Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Sociology

Major Professor

Margarethe Kusenbach, Ph.D.

Keywords

Career, Conversion, Ethnography, New Age, New religious movements

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.

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