Methodological Failures

I’m currently reading Matthew Wood’s Possession, Power, and the New Age, and I’ve found an extremely provocative passage in the conclusion to his second chapter (a summary of “The field of New Age studies”):

The transmission of the New Age motif throughout sociological studies of religion and more widely in the social sciences is therefore based upon the particular view of the New Age established within the specific field of New Age studies itself. But in doing so, these broader discourses repeat and amplify a number of crucial theoretical and methodological problems that have barely been raised in the relevant literature. Theoretically, the most central concerns the distinction between self-authority and external authority. Without acknowledging that they are doing so, scholars slip from asserting that self-authority is emphasized in New Age discourses to asserting that the exercise of self-authority marks the New Age. These views leave the self and authority peculiarly untheorized, given the prominence of sociological approaches that have directly addressed how the self is constituted or formed through social context and the authorities within this. To engage critically with New Age studies properly, then, it is important to go back to fundamental issues of social power and build up a more socially contextualized and plausible theory for understanding the self and authority. … It is as if the New Age motif casts a spell over those who set out to study it, dampening critical sociology.

I’m currently working on “spirituality,” and I’m finding much of the (pseudo-)scholarly literature on “spirituality” suffers from the same deficiencies.

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