outcome of the decline of Christianity is a self-sufficient secular age; and the opposite idea that insufficiencies of the secular generate sufficient transgression to prevent the advent of a secular age; and to promote 'alternative' spiritualities.

Rather than providing a review of all the evidence that counts for and against the two arguments, the aim is to strike at the very heart of the idea of self-sufficiency. In face of the evidence supporting the self-sufficiency argument – most noticeably the collapse of Christianity and corresponding movement into the secular - the aim is pursued by arguing that secular sources of motivation are currently in operation. The transgressive thesis maintains that the secular - the very state of affairs that scholars like Durkheim and Bruce hold to be self-sufficient - is frequently believed to be insufficient. The secular is not enough; not able to cope on its own. Accordingly, it generates transgression; movement out of itself to the beyond: quite often towards, or into, 'New Age' inner-life spirituality.

The temporal context of the essay lies with what is taking place today; or in the recent past. The best way of criticising the self-sufficiency argument is to find evidence of transgression at a time when – according to the self-sufficiency argument – it should not be taking place: that is, when certain countries are allegedly entering, or have already entered, a secular age. Geographically speaking, attention is limited to northern quarters of the European Union (EU): an area running from the Baltic to the Atlantic.

2012: 'Theorizing the Sacred: The Role of the Implicit in Yearning “Away”'

Implicit Religion, 15 (4), pp. 477-521

Existentially, what is it to live within the secular without the sacred? In the absence of religion, can secular frames of reference provide worthwhile sources of significance?    For Charles Taylor, 'religious longing, the longing for and response to a more-than-immanent transformation perspective … remains a strong independent source of motivation in modernity'. In line with this contention, I argue that the secular is frequently taken to be inadequate: to self-deflate. The essay applies a range of arguments: the role played by ideals, the implicit, the yearning emanating from the imperfect (that is the secular frame of reference); and the roles played by what the perfect (that is the sacred) has to promise. Rather than being some kind of end-point – self-sustaining, self-containing, self-limiting - the secular frame of reference readily generates momentum towards, sometimes into, the 'truly' perfect. The notion of 'a secular age' has to be qualified accordingly. The argument has implications for the study of 'indifference' to religion/spirituality, and to the investigation of 'non-religion'; better, the 'non-sacred'.

'Transpersonal Pakistan' 

International Journal of Transpersonal Studies; in press

The essay is controversial. The argument that Sufi-inspired transpersonal experiences, practices and processes are widespread does not match the popular view of Pakistan as a major homeland of Islamic 'fundamentalism' and militancy. Neither does the argument match the views of all those Islamists who bind Sufism to the transcendent theism of tradition. In various ways and to varying degrees, the most illustrious of Sufi saints move away from tradition and the alterity of the Godhead. For this reason saints can serve  as a powerful font of transpersonal humanism, an universal humanism of humanity which plays a critical role in holding the nation together. Exploration of 'transpersonal Pakistan' also serves to illustrate a way of working as a transpersonal sociologist, and  what the approach has to offer.

'“New Age” Spirituality as “Tradition” of Healthcare'.

In Mark Cobb, Christina Puchalski and Bruce Rumbold (eds) 2012: Oxford Textbook of Spirituality in Healthcare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 69-76

Incontestably, what might be thought of as 'New Age tradition' underpins great swathes of spirituality in the contemporary world. In countries ranging from Sweden to Pakistan, resources are to be found, resources that are neither secular nor sacred in the form of the God-on-High so typical of religious tradition. Elucidation of this 'New Age tradition' is called for – what health and healthcare mean in this context... .

'CAM: Healing the Person, Spiritual Humanism, and the Cultivation of Humanity'

In Elisabeth Hense, Frans Jespers and Peter Nissen (eds) 2013: Present Day Spiritualities. Leiden: Brill; in press

Attention is paid to whether complementary and alternative medicine (henceforth CAM) and traditional medicine (henceforth TM) contribute to the cultivation of humanity, not simply the person per se, and how this might take place. Matters of this variety are prompted by the fact that there is a certain lacunae in the literature. On the one hand, a voluminous amount has been published on CAM and, increasingly, TM, a literature which largely dwells on the health/wellbeing of the person. On the other hand, there is a rapidly expanding literature on the cultivation of humanity, which does not pay much attention to CAM/TM studies. With the former dwelling on the person, the latter on humanity, the two bodies of literature remain relatively discrete.

My aim is to contribute to bridging the gap. The argument is that by virtue of contributing to the healing of the person, inner-life spiritual humanism also contributes to the cultivation of human values, a sense of human kindness, the ethicality of humanity. The sacred of spiritual humanism, which lies at the heart of a great deal of CAM—and which is yet more in evidence within a great deal to TM—serves as a healing humanism of the person-cum-humanity. To argue this entails showing that a great deal of CAM (and TM) is in fact imbued with the values, sentiments, ethicality of spiritual humanism. Having attended to the rather neglected point that the ‘re/humanization’ of the person is bound up with the process of healing, attention is paid to how inner-life spiritual humanism-cum-healing serves humankind more generally speaking: the humanism of a particular universal humanity, broadly in line with that of the United Nations. In tune with the ‘only connect’ theme so characteristic of inner-life spirituality, healing is by no means limited to the wellbeing of the person per se. The healing of the person does not stop with the skin. Hence the significance of CAM for the cultivation of humankind.

In sum, by serving the person humanistic healing of an inner-life spiritual nature serves as a major cultivator, promoter, perhaps generator of humanistic sensibilities. In short, feeling better, being ‘better;’ feeling good, being ‘good.’ The healing of feeling: a great deal of CAM (and TM) as spiritual psycho-cum-ethical humanistic therapy: of the human for humankind.

If indeed that spiritual humanism so typical of a great deal of CAM (and TM) serves the healing of the person-cum-humanity, a powerful defense can be mounted. Contra those who reduce CAM (and TM) to irrational attempts to do the impossible, like using magic to heal terminal cancer, or to the level of consuming subjective wellbeing, like using the CAM of the spa to pleasure the self, CAM (and TM) is valuable. Although reasons of space mean that the argument is primarily focused on CAM, it applies equally well, in fact better, to a great deal of TM.

Contents of Heelas (ed.) 2012
Spirituality in the Modern World
Within Religious Tradition and Beyond

It would not be an exaggeration to say that during the last century, most especially during and since the 1960s, the language of spirituality has become one of the most significant ways in which the sacred has come to be understood and judged in the West, and, increasingly, elsewhere. Whether it is true that ‘spirituality’ has eclipsed ‘religion’ in Western settings remains debatable. What is incontestable is that the language of spirituality, together with practices (most noticeably spiritual, complementary, and alternative medicine), has become a major feature of the sacred dimensions of contemporary modernity. Equally incontestably, spirituality is a growing force in all those developing countries where its presence is increasingly felt among the cosmopolitan elite, and where spiritual forms of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine are thriving.

Critical Concepts in Religious Studies Series. Routledge: Major Works, a 4-Volume Set.


Part 1 Spirituality

1 On making some sense of spirituality Paul Heelas

2 On some major issues Paul Heelas

3 On some significant themes Paul Heelas

Part 2 On formulating the perennial and the zoned

(a) Perennial spirituality within and beyond religious tradition

4 Introduction to The Perennial Philosophy. An Interpretation of the Great Mystics,  East and West. Aldous Huxley

5 ‘Enthusiasm, gnosticism, American orphism’ and ‘The New Age: California Orphism’ Harold Bloom

6 Extracts from ‘The Romantic positives’ and ‘The world’s song of life and joy’ M. H. Abrams

7 Extracts from ‘Theoesthetics’ Mark C. Taylor

8 On the salvation of the soul Georg Simmel

(b) On differentiating spirituality within and beyond religious tradition

9 Spirituality: a contemporary alternative David M. Wulff

10 Conceptualizing religion and spirituality: points of commonality, points of departure   Peter C. Hill, Kenneth I. Pargament, Ralph W. Hood, jr, Michael E. Mccullough, James P. Swyers, David B. Larson and Brian J. Zinnbauer

11 Extract from ‘Religion today’ Charles Taylor

12 Extracts from ‘Truth church’ Joseph B. Tamney

13 Unchurched spirituality. An introduction Robert C. Fuller

14 Exploring spirituality and unchurched religions in America, Sweden, and Japan  Rodney Stark, Eva Hamberg and Alan Miller

15 The subtle energies of spirit: explorations in metaphysical and New Age spirituality  Catherine L. Albanese

16 New Age ‘spirituality’ as ‘tradition’ of healthcare Paul Heelas

Part 3 Illustrating diversity: some cultural and practical zones

17 Introduction: spirituality and the secular quest Peter H. van Ness

18 Vegetarianism as an example of dispersed religiosity Agnieszka Dyczewska

19 Automatic theologies. Surrealism and the politics of equality Kate Khatib

20 Terminal faith Mark C. Taylor

21 ‘Where the zeroes meet the ones’. Exploring the affinity between magic and computer technology Stef Aupers

Part 4 On counting zones

22 The spirituality of adults in Britain – recent research David Hay

23 Research note: RAMP findings and making sense of the ‘God within each person, rather than out there’ Paul Heelas and Dick Houtman

24 The spiritual turn and the decline of tradition. The spread of post-Christian spirituality in 14 Western countries, 1981–2000 Dick Houtman and Stef Aupers

25i New Age, religiosity, and traditionalism: a cross-cultural comparison Sergey Flere and Andrey Kirbis

25ii Christian religiosity and New Age spirituality: a cross-cultural comparison Dick Houtman, Paul Heelas and Stef Aupers

25iii New Age is not inimical to religion and traditionalism Sergey Flere and Andrey Kirbis

Part 5 Changing zones

26 Extract from ‘Iconoclasm’ Mark C. Taylor

27 From ‘Everything has a meaning’ to ‘I want to believe in something’: religious change between two generations of women in Norway Inger Furseth

28 New ways of believing or belonging: is religion giving way to spirituality? Tony Glendinning and Steve Bruce


Part 6 Modes within tradition

29 Toward defining spirituality Walter Principe

30 Extract from ‘Jesus Christ the bearer of the water of life. A Christian reflection on the “New Age”’

31 Spirituality and Catholicism: the Italian experience Stefania Palmisano

32 Transformations of Dutch Protestantism: the turn to experiential belief Johan Roeland and Peter Versteeg

33 The New Age movement and the Pentecostal/charismatic revival: distinct yet parallel phases of a Fourth Great Awakening? Phillip C. Lucas

34 The self examined James Davison Hunter

35 Sufi thought and its reconstruction Elizabeth Sirriyeh

Part 7 Contexts of participant-affirmed value

(a) World peace

36 In pursuit of world peace: modernism, sacralism and cosmopiety Ralph Pettman

(b) Environmental

37 Buddhist environmental ethics and detraditionalization: the case of EcoBuddhism Ian Harris

38 Wilderness, religion and ecological restoration in the Scottish Highlands Michael S. Northcott

39 God is underfoot: pneumatology after Derrida Mark I. Wallace

(c) Growing up

40 Andrew Wright’s critical realism, Clive Erricker’s radical postmodernism and teenage perceptions of spirituality Barbara Wintersgill

41 The embodied spirituality of the post-boomer generations Richard W. Flory and Donald E. Miller

(d) Feminism and gender

42 Spiritualising the sacred: a critique of feminist theology Linda Woodhead

43 Truth in flux: Goddess feminism as a late modern religion Melissa Raphael

44 The other woman: irreducible alterity in feminist thealogies Donna Maeda

(e) Art

45 From religion to spirituality Graham Howes

(f) Business

46 The influence of religion-based workplace spirituality on business leaders’ decision-making: an inter-faith study Mario Fernando and Brad Jackson

(g) Challenges to Religious Tradition from Beyond

47 The web of deceit: challenges to Hindu and Muslim ‘orthodoxies’ by ‘Bauls’ of Bengal Jeanne Openshaw


Part 8 Illustrating the most distinctively autonomous: New Age

48 Beyond the spiritual supermarket. The social and public significance of New Age spirituality Stef Aupers and Dick Houtman

49 ‘We are all gods’. New Age in the Netherlands 1960–2000 Stef Aupers

50 Quantitative studies of New Age: a summary and discussion Liselotte Frisk

Part 9 Illustrating the somewhat less autonomous

51 The New Age of Kabbalah. Contemporary Kabbalah, the New Age and postmodern spiritualityBoaz Huss

52 God by all means ... eclectic faith and Sufi resurgence among the Moroccan bourgeoisie Patrick Haenni and Raphael Voix

53 Extract from ‘The Beshara perspective and the teaching of Ibn ’Arabi’ Suha Taji-farouki

54 New spirituality in contemporary societies: a comparative view on Japanese ‘Spiritual World’ Masayuki Ito

Part 10 ‘Internal’ dynamics, including ethicality

55 Antinomian rules. The ethical outlook of American Zen students Steven M. Tipton

56 Body, mind and spirit? Towards an analysis of the practice of yoga Benjamin Richard Smith

57 Liberation or limitation? Understanding Iyengar Yoga as a practice of the self Jennifer Lea

58 Eastern teachings Luce Irigaray

Part 11 Contexts of perceived value

(a) Healing

59 Revisiting the ‘Easternisation’ thesis: the spiritualisation of Ayurveda in Britain Maya Warrier

60 Secularizing religious practices: a study of subjectivity and existential transformation in Naikan therapy Chikako Ozawa-de Silva and Brendan Ozawa-de Silva

61 Trends in alternative medicine use in the United States. 1990–1997: results of a follow-up national survey David M. Eisenberg, Roger B. Davis, Susan L. Ettner, et al.

(b) The workplace

62 Holism, healing and the New Age Ellie Hedges and James A. Beckford

63 Spirituality in the workplace: new empirical directions in the study of the sacred Don Grant, Kathleen O’neil and Laura Stephens

64 New Age and business Martin Ramstedt

65 God’s company: New Age ethics and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International Paul Heelas

(c) Gender

66 The New Age movement and feminist spirituality: overlapping conversations at the end of the century Mary Farrell Bedenarowski

67 Towards sacred androgyny Michael F. Brown

(d) Art

68 Spiritualities of life: the neglected role of the artistic paradigm Leslie Goode


Part 12 The matter of efficacy

69 From pre- to postmodernity in Latin America: the case of Pentacostalism Bernice  Martin

70 The social impact of Nigeria’s new religious movements Friday M. Mbon

71 The failure of the New Age Steve Bruce

72 The problem of capitalism in the scholarship on contemporary spirituality Teemu  Taira

73 Making the world work: ideas of social responsibility in the human potential movement Steven M. Tipton

74 The social ethic of religiously unaffiliated spirituality Siobhan Chandler

75 The rising culture and worldview of contemporary spirituality: a sociological study of potentials and pitfalls for sustainable development Annick Hedlund de Witt

76 Spirituality and environmental consciousness in the Netherlands. A comparison of holistic spirituality and Christian dualism Samira van Bohemen, Peter Achterberg, Dick Houtman and Katerina Manevska

77 Sami indigenous spirituality: religion and nation-building in Norwegian Sapmi Siv  Ellen Kraft

78 The Psychology of the New Age Miguel Farias and Pehr Granqvist

79 Empowerment and using the body in modern postural yoga Klas Nevrin

80 The uses and abuses of Zen in the twentieth century Robert H. Sharf

81 Neo-Confucian body techniques: women’s bodies in Korea’s consumer society  Taeyon Kim

Part 13 The matter of change

82 Extracts from ‘The conflict of modern culture’ and ‘The problem of religion today’ Georg Simmel

83 Extracts from A Secular Age Charles Taylor

84 Why do churches become empty, while New Age grows? Secularization and religious change in the Netherlands Dick Houtman and Peter Mascini

85 Explaining growth Paul Heelas

86 Why patients use alternative medicine. Results of a national study John A. Astin

87 Spirit possession and deprivation cults Ioan M. Lewis

88 Gendering in the holistic milieu: a critical realist analysis of homeopathic work Scott  Taylor

89 Modernity and its imbalances: constructing modern selfhood in the Mata Amritanandamayi Mission Maya Warrier

90 Japan’s New Age and neo-new religions: sociological interpretations Mark R. Mullins

91 The spiritual world: aspects of New Age in Japan Inken Proh

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