A spiritual revolution? Wicca and religious change in the 1960s
Before diving into religious change in the Sixties, you will reflect on how you think about religion and spirituality in your own context. The following activity will help you to understand how complex modern religious identities are, as well as clarify your own position – and maybe some preconceptions too! Most importantly, it will show you that ‘religion’ does not refer to one specific thing, but can indicate a range of different things, often at the same time.
Answer the following questions. You can be honest – they are not being saved or shared with anyone else – and there are no right or wrong answers! When you have finished, take some time to reflect. Were you surprised by any of your answers? How did you feel about including all of these things within the category of ‘religion’?
Do you think of yourself as a ‘religious’ person?
Have you ever identified as a member of a religion? One, or more?
How does your practice match what might be expected? (for example, do you go to church every week, never drink alcohol, pray five times a day, etc.) Do you do anything NOT a part of your religion (if you have one)?
Have you tried any alternative medicine or therapies? Are there any you use regularly?
Do you use yoga, tai chi, meditation or other mindfulness practices?
Do you read your horoscope regularly? How about when you have a new relationship?
Do you have ornaments or statues in your home from multiple traditions (Buddhas, crucifixes, African deities, etc.)?
The first thing to note is that nearly everyone has some position regarding religion, even if that position is ‘I don’t have a religion’. Almost no-one answers, ‘I don’t know’, even if they think there is a lot they do not know. Nevertheless, the parameters of that identification vary greatly. For some, religious identification has a lot to do with family traditions and the area they live in. For some, religious identification will have a lot to do with cultural and ethnic community. Still others will regard ‘faith’ or ‘devotion’ as being at the core of their religious identity.
Many will keep the same religious identity throughout their lives, but many will have changed – sometimes within a larger religious tradition, moving from Anglicanism to Catholicism, for example; sometimes from one tradition to another; and sometimes in or out of religion altogether. A few people even find themselves with more than one identification at the same time – Buddhist Jews, for example. This course will look at some of the complex reasons why people explore different traditions.
You may also have wondered why you were asked about yoga and horoscopes. Although we don’t tend to think of them as ‘religion’, there are clear connections – yoga developed in the Vedic culture which led to modern Hinduism and Buddhism, and horoscopes are part of a pre-modern worldview where planets are somehow also deities, and the universe is recapitulated in the individual. Maybe you prefer to think of them as ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘religious’, and others will challenge that these are necessarily religious at all. Indeed, there is no right or wrong answer here. This course will however be exploring the idea of ‘spiritual but not religious’, an idea which evolved out of the spiritual revolution of the ‘Long 1960s’.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that whether we consider Yoga to be ‘religion’, ‘spirituality’, or neither, will depend on how we are defining religion. The modern West tends to think of religion in terms of “sincerely-held belief”, for a number of historical reasons, but this doesn’t really hold true everywhere in the world. We can also think of religion in terms of specific practices. For many Jews, being Jewish has more to do with what you do than what you believe, for example, and Christians will put different stress on how important going to church every week is. Again, neither of these is more ‘correct’ than the others, but as scholars of religion, we always need to remain aware of which understanding of religion is in play at any given time.
These are all ideas we need to keep in mind as we begin to look at religious change in the Sixties.
This free course is an adapted extract from the Open University course.