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Contemporary 'Spiritual' Practices

Network convenors

Le Menestrel, Sara, National Center For Scientific Research (Cnrs), Center For North American Studies
Witzeling, Thomas, Universite De Lausanne, Institut d’histoire et anthropologie des religions,


This network aims to foster international exchanges and collaborations around the anthropology of contemporary ‘spiritual’ practices. Inspired by stimulating encounters at pioneer seminars (“Nouvelles formes de médiation relationnelle” (New forms of relational mediation) at EHESS (Paris) and “Approches comparées du New Age” (Comparative approaches to New Age) at EPHE (Paris)) and at conference panels (“Contemporary spiritualities and ‘New Age’: Ethnographic and historical-comparative approaches to a transnational field” at the 2018 EASR annual conference; “Thérapies alternatives spirituelles” at Uni Neuchâtel (Switzerland) in 2019.), we observed a glaring gap between the worldwide circulation of contemporary spiritual practices and the marginality of the field, largely unexplored within anthropology. Whereas leaders of these eclectic practices have been prolific writers as producers of knowledge deeply engaged in building legitimacy, anthropologists have not fully embraced contemporary spiritual practices as a legitimate field in itself. We argue for the necessity of extensive ethnographic fieldwork, and for research rooted not only on a corpus of writings and discourse saturating the field but also on participant observation. Rather than restricting our approach to anthropology, we draw on other fields necessary to the contextualization and historicization of contemporary spiritual practices as situated in specific time and space while also interconnected through transnational movements.

Our hope is to establish a cross-disciplinary network and offer regular occasions for exploring within a comparative approach the transversal dynamics as well as the differences within the operative logics of these spiritual practices.

A wide variety of spiritual practices overlap and typically belong to various realms between therapy, science, wellbeing, and politics: from New Age to Neopaganism, from ecospirituality to neo-traditionalist movements among numerous categories, this network is open to ‘spiritual’ practices regardless of their cultural contexts.

Our first panel will take place in 2022.

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