This post excerpted from the book “Rocket Scientists’ Guide to Religion

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So what is religion? Answering that question is obviously why you are here. You have come to this book by whatever path you have come to this book because you want a better understanding of religion, and that is a good thing. As sociologist Heffernan notes,1 there are a lot of good sociological reasons to be looking at religion. There are also a lot of good psychological, historical, and even personal reasons to look at and understand religion. Of course, I’m a sociologist and so we will be organizing our examination of religion from the perspective of a sociologist, but we will also be looking from a historical, psychological, neurological, and personal view as well.

Before we get underway and answer the question, what is religion, we need to provide a few preliminary definitions about sociology, institutions, and such. For example, we should define what sociology is. For those who do not know, sociology is the scientific study of society in general, and the institutions that makeup up society, in particular.

Of course, everybody knows what a society is, but what is an institution? There are two things you need to know if you are going to understand what an institution is.

Number one, you need to understand that an institution is an organized set of rules and procedures, norms and values, that exists “over and above” the individual. An institution is an institution because you have to follow the rules and procedures, and because these rules and procedures exist even when you are not in the room.

Think about it. If you are a student, this means you are involved in an educational institution. To be a student, you follow the rules and procedures of the institution. You show up on time. You attend class. You read assigned books. You listen to teachers. You take exams. You receive some marks on a piece of paper. When you leave the institution, when you graduate, the same rules apply to the next person, who, in order to be a member, has to follow the same rules and procedures.

If there are rules and procedures, norms and values, if you have to follow these rules and procedures and accept the norms and values, and if all this exists where you do or not, then you are involved in, or looking at, an institution.

In addition to understanding that institutions are about immortalizing rules and procedures, norms and values, the second thing you need to understand in order to understand institutions is that an institution is a functional component of society. That is, institutions are created for a reason.

What kind of function does an institution perform? For what reason (or reasons) is an institution created? Generally speaking, an institution is always created to meet some kind of human need.

What kind of needs do institutions meet?

That really depends on the institution, who set it up, and what their reasons were for creating it in the first place were.

Some institutions are set up to meet the general needs of society as a whole. For example, our schools and universities are set up to meet society’s general need for education. Day cares are institutions set up to meet our general need for childcare. Banks are set up to meet our need for a place to save money, or to borrow for personal or business development.

Some institutions are set up to meet more focused needs. The National Rifle Association (NRA) in the U.S., for example, as it currently exists, is there meet the needs of gun manufacturers to sell more guns. The World Bank meets the needs of elites for financial stability. The IMF meets the needs of elites for mechanisms of colonial wealth extraction, and so on an so forth.

Sometimes, institutions can serve both the general needs of society and more specific needs of certain members. A media institution, like a newspaper, serves the general needs of society for entertainment, education, and news. However, a media institution also serves the more focused needs of advertisers seeking to manipulate consumers into buying more of their products.2 Similarly, Facebook also meets general needs and specific needs. It meets the general need of friends and family to stay in touch and connected, but it also meets the specific needs of oligarchs the world over to assault democracy and manipulate mass consciousness.

The need or needs that an institution is set up to meet are usually obvious, as is the case with a doctor’s office, a bank, an insurance company, a school, and so on. However, sometimes the needs an institution meets are not obvious, or even hidden. Esoteric religious institutions like Freemasonry or the Skull and Bones are set up to meet needs, but unless you are inside and high up, we can only speculate on what needs such a secret, exclusive, filial organization might meet. I personally suspect these secretive filial organizations serve both the individual and collective political and economic needs of their elite members, as is obvious if you watch the Netflix documentary The Family. But that is another story.

Whether an institution is set up to meet general needs or specific needs, whether the needs it meets are overt and easy to specify, or hidden behind closed temple doors, is beside the point here. The idea that you have to get through your head at this point here is institutions are sets of rules and procedures set up to meet some sort of need. You can understand what an institution is if you ask what the rules and procedures are, and if you determine what needs the institution is meeting.

Institutions are important

It will only take a moment or two of thought to see that institutions, whatever needs they meet, are of vital importance to society. Institutions allow for the efficient and disruption-free satisfaction of needs, because they allow the satisfaction of needs to carry on even though individual members of institutions move on or die off. I teach in a university, and inside that institution, I follow established rules and procedures. If I move on and get another job, the teaching that I do goes on, just somebody else comes and fits into the role. This important aspect of institutions means that the satisfaction of needs can go on uninterrupted, and that we do not have to rebuild our institutions for every new generation. If I drop dead tomorrow, for example, the fact that my courses exist within an institution means that the course can still go on. All the institution has to do is find an individual qualified to teach this course and voila, human society goes on.

The sociology of religion is the scientific study of the institution of religion
The fact that institutions provide continuity in the satisfaction of human needs is the particular strength of human institutions. Without institutions, human society would be a lot less advanced, enjoyable, and beneficent than it is today. As fascinating as institutions are, the point here is not to teach you about sociology or institutions. The point is here is to have a clear understanding of what the Sociology of Religion is all about. Based on what I have said so far, we can say that the Sociology of Religion is the scientific study of a particular human institution, in this case, religion. Thus, we define the sociology of religion as the sociological study of the institution of religion.

What need does religion meet?

This take on religion seems simple and straightforward enough. Of course, if you accept that the Sociology of Religion is the study of the religion as a social institution, and if you accept the fact that social institutions are set up to meet some human need or another, the question becomes, what need (or needs) is the institution of religion set up to fulfill?

Answering that question in basic form is easy. Religions, like our educational institutions, are institutions set up to meet our very human need for truth, or our need to “know and understand” the world, in Maslow’s terms.

For more on Maslow and what he said about our human needs, go read the following article.

Maslow’s Two Hierarchies of Need

More specifically, religions are set up to answer our need to answer life’s Big Questions, or what sociologists Peter Berger called Existential Imperatives3 Big questions are the ultimate questions of existence and cosmology. Berger said these imperatives include questions like “who am I?” and “Why am I here” and “What happens when I die?” I think we can include other questions as well, like “Is there a God?” or “How was the universe formed?” Any of the “big” questions of life can be included here.

Religion is a social institution set up to fill our needs to know and understand by answering the big questions of our existence.The need to know and understand the world, the need for truth, the need to answer our big questions, is powerful in children, and unless something happens to suppress this need, it is typically carried over into adulthood where, just like any need, we keep looking for a way to satisfy the need.
It is not rocket science.

When we are hungry or thirsty, we look for food and water until we find some, at which point we eat and drink until we are satisfied. It is the same for our cognitive needs, our need for truth, or our need to answer the big questions. We have this need and we look for answers until we are satisfied.
When it comes to the need for food and water, humans have some well-established institutions that help satisfy those needs. When we get hungry, we don’t randomly go out into the woods hunting and gathering. That’s way too inefficient and totally unnecessary. Instead, we go to an institution (i.e., a retailer) that has been set up to satisfy this human need. What institution have humans set up to meet our existentially imperative needs? At this point, you know the answer to that question without me even saying. The answer is Religion. Religion is an institution set up to meet our cognitive need to answer the big questions of life.

A sensible definition for two reasons

This definition of religion is sensible, even obvious I think, for at least two reasons. Reason one, religious institutions do overtly provide answers to life’s big questions. Whether that religion Buddhism, Mormonism, Hinduism or Catholicism, they all offer answers to the big questions. If you are part of a religion, you will know this to be true, and you can test the veracity of this by simply asking yourself some existential questions, and giving the answer that your religion (if you had one) gave you.

I was raised Catholic, for example, and I know the Catholic answers to life’s big questions.

Is there a God?

Yes, there is God.

Who am I?

You are a child of God

Where did I come from?

God created you.

What’s the purpose of life?

To serve God and redeem yourself.

How was the universe formed?

God said, let there be light, and the universe emerged in a puff of light.

You can do the same exercise no matter what religion you came from. Ask yourself the above questions, and write down your religion’s answers. Whether you were raised Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan, Pagan, or whatever, the situation is the same. Your religion, whether you were born into it or later chose it, has answers to life’s big questions.

All religions everywhere no matter how big or small, or mainstream or cult-like, or what, provide answers to life’s big questions. It is what these institutions do. They fulfill our need to know and understand life by providing answers to life’s big questions.

The second reason that this definition of religion seems sensible and logical is that people choose their religion, when they are given a choice, based on its ability to answer big questions. If you are an adult member of a church, you are likely there because you believe and are satisfied with the answers your religion provides to your big questions. At the same time, if at any time you become dissatisfied with the answers your religion provides, you will either go off on some kind of vision quest to try to figure some things out yourself, or you will find a new religion which has been set up to provide you with ready-made answers. This is a pretty standard experience for everybody on the planet, I think. People pass in and out of religions searching for answers that satisfy them. If they do not find answers that satisfy, they move on.

You can see this biographical life pattern a lot in the literature on emergent religions and cults. Pagans, for example, Wiccans in particular, often consider themselves refugees from traditional western religions. Pagans become pagans, Wiccans become druids and so on because they were not satisfied with their traditional religious institutions, and went on a search to find something more real and authentic.4

People go from Catholicism to Judaism, from Judaism to the New Age, and even, straight-line, into Satanism, because they are looking for some satisfying answers. This is exactly why some guy by the name of “Joel” chose to become a member of the Church of Satan, or so it says in the article below. If you read it, you will find that Joel chose “Satan” not because of some dark, ancient, cosmic, evil, but because, “having found more questions than answers in the more traditional religious values his family subscribed to,” he felt that Satanism was a “better fit.”

So it is for Joel, so it is for all of us, I would hazard to say. We look for our answers to big questions and we fish around until we find something that is comfortable and “fits,” that is, that satisfies our cognitive need for truth. When we find that, we stop and settle in. We stay either until we die, or until something happens that unsettles us and gets us moving again.

I think you can confirm the truth not only by thinking about the answers you have to life’s big questions, but also by reflecting on your own biography. I know I can. I started out Catholic but became dissatisfied with the answers and the hypocrisy I was experiencing when I was ten or eleven years old. At that point, I left Catholicism.

However, just because I stopped going to church di not mean I stopped looking for answers to the big questions. I kept looking. I searched around in New Age bookstores that were popping up in my home town at the time, and explored a bunch of different things, just like a lot of people do. However, I never really settled in on anything until my mid-twenties when I entered a sociology course and learned that Karl Marx thought religion was an opiate, and that Max Weber thought it had been used to pimp and promote capitalism. After a couple of years of university courses in sociology, that seemed correct to me. At that point, I jumped in both feet. I enthusiastically learned science’s answer to the big questions (see below) and forever gave up my quest looking for answers in the magical forests of religion. I had found my answers and for a long time, I was satisfied with that.

Pause and reflect upon your own “pathway” to the truth. Are you currently satisfied with your answers to life’s big questions? If so, what was the path to satisfaction that you took. If you are currently not satisfied, are you doing something about it? Are you reading books? Are you fishing out churches? Are you joining online groups? If so, you are living proof of the arguments in this chapter.

Of course, your biography will be different than mine but I’m pretty confident in saying that it will be similar as well. Your relation to religion will be one of a person looking for answers. If you are a member of a religion now, it is because you are satisfied with the answers it provides. If you have ever switched your religions, it is because you have been looking for answers that are more real or authentic. Even if you have given religion up totally, or have never really joined, it will be you have found satisfactory answers in science, or nihilism, or whatever.

Clearing up confusion

It seems self-evident to me at least that religion is an institution set up to provide answers to life’s big questions. It also appears self-evident, to me at least, that this definition can be quite useful. It is a definition that can, in my view, clear up some of the intractable confusions scholars have faced when it comes to understanding and defining religion.5

For example, with this definition, there is minimal ambiguity about what religion is. That is, with this definition, we can clearly identify what is a religion from what is not. For example, using this definition, we can clearly identify traditional institutions such as Catholicism and Buddhism as religions. We can also identify new religious movements (a.k.a. emerging religions) and cults as religions.6

Within the rubric of this definition, questionable institutions like freemasonry and Scientology can be clearly seen as religions as well, because they are institutions and because they provide (in the case of the former, Christian type, and in the case of the latter, imaginative science fiction type) answers to life’s big questions.

By the same token, some things, like the Boy Scouts, which may have religious elements, are clearly not religions because they do not provide their own unique answers to the big questions. There may be Christian elements in a typical boy scout club, but that’s because the leaders are Judeo-Christian and not because the institution itself was set up to provide answers to these bigger needs.

The definition even helps clear up confusions, like the notion that the New Age movement represents “spirituality” over and above “religion.” When you look at the New Age movement, you clearly see an institutional framework and you clearly see answers to big questions.

As far as being an institution, the new age movement does meet the classic sociological definition of an institution. It has rules and procedures, norms and values that exist “over and above” the individual. The New Age movement has its spokespeople, who will identify themselves as such, its own publishers and bookstores, its places of worship (trade shows, conferences, workshops), and so on. All of these aspects of the New Age movement exist over and above the individual. More to the point, if any single individual or group of individuals were to drop dead tomorrow, the New Age movement would continue.

As far as answering the big question, the New Age movement certainly provides answers. Read any New Age author and it won’t take very long for you to come across their answers to life’s big questions. The answers you find there might be different than what you would expect if you come from traditional religion, or not. Sometimes the ideas you find in the New Age movement are tinted a bit differently. Whatever the case, whatever new age priest/author, guru/speaker you come in contact with, they will have some standard and recognizable answers to life’s big question.

Given that there is an institutional structure to the New Age movement, and given you can find answers to big questions within it, I think we are justified in calling the New Age movement a religion, despite the fact that many people, practitioners and scholars alike, want to see it, for one reason or another, as something different, and perhaps superior to, religion.7 Regardless of the reason we distinguish it, the New Age movement is, despite its “loose” structure, arguably a social institution set up to answer the big questions of our existence, and as such, it is a religion through and through.

Science as Religion

Taking our definition of religion and using that to examine the New Age movement allows us to see the New Age movement in a more critical light. We can also turn this definition of religion onto other institutions that answer big questions, like science, for example. Using our definition of religion, we can see that science can function like a religion. Science is an institution, that is for sure. Science also provides answers to big questions. You can see this clearly if you lay out the big questions listed earlier and provide the scientific answers to them.

Is there a higher power?

No, a higher power is not needed to explain the world.

Who am I?

You are a naked ape.

Where did you come from?

You evolved from single-cell organisms.

What is the purpose of life?

To struggle, survive and reproduce.

How was the universe formed?

The universe emerged out of nothingness in a magical puff of light.

As you can see, science does provide answers to all the big questions, and it is an institution. So… by our definition, science appears to be a religion.

Of course, like members of the New Age movement or a Freemason’s lodge, members of the scientific community are not going to want to have their institution defined away as a religion. Objectors are going to say that there are important differences between science and religion. For example, defenders of science are going to say that science is focused on empirical evidence. Unlike in more traditional religions, in science, you cannot just say whatever you want. You have to provide empirical evidence or logical argument, preferably both. This is different than religion, because religion is not empirically based, it is authority-based. When you belong to a religion, you believe the answers because the answers come from an authority that you have been taught to accept and trust. This authority could be a priest, a guru, or even a sacred book, like the Bible, Koran, or Upanishads. Within a religion, you believe the answer because you believe in the veracity of the authority.

To be sure, there is a certain truth to this. Science absolutely requires you to prove what you are saying, while religions, especially the established ones, never encourage you to question the belief systems they provide. They always tell you it is a matter of faith. So there is definitely this important difference between the two.

At the same time, just to be fair, we have to remember, choosing a religion is not just about trust in some blind authority. There is an important element of human reason and human choice involved as well. People choose a religion, just like they choose science, because it meets their need to know and understand—because they are satisfied with the answers. Humans always leave a religion when they become dissatisfied and unhappy with the answers it provides. This is probably why established religions always emphasize faith over facts. It is easier to maintain authority over people when they do not know the truth of things.

In addition to saying that science is all about empirical evidence, objectors to the notion that science is a religion are also going to say that science has special scientific methods for coming up with answers, whereas religion has no methods at all. Scientists use laboratories, experiments, and various rigorous observational methods to get at the truth of things. Scientists observe and reflect, talk to each other, analyze, and criticize. Religion, by contrast, is more a matter of faith. People who follow a religion do not go about seeking to verify Christ’s miracles, or to examine the historical record, or to look at how the Church edited the bible, or anything like that. Catholics never test the hypothesis that God is some grey-haired patriarch in the sky. They simply accept because somebody told them it was so.

Science certainly does have special methods which it uses to come up with truth, or some approximation. These methods work, and we know they work. Why? Because of your computer, your television, your clothes, your phone, your Human Resources department (which relies heavily on psychology), and everything else around you right now. Take a look around you. Take in the vast sweep of human institutions and society. Everything that you have, everything human that exists, is there because science has methods that work. Technologically, as a species, we have gotten a lot farther under science than we ever did under just religion.

Of course, just to be fair, while some religious people do not use scientific methods to assess their religion and faith, religion and human spirituality are not without observable phenomenon, critical thought, and even methods for research and exploration. The Quaker Rufus Jones notes that his religion, and others, is not about authority and dogma but about actual lived experience, observation, and analysis of religious experience.

Our first question in any field is, not What do the scribes and schoolmen say? not What is the unbroken tradition? but, “what are the facts? What data does experience furnish? This shifting of centre from “authority” to “experience” runs through all the pursuits of the human spirit in the modern world, and, as would be expected, religion has been profoundly affected by it. In religion as in other fields of inquiry, the questions of moment have come to be those which deal with life. We take slender interest in dogmatic constructions.8

To be clear, Quakerism emerged as a reaction and rejection of the static, authority-based dogma of the Catholic Church. And this isn’t the only religion to emerge as a reaction to static and authority based dogma. As we will see a bit later, one of the reasons people start-up and enter New Religious Movements like Wicca, is to experiment, experience, and explore. To be sure, the methods they use may not be up to scientific standards, but at the same time, religion is not a fantasy-driven cage-match free-for-all. True, science is primarily focused on methods and evidence, and arguably, scientific methods are powerful, but as we will see in this book, you nevertheless find evidence and method in religion as well.

Just saying…

It is not as black and white as you might think.

In addition to saying that science is about evidence and method, objectors to the notion that science is like religion will also say, quite correctly, that science has a wider focus than religion. While religions are focused primarily, almost exclusively, on just the big questions, science advances a wider search for truth and understanding, delving into cosmology, physics, chemistry, biology, history, psychology, sociology, neurology, medicine, and so. Science does provide answers to big questions, but these are not the only focus.

Finally, objectors to the notion that science is not like religion are going to tell you that science advances while religion does not. The fact that science focuses on empirical realities, the fact that scientists use methods to gather evidence, the fact that scientists are interested in all forms of truth and understanding, gives science a privileged epistemological position vis a vis religion. Science and scientific knowledge evolves. When new evidence emerges, science advances. Religions, because they are focused on faith and authority, remain static.

A good example of the advance of science is the biologist David Mech. David Mech coined the term Alpha Male. This term, which argues that the best males are the “alpha” males that are strong, powerful, and who fight their way to the top of the pack, has penetrated deep into the cultural psyche of this planet. Nowadays, every bully on the planet justifies their callous and exploitative action by reference to this alpha archetype. Recently, however, Dr. Mech has recanted the term, because he was wrong. He knew he was wrong because years later he made empirical observations in the field that proved he was wrong. Since he was focused on evidence and not authority, or personal ego, he immediately recanted.9 You can read the full story about David Mech in the reading below.

Is this true? Does science evolve and does religion stay static? The answer to that is complicated, but mostly yes. In many cases, religious beliefs are pretty static. For the most part, priests in the Catholic Church are still teaching the same thing that they taught a thousand years ago. Similarly, while the Buddhist cannon has evolved, it is still rooted in the original discourses of Buddha, and the basic answers they provide remain the same. I think the same could be said of most religions, even new ones. For the most part, the religions of the world are teaching basically the same things they taught one hundred, one thousand, or even ten thousand years ago.

At the same time, it is not as straight forward as critiques might think. The Quaker Rufus Jones notes that there are contradictory tensions in the religious fabric of this planet, one based on dogma and authority and the other based on evidence and experience.

Two great tendencies come into prominence in the entire course of religious history,—the tendency, on the one hand, to regard religion as something permanent and unchanging, and on the other hand, the equally fundamental tendency to revivify and reshape religion through fresh and spontaneous experiences….Two great tendencies come into prominence in the entire course of religious history,—the tendency, on the one hand, to regard religion as something permanent and unchanging,and on the other hand, the equally fundamental tendency to revivify and reshape religion through fresh and spontaneous experiences.

To get back to our main point, science is like religion because it provides answers to big questions, but it is not like religion because of its focus on empirical evidence and methods. It is also not like religion because it has a much wider focus, and because its knowledge advances with observation and experimentation. For these reasons, I do think science is different than religion.

Still, there are nuances. As already noted, religion is not always about authority and blind faith, it is devoid of empirical evidence and methods, and it does advance and change.

Finally, it is important to be aware that science is not always a fair, objective, arbiter of truth. I would not want to say that science is a religion, but at times its “high priests” can act that way. Everybody knows the story of Galileo. Galileo challenged the establishment “truths.” He argued, for example, that the Earth revolved around the sun. As everybody knows, he was forced to recant by the Inquisition because Church authorities did not like what he was saying and how he said it.10

In this modern era of science, you would think that this sort of violent defence of orthodoxy would be long gone. Unfortunately, it is not. Just like Christianity and its dogma before it, science is open and free so long as you stay within the canonical boundaries set out for you within the first couple of years of your post-secondary training. Try to break outside the boundaries of established scholarly canon and look out, because before you know it, you will find yourself in the same bad place that Galileo did when he was banished for daring to question Church creed.

Sound harsh, unfair, and out of touch with the image of science as objective arbiter of truth. Consider the example of biochemist Rupert Sheldrake who, after publishing a book called A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation,11 was publicly shamed and summarily excommunicated from the scientific establishment for daring to challenge the materialistic status quo.

The establishment stopped short of burning his book, but it is not because they did not want to. At the time of its publication, the then editor of the scientific journal Nature, John Maddox, penned an editorial entitled “A book for burning”12 in which he suggested that Sheldrake’s book A New Science of Life was the “best candidate for burning there has been for many years.” The editorial, a “hysterical attack” by some estimations, “put an end to his academic career and made him persona non grata in the scientific community.”13 In other words, he was excommunicated from the institution of science.

What would cause a member of the scientific establishment to react with such hysterics? What would motivate him to end the career of a Cambridge scientist? The stock answer is he reacted so violently because Sheldrake put forward a theory of biology, a theory of life, that was rooted in non-material “morphic” mechanisms and fields, whereas biology was all about the hard physical reality of cells and biochemical processes. Sheldrake rejected a purely materialistic take on life, and even went so far as to include things like telepathy and other paranormal phenomenon as evidence for his assertion.14 To a hard-nosed scientist like Maddox, this was blasphemous, heretical, nonsense.

What is most interesting about this example is just how closely Maddox’s reactions mirrored the reactions of establishment authorities in the Catholic Church. The threat of death and torture is off the table these days, but Maddox had no trouble publicly shaming Sheldrake and excommunicating him from the scientific church.


We started this chapter asking the question “What is religion?” At this point we have a definition of religion. Religion is an institution set up to answer life’s big questions, to satisfy our need to know and understand. As we have seen, this definition brings clarity to the field and clears up some misconceptions and confusions. It even leads us to look at little more critically at this thing we call science. When we do, we see that science and religion are not as diametrically opposed as some people would have us believe. To be sure, science is all about facts, logic, methods, and so on, but religion is not all about authority, blind faith, and superstition, as some critiques would have you believe, and science is not exactly free from the sin of dogma and closed minds. There’s nuances. If you understand religion and human spirituality, you have to understand these nuances.

So where does that leave us, and where do we go from here? Since religion is an institutionalized attempt to answer life’s big question, the next step would be to examine the extent to which religion fulfills its function. In other words, does religion provide satisfactory answers to life’s big questions, or not? we will begin our examination of this question in the next unit when we look at one of the answers that religion provides, which is “evil.”


1Catherine Heffernan, “Why Should Sociologists Look at Religion,” Social Science Teacher 34, no. 2 (2005): 17–20.

2David Miller and William Dinan, A Century of Spin (London: Pluto Press, 2008),

3Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (New York: Anchor Books, 1969).

4Starhawk, Spiral Dance, The – 20th Anniversary: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess: 20th Anniversary Edition: Starhawk: 9780676974676: Gateway – Amazon.Ca (New York: Harper One, 2011).

5Andrew M McKinnon, “Sociological Definitions, Language Games and the ’Essence of Religion,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 14, no. 1 (2002): 61–83.

6Lorne L. Dawson, Comprehending Cults: The Sociology of New Religious Movements (Oxford University Press, 2006); Philip Jenkins, Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); John Saliba, Understanding New Religious Movements (New York: Altamira Press, 2003).

7Why do people like to think the New Age movement is a spirituality and not a religion? Some of it could be ego. Spiritual people sometimes feel superior, more free, less “indoctrinated,” than religious people. Part of the reason is also economic. As the authors of $elling Spirituality The Silent Takeover of Religion note, “obscuring” the true nature of the New Age movement as a religion has monetary benefits for the individuals and corporations that commercialize the human need to know and understand through provision of “spiritual” products (crystals, singing bowls, books) and services (channelling, Reiki healing, and the like).

8Rufus Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion (London and New York: Macmillan and Co., 1909).

9David Mech, “Outmoded Notion of the Alpha Wolf,” 2015,

10Julie Mianecki, “378 Years Ago Today: Galileo Forced to Recant,” Smithsonian Magazine, 2011,

11Rupert Sheldrake, A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation (London: Paladin, 1987).

12John Maddox, “A Book for Burning,” Nature 293 (1981): 245–46.

13A. Freeman, “The Sense of Being Glared At: What Is It LIke to Be a Heretic?,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 12, no. 6 (2005): 5.

14John Horgan, “Scientific Heretic Rupert Sheldrake on Morphic Fields, Psychic Dogs and Other Mysteries,” Scientific American Blog Network, 2014,


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