Seeking the enlightened self: a sociological study of popular teachings about spiritual enlightenment
thesisposted on 10.11.2011 by Keith Abbott
In order to distinguish essays and pre-prints from academic theses, we have a separate category. These are often much longer text based documents than a paper.
This is a study of self and authority in the popular spiritual field. Since Heelas's The New Age Movement (1996), the notion of a common Self-spirituality in which seekers trust the authority of the Self has been familiar within academe. Yet, contrary to the direction of Heelas's earlier work on indigenous psychologies and self-religions, the different ways participants conceive terms like seeker and self has largely escaped analysis. This omission allows scholars to homogenise diverse activities and portray broad cultural trends. But, it also black boxes the self, side-lines how authority actually works, and obscures conflicts between participants. I address such gaps by examining four international enlightenment cultures, each with a guru (Andrew Cohen; Gangaji; Tony Parsons; and Steven Saunders of Holigral ). Research materials include field experiences, recorded events, and participants printed and online publications. Combining multi-site ethnography with sociological conversation and discourse analysis, and drawing upon science and technology studies throughout, my argument addresses three themes: seekers; gurus; and truths. Developing Heelas's earlier work, I show seekers are not pre-constituted but configured in interactional practices which draw upon various cultural idealisations of the self. An enlightened self is likewise configured differently in each culture. I show such mundane local practices constitute gurus as experiential experts through associating their personas with participants configured experiences of self. Different configurations of self are consequential, implying differing modes of engagement with wider society and figuring in credibility contests between different cultures. I provide a way of understanding enlightenment cultures which avoids homogenising them, considers their respective potentials to promote social change, and accounts for antagonisms between them. As tangential themes, through a literary Seeker Self voice, I address issues of distance and engagement in studying spirituality and the often transparent penetration of academic discourse by the discourse of spirituality, or its spiritual repertoire.
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