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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Divinity : Religious Studies

Undergraduate Course: New Age Beliefs and Practices (REST10045)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Divinity CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course investigates new age/holistic beliefs and practices in Europe and North America. It combines empirical study with insights from a range of social theorists. The course identifies a fluid field of 'spiritual' beliefs and practices and locates 'new age' within the history of modern alternative religion. We consider patterns in the socio-demographic base of new age beliefs and practices in the light of post-Christianization and religious pluralisation, and with reference to interplay between personal agency and structural constraints. Finally we ask: in what ways, if at all, do new age/holistic beliefs and practices represent a 'spiritual revolution' as argued by some scholars?
Course description Academic Description:
This course investigates the modern field of popular beliefs and practices known as 'new age' or 'holistic' spirituality. It aims to describe, contextualize and explain key features of new age spirituality with reference to their content and structure and to their distribution in the population at large. The course has three overall goals: to explore the theoretical value of studying new age spirituality, to explain its international appeal for practitioners, and to critically assess its social and public significance in modern societies.

Syllabus/Outline Content:
We begin with the problem of demarcating a hyper fluid field of beliefs and practices that crosses traditional boundaries of 'religious' and 'secular'. We examine definitions of 'new age' and discuss the grounds of its inclusion within the comparative study of religion/s. We explore the role of authorities and traditions in the development of a culture of seekership spread via networks, small groups and other 'glocal' institutions. We consider evidence for an emerging new age cosmology and using both qualitative and quantitative data we trace the permeation of new age beliefs and practices into everyday life settings, including health, wellbeing and ritual behavior. Primary sources will consist in selections of writings by 'new age' authors and in the material gathered by students for their field report.

Student Learning Experience Information:
The course consists in a two hour combined lecture/seminar in which typically the first hour features exposition by the course teacher(s) and the second hour seminar work by students working from prepared readings. In-course assessment accounts for 50% of the grade and consists in a descriptive field/data report on a topic devised by the student in consultation with the CM, plus an essay from a list of questions. The remaining 50% consists in a two-hour examination requiring three exam essays.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 Divinity/Religious Studies courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Show critical knowledge of a diffuse field of popular beliefs and practices
  2. Describe key characteristics and institutions in this field
  3. Practice simple multi-causal analysis (historical, social, cultural) of new age data
  4. Form an overall assessment of the cultural significance of new age spirituality
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Course organiserDr Steven Sutcliffe
Tel: (0131 6)50 8947
Course secretaryMs Joanne Hendry
Tel: (0131 6)50 7227
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