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Spiritual ren(ai)ssance

The world is witnessing exponential change, yet faith is still failing at providing hope in face of uncertainty. Are the value of thoughts, emotions and the soul simply forgotten? Or has religion been masking individual profit with collective well-being? One this is sure: spirituality has changed and a post-modern mindset is being integrated in daily life as a resource for delivering meaning. Perhaps, the time has come for a new spiritual wave to challenge corruption and stagnated conservatism.


︎︎︎ISABEL EVANGELISTI / SOCIETY

Three human levels

The COVID-19 outbreak affected us on three interconnected levels: physically, mentally and spiritually. All started with a physical response which triggered symptoms, social distancing and testing. This state fueled a second effect, on our psyches, causing panic, destabilization and fragile mental health conditions. And then there is the third area, the spiritual response of the outbreak, that is, and was, already being neglected far before this pandemic took place. 

Spiritual awareness 

In a society that praises the constant value of materiality, spiritual well-being is alien to many people’s daily lives. We live in a system that “fuels the desperate urge to flee from ourselves” and people tend to forget self-awareness and the value of soul, thoughts and emotions. Along with an increasing distrust in authorities, dogmas belonging to traditional religious orientations are being questioned more than ever. It is no coincidence that Trump’s recent nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court has drawn massive attention. “The
dogma lives loudly within you” were the words that democrat Dianne Feinstein stated, while questioning Barrett’s Christian faith already back in 2017. The new candidate’s religious personal beliefs on legal challenges, among which abortion rights, is by all means a current subject of speculation However, despite its occasional controversial purpose, spirituality has changed also for the better. People are moving away from this idea that faith equals certainty. Instead, it feels more like hopefulness in the face of uncertainty, and embracing question, doubt, learning, exploring.
film still from “Eight and a half” by Federico Fellini

From traditional religion... 

Over the past few decades, traditional religion in the US and Europe has been in decline, with physical institutions gradually shutting down. According to Pew Research Center in 2019, “more and more people over the past decades, say their religion is nothing in particular, or self identify as atheist or agnostics. About a quarter of US adults now say they think of themselves as spiritual but not religious”. This means that attendance at formal services is currently at low yet people are still looking for meaning. And this idea of spirituality giving individuals a sense of purpose isn’t new. In fact, it dates back to pas phenomenons such as the 1980s New Age Movement, which made a profound impact on Western youth culture and valued spiritual practices to achieve personal transformation. This trend however fell silent by the mid 1990s.

...To Post-modern spirituality

“In a unbundled world” states Tara Isabella Burton, author of Strange Rites: New
Religions for a Godless World, “people pick what they want from different faiths and incorporate it into their lives, a little Buddhism here, a little Kabbalah there. It is consumer-driven religiosity”. In other words, globalization, the internet and especially social media had “the potential to bring spirituality to the masses online, which has renewed many people’s interest in it and is now deeply rooted in individualism and self-reflection”.  According to postmodern philosophy, this “new” spirituality embraces “a system of thought which views society in state of constant change with no absolute truths. It strengthens the perspective of the individual which may seek to draw eclectically on diverse religious beliefs, practices and rituals”. 

A new ground for hope

While the pandemic has nothing but worsened the fragile state of well-being, the trend of incorporating postmodern spiritual practices on a daily basis has increased among a great variety of sectors. In the academic world, The School of the Art in Chicago took “wellness practices such as group meditation and transitioned it to its virtual platform”. This also applied to healthcare, where hospitals were demanding stress management and 24/7 access to “mindfulness tools”.  Following the same pattern, companies and businesses
are collaborating with innovative spiritual consultant agencies such as Sacred Design Lab, a start up which uses “spiritual tools as a technology for delivering meaning”. In a recent New York Times article, Casper ter Kuile, co-founder of the lab, reports “We’ve seen brands enter the political space. The next white space in advertising and brands is spirituality”. Also in fashion, generation Z and millennials seem finding new guidance in spiritual concepts. In July 2020, Highsnobiety launched “ ‘Inner life’, a capsule collection aimed to connect with the inner selves and tackling topics connected to happiness.
“Homo -?” by Filip Custic

Destructive Individualism

Despite its benefits, post-modern spirituality highly relies on subjective thought and interpretation. Therefore, there’s always the risk that individuals strumentalize a “curated” set of beliefs to their own personal profit. History provides us with several examples of destructive cult leaders, who managed to cause harm to many people as the situation got out of control. One can just think of the Charles Manson’s case. But even more relevant in today’s hyper
connected society, is the case study on Bentinho Massaro, defined by multiple sources as a controversial “spiritual influencer recruiting followers online”. An article at the beginning of this year on The Guardian, suggested that he could have instigated the suicide of one follower during a retreat held in Sedona, Arizona. In short, if corruption and selfishness replace responsibility and accountability at the core of a leader’s intentions, spiritual practices can easily compromise collective well-being.

The bigger picture

Religions have always tried to give answers about human condition, as it is often a basic human instinct to seek for control and certainty. However, relying on one religion with set-in-stone views, can be limiting, lead to close mindedness and to no real system of comparison Especially nowadays that “truth” and “fake” seamlessly blend together causing disorientation, the invitation to question and rely on independent thinking along with common sense seems stronger than ever. All in all, faith is in a state of constant flux and
post-modern spirituality is thus just a temporary label. As innovative technologies are boosting rapid change and “algorithms are indoctrinating” users on the web, one ne question arises: what will a post-human spirituality look like?

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