published on March 22, 2019
Marianna Ruah-Midbar Shapiro
Historians as Storytellers
A Critical Examination of New Age Religion’s Scholarly Historiography
This study makes a bold statement on the problematic nature of historic academic research, and its implications on our understanding of religion and culture. The case study is New Age religion’s scholarly historiography. It appears that New Age religion plays a part within narrative imagination, which often contains moral allusions as to the heroes or antiheroes, as well as literary allusions to the causal sources of events or to expected developments. We review the conflicts that arise between utterly differing opinions in some of the field’s fundamental issues, and thus evoke several of the challenges historical research on NA faces: when did it debut on the historical stage? Which ideological movements did it draw upon? Who are its unmistakable heralds? Did it already reach the height of its strength, and if so, when? The survey of scholarly studies indicates that the history of New Age is ever-changing. Thus, we argue that though historic discussion may deepen the analysis of a religious phenomenon and its understanding and give it context and meaning—it cannot decipher it. We cannot rely on history in defining a phenomenon, in attempting to comprehend its essence, its power, its importance, and most certainly not its future.