Thanks to Lloyd for this material:
Originally posted on Theoglos:
Our colleague Dave Webster’s latest book Dispirited (Winchester/Washington: Zero Books, 2012) argues, among other things, that the form of spirituality promoted by MBS advocates tends to be individualistic and fosters disengagement from the socio-political sphere. Webster is in good company as this is also argued by, amongst others, Robert N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler & Steven M. Tipton, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991); Charles Taylor, Varieties of Religion Today (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002); and Adam Possamai, Religion and Popular Culture: A Hyper-Real Testament (Brussels: P.I.E. Peter Lang, 2007). However, within the sociology of religion, this remains a contested area with a number of sociologists arguing for “engaged spirituality” rather than the “spiritual individualism” advocated by the above scholars. A recent study by Seil Oh and Natalia Sarkisian, “Spiritual Individualism or Engaged Spirituality? Social Implications of Holistic Spirituality among Mind-Body-Spirit Practitioners”, Sociology of Religion 73.3 (2012), 299-322 seeks to provide much needed empirical research in this area. This study consists of a sample size of 350 holistic practitioners in the Boston metropolitan area who had been engaged in MBS practices on a regular basis for at least one month. The authors classify MBS practices into three main types: physical fitness, therapeutic (with an emphasis on healing) and cult (emphasising esoteric spirituality), and selected one example of each: Yoga, Dahn Yoga and Healing, and Art of Living respectively. Participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire which consisted of seven questions concerning interpersonal engagement, two questions on communal involvement and two questions on political engagement. Further questions sought to distinguish (a) spirituality-related varaibles, (b) religion-related variables and (c) socio-demographic characteristics. 35% of respondents practised Yoga, 44% Dahn Yoga and 21% Art of Living. Utilisng a variety of statistical methods the authors found the following:
- There was a significant positive relationship between spirituality and altruism for those practising Yoga and Art of Living but not for those practising Dahn Yoga.
- This similarly applied to involvement in voluntary associations and engagement in individual political activity such as signing petitions.
- Collective political activity increases initially but then decreases as the level of spirituality increases. So MBS pratctitioners with “moderate” levels of holistic spirituality are more likely to engage in collective political action than those with either “high” or “low” levels of spirituality.
Broadly speaking then this study provides some empirical evidence in support of the “social engagement” position. However, by providing a more nuanced typology of MBS, the study also provides evidence that “therapeutic orientation is associated with individualism, even though other types of holistic spirituality do not limit social engagement” (p. 317). The authors readily acknowledge that the study is limited and more research is required. In particular, future research should focus on comparing “social engagement of MBS practitioners to that of religious individuals within the Judeo-Christian tradition who are not involved in such practices as well as to social engagement of those who are neither religious nor involved in MBS” (p. 317).