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date: 06 July 2022

Gender and Spirituality in Late Modern Western Societyfree

Gender and Spirituality in Late Modern Western Societyfree

  • Karen PechilisKaren PechilisDepartment of Religion, Drew University


Gender and spirituality are both terms that signify alterity, especially a critique of established social conventions, including conventions of disciplining personhood on the basis of gender classifications and according to doctrinal and ritual patterns of organized religion. To be aware of gender as a hierarchical system is a modern phenomenon; “spirituality” has a much longer history of use and was generated from within organized religion, though its evolution increasingly marked it as a perspective distinct from, and necessitating the evaluative intervention of, official religious channels. Developing through a confluence of interest in Western esotericism, Transcendentalism, Theosophy, the German Romantics, and Asian traditions in the early 20th century, spirituality as a cultural concept and practice was poised to respond to widespread late modern questioning of received social modes, especially in terms of defining oneself. Contesting theoretical predictions of society’s secularization but supporting those of the “subjective turn,” late modern spirituality groups, especially those inspired by feminism, civil rights, and gay rights, valorized marginalized bodies and their distinctive experiences, creating new paths of spiritual expression in which personal experience in the context of group affirmation was foregrounded. Postmodern ideas on the fluidity of gender further contributed to the voices of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer) people who critiqued residual gender binaries operative in some New Age spiritualities and provided new arguments for social inclusivity in spirituality groups and in the wider society.

What characterizes spirituality into the 21st century is the “turn to holism,” in which a wide variety of methods are promoted as leading to a holistic sense of the well-being of body and spirit. Diverse practices include Kirlian aura photography, Johrei Fellowship healing, tarot cards, shiatsu massage, acupressure, aromatherapy, kinesiology, and yoga, leading some scholars to critique the spirituality climate as a neoliberal capitalist “spiritual marketplace.” Others view it as a generative opportunity for seeking and bricolage construction of the self that has transformative potential for both self and society.


  • Mysticism and Spirituality
  • New Religions
  • Religion in America
  • Sociology, Anthropology, and Psychology of Religion

The Terms and Alterity

Gender and spirituality remains an emerging field, largely due to the lack of consensus on the meanings of both terms separately, much less combined. They are both terms of human orientation and situation, at once shaped by natural, social, and affective considerations. When the terms are combined, the resulting phrase suggests a discursive project of alterity. Probably the terms’ most potent intersection describes a will to redefine dominant, established social categories, especially the structure and meanings of the gender binary of male-female and the doctrinal structure and meanings of organized religion.


“Gender” was a term used in linguistic discourse, until it was repurposed in a modern coinage in 1955 to denote a binary system of cultural meaning as distinct from “sex.”1 It is thus a distinctly modern theoretical lens with which to interpret both past and present human social constructions. Its convergence with the genesis of feminism in the 1970s ensured that much theorizing was dedicated to critiques of the gender binary of male and female and its structure of unequal power relations. In the context of such theorizing, gay and lesbian studies and queer theory also came to prominence in questioning fixed gender identities, heteronormative sexuality, and social marginalization. Due to such vigorous theorizing in the ensuing decades, many scholars understand “gender” to be a dominant, socially operative discursive system of meaning ascribed to human biological differences, though continuing areas of theoretical contestation include the difference between “sex” and “gender”; the reduction of “gender” to “women”; biological classification as a discursive project; individuality and collective identities; sexual identity and epistemology; and historical and cultural differences in defining “gender.” Such questioning represents a critical perspective on cultural assumptions and often forms the basis for alternative visions of ways society can and should be structured.


“Spirituality” is an older term whose historical meanings more directly relate to modern usage. Many locate the origins of the term in Christianity, pointing to key factors such as: the apostle Paul’s use of the Greek term for “spirit” (pneuma) to describe a person who was under the Spirit of God, which was influential through the 12th century; the use of the Latin term for “spirituality” (spiritualitas) as a noun during the Middle Ages to designate the clergy; with its roots in French theology in the 17th century, the reemergence of the noun in the 19th and 20th centuries in reference to “the ‘spiritual life’ as the heart of Christian existence . . . [from whence the term] then passed into English via translations of French writings”; and its status as “the preferred term to describe studies of the Christian life,” which “increased after the [Second Vatican] Council until it was the dominant term from the 1970s onward.”2

In the sense of “a way of life characteristic of a religion,” the term has wide application across traditions, including African, Asian, Islamic, and Western.3 Many “American congregational leaders are also deeply invested in developing their member’s spiritual passions, albeit usually by drawing on their own traditions’ spiritual practices and exemplars to cultivate them.”4 A critical perspective would suggest, however, that simply viewing spirituality as co-extensive with an entire religion is too broad. One has only to think of the official contestation within organized religion over the distinctive views of many saints and mystics to see how alternative perspectives could be resisted, rejected, accommodated, or celebrated.

In order to characterize spirituality’s contribution within organized religion, scholars have pointed to the similarity of spirituality to folk religion, popular religion, lived religion, or vernacular religion.5 This approach highlights ordinary people’s participation in religious activity and meaning-making under their own authority in lived experience, though their activity may be quite distinct from official doctrines and practices. Other attempts, which delineate types of spirituality, such as “ascetical-monastic,” “mystical,” “active-practical,” and “prophetic-critical,” also foreground people’s expressively participatory engagement with religion.6 Xochitl Alvizo’s reflections on starting a new Pub Church in 2008 in Cambridge, MA, capture the ties and disjunctures between continuity and revolution:

Starting a Pub Church, or any church for that matter, was never a vision I had for myself, but was an act born out of my willingness to critically analyze the precise place where I was and to get involved in response. . . . Thus, I found myself staying in church. . . . I have stayed to actively participate in church, still compelled by the good news of Christianity I see embodied in Jesus and his community. I do not stay uncritically, however. Pub Church is explicitly feminist, queer, and antiracist in its practices, structures, language, and decision-making. . . . There are many sparks of change, many revolutionary movements, and their radicalness is entailed in strategically tackling the interlocking web of systemic and structural oppressions at their root. These revolutions are not as high profile as perhaps others have been; sometimes they are taking place in a dingy room at the back of a bar where a small group of riffraff gathers to heal and creatively, joyfully, counter the harm inflicted by church.7

New ethnographic research by Giselle Vincett suggests yet another model, one of “the Fusers,” who identify as both within a specific organized religion and a specific spirituality group; in her case study, Christianity and “feminist neo-paganism.”8

At the same time as the term’s contemporary popularity to describe a mode even loosely within established religion, “spirituality” was becoming defined as an alternative to it: “The late twentieth-century discourse of spirituality reflected the struggle of people seeking authenticity and wanting to affirm a meaning to life, but not willing to concede control over meaning to religious institutions. The disavowal of doctrine may, indeed, be a hallmark of their spirituality. Among emerging forms of spirituality were New Age, Wiccan, feminist, twelve step, and earth spiritualities.”9 A late-2017 poll by Pew Research indicates that the “spiritual but not religious” sentiment is growing among the US adult population: “Looked at another way, only 54% of U.S. adults think of themselves as religious—down 11 points since 2012—while far more (75%) say they are spiritual, a figure that has remained relatively steady in recent years. The growth of ‘spiritual but not religious’ Americans has come mainly at the expense of those who say they are religious and spiritual. Indeed, the percentage of U.S. adults in this latter group has fallen by 11 points between 2012 and 2017.”10

Many of the activities of Pub Church described by Alvizo, who identifies herself as Christian, would also apply to spiritual groups opposed to doctrinal religion:

[Pub Church] practices expansive language and symbols for the Divine; it creates its liturgies communally; it shares responsibilities for facilitating the weekly gatherings among the group; makes decisions as a collective; includes time for feedback and critical input about the gathering every week; practices communion in a diversity of ways, with a variety of liturgies depending on who is doing the facilitating; very intentionally deals with the accounting of its shared resources in the most transparent way possible; and makes space for people to shift roles and responsibilities based on interest and availability.11

Many spirituality groups are independent of organized religion and seek to provide an alternative to it on their own terms, whether that be revival of claimed ancient traditions that were oppressed, such as witchcraft and Wicca; belief that humankind is at an enlightened spiritual stage, as with many New Age groups; concern for the neglect or mistreatment of the environment, such as eco-spiritual groups; or animated by issues of empowerment and social justice, such as feminist, womanist, and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer) spirituality groups. The theme of countering oppression is not characteristic of all groups, but it is a prominent feature in response to the fact that many organized religions bar women from authoritative leadership positions, have uneasy relationships with race, and negate outright LGBTQ people. The link between “spirituality within organized religion” and “spirituality in opposition to organized religion” is the promotion of a distinctive perspective that is viewed by its promoters as spiritually meaningful in its validity and authenticity. Their degrees of separation are contingent upon specific individuals’ or groups’ discursive articulation of their relationship or lack of it to organized religion, as well as the responses of organized religion to specific individuals or groups.12 Within this broad contour, the exact ways in which a given spiritual group defines itself as “alternative” is part of the group’s discursive project.

Culturally Locating Spirituality

A Modern Phenomenon

Studies of alternative spirituality have played a role in providing a critical review of and counterpoint to the thesis of secularization, which was once the dominant prediction of the ultimate characteristic of modernity. In their discussion of the history of the theory, which was influentially promoted by Max Weber and sought to explain results of the Enlightenment, William H. Swatos and Kevin J. Christiano state that secularization was not only a matter of the separation of church and state but also reflected the priorities of modern society: “Many social theorists doubted that modernity could combine religious traditions with the overpowering impersonal features of our time: scientific research, humanistic education, high-technology multinational capitalism, bureaucratic organizational life. Reacting on the basis of a functional definition of religion, religion appeared to these theorists denuded of almost all the functions it had previously performed.” In sum, “Regardless of the sociostructural level of the argument, the underlying assumption was that ‘people’ have become or are becoming ‘less religious.’”13

Many now consider the thesis to be “mistaken,” on the grounds that national and international surveys demonstrate the persistence of religious beliefs into late modernity and as even intensified in postmodernity, that select world religions are increasing in population, and given the rise of religious “fundamentalism” globally. Instead, it is suggested that secularization and (re)sacralization are taking place simultaneously. While “modernity tends to undermine the taken-for-granted certainties by which people lived through most of history,” social differences are also a factor: “a purely secular view of reality has its principle social location in an elite culture that, not surprisingly, is resented by large numbers of people who are not part of it but who feel its influence . . .”14 Studies of spirituality, and particularly the New Age, contributed to this critical literature by suggesting that spirituality was a way to re-enchant a disenchanted modern and postmodern world:

Far from the secularization of consciousness producing a situation in which technoscience offers satisfactory solutions to recurring riddles of life, plenty of evidence exists for interest and involvement in many kinds of unconventional beliefs, practices and spiritualities. Globalizing Eastern influences, along with some thoroughly modern emphases on technique, have encouraged movements such as New Age; the (re)feminization of religion has prompted quests for women-friendly religiosities such as Wicca; and attention to horoscopes and other means of seeking guidance and wisdom show no signs of abating.15

Insofar as “spirituality” is a term that has contemporary currency as a description of a distinctive perspective that is asserted as valid, authentic, and spiritually meaningful, its use is a discursive project that has both shaped and been shaped by modernity. Although there are studies exploring spirituality as rooted deeply in Western history, most scholarship has centered on the phenomenon as illuminating Western modernity.16 Peter van der Veer in fact argues for its centrality: “it is important to highlight that spirituality should not be relegated to the fringes of modernity, as often happens, but that it is located at the heart of Western modernity,” and points to Wassily Kandinsky and other modern artists’ link between spiritual experience and expression in abstract art as a primary example.17 As well, contemporary spirituality is rooted in the 19th- and early-20th-century interest in Western esotericism, Transcendentalism, Theosophy, the German Romantics, and Asian traditions, especially in the United States.18 Many of the people involved in such alternatives to organized religion viewed their insights as revealing a perennial wisdom of humankind that crossed boundaries of sects, ethnicities, and nations and as such opened the possibility of a globally realized universal spirituality.

At the same time, spirituality groups both validated and were validated by perceptions of efficacious experiences. In his analysis of American groups, Arthur Versluis characterizes their approach as “immediatism,” which is “an emphasis on direct individual illumination”; it “is not the same as perennialism, universalism, or traditionalism—it refers to a perspective emphasizing direct and immediate access to spiritual insight, and does not carry along with it ancillary doctrines that valorize ancient religions and cultures or for that matter, contemporary world religious traditions.”19 Spirituality was thus carving out a space for itself as participatory, with positive self-transformational results that could be perceived and affirmed on the individual level, in the context of group affirmation. It was a position that many considered distinctive from their experiences in organized religion. Writing in the 1970s, Harvey Cox considered the participatory dimension to be a major factor in the contemporary appeal of Asian religions in the West as well as New Age groups.20

The “Subjective Turn”

Many scholars have pointed to the “subjective turn” as being especially characteristic of late modernity or postmodernity, roughly the 1980s into the 21st century.21 Linda Woodhead summarizes the view:

The late modern condition can be characterized by the extensive and intensive way in which the self becomes disembedded from established traditions, roles, regimes and rituals. Even if this is a social process, brought about by a nexus of factors including the modes of production and consumption characteristic of late capitalism, it is integral to it that it is read as a matter of individual choice and responsibility. Indeed the tendency to interpret social processes in individualized terms becomes sign, symptom and cause of the process of individualization itself. Representations of the self as free, responsible, self-propelled, self-made and independent become dominant . . .22

In their groundbreaking ethnographic study of the town of Kendal, United Kingdom (2005), Paul Heelas and Woodhead state that “the subjective turn” is invaluable to the contemporary study of religion because it provides “a theory which can at one and the same time explain the decline of some forms of the sacred and the rise of others.” Their influential research findings were that the “congregational realm” of traditional religion, with its focus on submission to a higher authority, was declining; in contrast, the “holistic milieu” of spiritual activities, with their focus on “the resourcing of unique subject-lives,” was on the rise.23

A “Spiritual Marketplace”?

The “subjective turn” in spirituality is intimately linked to the contemporary multiplicity of spiritual alternatives, and reference to these as a “spiritual marketplace” that reproduces the neoliberal capitalism of Western societies is contested. An image of the “marketplace” is aptly rendered by Courtney Bender’s walk through the Whole Earth Expo in Boston in 2001, which reveals a jammed and buzzing event, full of booths at which spiritual viewpoints, practices, and products are promoted, attended by a variety of people with various interests in things spiritual, and at which Bender found a wide variety of levels of expertise among promoters and attendees.24 Some studies have characterized this variety, as evidenced by the promotional activity of spirituality groups, some groups’ syncretism, as well as some spiritual practitioners’ participation in several groups, as “do-it-yourself religion,” “pick and mix religion,” “religious consumption à la carte,” or a “spiritual supermarket.”25 Jeremy Carrette and Richard King emphasize privatism in their critique along these lines:

What is being sold to us as radical, trendy and transformative spirituality in fact produces little in the way of a significant change in one’s lifestyle or fundamental behaviour patterns (with the possible exception of motivating the individual to be more efficient and productive at work). By ‘cornering the market’ on spirituality, such trends actually limit the socially transformative dimensions of the religious perspectives that they draw upon by locating ‘the spiritual’ firmly within a privatised and conformist space.26

Kelly Beseke’s detailed analysis traces the origins of this view of religion as privatized in late modernity to Thomas Luckmann’s The Invisible Religion.27

Responses to this characterization of spirituality and New Age include Bender’s emphasis on the “entanglements” of spirituality with multiple fields, including organized religion, the secular, the scholarly academy, healthcare, the arts, and so on.28 Steph Aupers and Dick Houtman assert that there is a “unifying doctrine of self-spirituality” that “constitutes the common denominator of the wide range of beliefs, rituals and practices found in the contemporary spiritual milieu. . . . The sacred cannot be found ‘out there’ . . . but rather ‘in here,’” and “provides the milieu with its ideological coherence.”29 Increasingly, there are calls to explore the diversity of alternative spiritualities through their common reference to “new age,” in order to “disaggregate the field into a series of uses made of a particular discursive emblem, ‘new age’, by particular user-groups, in discrete (but possibly inter-related) historical and ethnographical contexts.”30

Gendered Critical Insights on Spirituality

Validating the Self

Cultural directions that defined modernity gave rise to potent identity politics in late modernity, which in turn raised critical questions on modern social structures, especially hegemonic ways in which subjectivities were defined in order to marginalize them. Along with the political sphere of rights and the social sphere of status and participation, spirituality provided a domain for thinking about and practicing ways of being that were authentic to one’s own experiences and expressions. Initially, the theme of addressing social marginalization and exclusion was to the fore. Particularly in the first couple of decades (1960s and 1970s), spirituality was in many ways “a quest for ontological security.”31

Steph Aupers and Dick Houtman’s thesis, discussed earlier, that “the sacred within” is a unifying ideology of spirituality groups, when viewed from the perspective of gender analysis signals that one’s body does not disqualify one from full spiritual realization, in spite of conventional social and religious messages. It is a radical and potent viewpoint. In Peter Sweasey’s expression: “Queer spirituality distrusts external claims to authority, if they clash with the inner truth of our experience. Having come to this understanding of where real power lies, we are more likely, not less, to challenge whatever tries to deny our hard-won sense of self.”32 Also connecting identity, embodied experience, and social challenge is Emilie Townes’s notion of Black Womanist spirituality as “social witness”: “A spirituality that encompasses all of life, which is social witness, turns to the legacy of colorism and reviews it in relentless detail.”33

Feminist spirituality was an early groundswell in this constructive critical mode in the 1970s, taking aim expressly at patriarchally organized religion, especially via feminism’s self-designated “recovery” of the goddess in Western tradition and celebration and sometimes appropriation of other goddess traditions.34 In newly formed goddess groups, there was an emphasis on granting women authority as leaders of thealogizing (thea signifying “goddess”) and worshipping the goddess, sacralizing the female body, and creating a decentralized space for many women’s experiences and their discussion. For many people, worship of the goddess was entirely empowering, though by the early 1990s there was self-reflexive discussion about the whiteness, privilege, and cisgendered (those who live as the gender with which they were assigned at birth) assumptions of the movement.35 Within Paganism, Dianic Wicca, founded in the 1970s by Zsuzsanna Budapest in Los Angeles and based on feminist spirituality, provided a safe space for lesbian participants in its women-only group. As a counterpart, the loosely structured gay male Radical Faeries was also founded.36 Inspired by the gay liberation movement, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, originally a gay male group, was founded in San Francisco in the late 1970s as a troupe of activist nuns to contest bigotry and promote spirituality.

In the 1970s, feminists also critically evaluated organized religion from within, especially Judaism and Christianity. Major issues included women’s lack of status in terms of both authority and ordinary participation; lack of feminine God language and image; marginalization of historical women in scripture; and negative interpretation of women generally through scripture.37 Feminist scholarship continues today in much expanded fashion in terms of both issues and religions considered.38 Notably, policies of discrimination that block participation continue to be faced by LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer) people within organized religions such as Christianity and Islam because of

the fact that religious communities trail other social spheres in addressing progressively the issue of sexual orientation discrimination. In many ways, this is unsurprising, given that certain quarters of religious communities—authority structures and believers—are steeped in traditions and inclined to uphold moral absolutism. Within this framework, the discrepancy in the treatment of heterosexual and LGB believers is not conceived as sexual orientation discrimination. Rather, it is rationalized in moralistic terms as the preservation of a moral order sanctioned by religious tradition and divine authority.39

Into the 1980s and 1990s, cultural ideas on the nature of the self continued to evolve. Ideas on the relationships between the self and identity became more imaginatively complicated, informed by social, political, individual, philosophical, affective, and so on dimensions into a sense of the “postmodern self.” Different perspectives included whether the self has a core identity or is a multiplicity of identities, or both; to what extent the identity(ies) overlaps or diverges from established expressions, either institutionalized or not; and the extent to which the self has agency to fashion or refashion identity. Even within spirituality groups, there is a line of demarcation between the 1960s and into the 1980s; for example, the sexism, racial exclusion, and homophobia of some high-profile alternative groups in the 1960s, such as Esalen, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and Wicca, were rendered obvious and were increasingly challenged as identity politics got traction.40 In the study of alternative spiritualities today, there is much discussion of individualism and its methodologies of seeking and “bricolage.” Melissa M. Wilcox observes that “commentators on contemporary religion, especially in the United States, have repeatedly pointed to a growing pattern of conscious negotiation: the religious self, like the sexual self, is increasingly a reflexive project in at least some social contexts.” Her ethnographic research on queer women in Los Angeles today supports the idea that “religious individualism” is dynamically engaged with community as her participants craft their identities by seeking and bricolage: “the reflexive self draws on institutions as resources that can provide tools and materials from which the self can be cobbled together in a kind of existential ‘found art.’”41

A Turn to Holism

Studies in the 21st century suggest that women represent the largest group both in contemporary organized religion and in alternative spiritualities, with the former on the decline and the latter on the rise.42 The surveys that show women as predominant in alternative spiritualities tend to be small in scale; for example, the study of Kendal, United Kingdom.43 Surveys revealing that women are predominant in Paganism have been undertaken in the countries of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.44 Given feminism’s generative role in alternative spiritualities, it is of interest that one survey in the United Kingdom that asked today’s young, third-wave feminists about religion and spirituality found that “feminists are significantly less supportive of traditional religion and somewhat more supportive of alternative and non-institutional spiritualities.”45 On a wider scale, in a very careful reading of the World Values Survey (1981–2000), Houtman and Aupers suggest that data on alternative spiritualities over decades across eleven Western countries affirm earlier studies that found spirituality to be more typical of the young.46 Besides the appeal of alternative spiritualities to youth, other “plausible” factors are that they appeal to the educated and to the economically comfortable classes.47 But Houtman and Aupers’s review also found that “spirituality is more typically embraced by post-traditional women than by post-traditional men,” prompting them to raise the question of explaining spirituality’s appeal specifically to women.48

In seeking to respond to that question, Linda Woodhead has argued that the theory of secularization needs to be gendered, taking as its starting point that women and men experienced the process in distinctive ways: “we cannot simply assume that male experience is the ‘leading edge’ of a secularization process with women falling into line once they come under the sway of the same processes of modernization.”49 On the one hand is Western women’s decline in church attendance after the 1960s; on the other is their pronounced and perhaps dominant presence in alternative spiritualities. The concept of “detraditionalization” or “post-traditional” is helpful in thinking about women, secularization, religion, and spirituality, because in the West and cross-culturally women have been both imagined and socially disciplined to be the bearers of “tradition.”50

In the main, organized religion has promoted “complementary” gender roles that are widely familiar, such as male/head of household/breadwinner in public domain/authority, and female/household maintainer/child carer in private domain/obedience. It became noted that “complementary” meant dominance and subordination, and the theory is that when social roles began to be questioned in the 1960s, some women no longer wanted to participate in the established roles or in institutions that supported those roles. At the same time, however, there were no positive cultural models for independent women; instead, a “double standard” remained operative: “a double standard of selfhood, in which men are admired for pursuing independent selfhood, whilst women are expected to orient their lives around others as much as, or more than, themselves.”51 A comment from one of Woodhead’s female informants in the 2005 Kendal Project illustrates the dilemma: “I did a special deal offering reflexology for ₤5 a session. . . . Some of them had to think about it for ages to see if they could spend a fiver on themselves . . . they always put themselves at the bottom of the pile.”52

Identification of this real and ongoing tension in many women’s lives also demands a gendering of the “subjective turn” theory, revealing that, while helpful in some ways, it is based on an “expressive male genius” assumption and does not account for the different demands made based on gender (and race, and class) even when society as a whole evolves away from traditionalism. Rather than Charles Taylor’s image of the “subjective turn” as promoting “artistic creation [as] the paradigm of expressivism,” the gendered goal is a “holistic turn”: “Here it is the ‘mind, body, and spirit’ that become the medium of expression and the achievement of health, wholeness and self-worth that becomes the goal. These linked aspirations are captured in one of the most privileged terms in contemporary holistic spirituality: ‘well-being.’”53

The “holistic turn” pursued by women both supports and challenges traditional images of femininity in its promotion of an affective selfhood. It validates women’s traditional role of providing relational care, including its quotidian activity, bodily emphasis, and the “reciprocal disclosure of feelings.” It subverts traditional images in its viewing of the self—the female self—as a legitimate and equal constituent of that which needs caring and in its assertion that it is desirable to experience pleasure in caring for oneself.54 Far from the view that this spiritual conception of self, and especially women who pursue it, constitute a narcissism, holistic spiritualities’ “emphasis on subjective and embodied well-being is also bound up with concerns about the value of subjects and experiences that continue to be marginalized in many religious and medical contexts.”55 An emphasis on healing, especially self-healing, is to the fore.

As well as gender analysis, the holistic turn of many spiritualities is a fruitful way of conceptualizing the spread of spirituality across various domains via its emphasis on the “whole person,” such as in alternative medicine, business organizations, and education.56 Holistic spiritualities resist a totalizing discourse, because other than “well-being” they resist defining what that self or personhood should be. There is a moral dimension—good care of self, others, planet—but unlike a moralizing discourse it allows for a multiplicity and an intersectionality in which people may agree on one specific thing but not on everything.

Bodily Practice

There is a concern with valorization of the body across the spectrum of alternative spiritualities, though perspectives and practices differ. Gendered considerations have informed projects to create or transform rituals and to adapt and apply body technologies. It is a contextualized claiming of authority: “spiritual practitioners claim their right to ritualize, to create new rites instead of stereotypically repeating traditional ones. They invoke divinities, use gestures and combine symbols borrowed from different religious traditions but also create new ones that represent current situations and problems.”57

From its early days, Dianic Wicca, a women-only Witchcraft group within Paganism, believed ritual to be central for women to reclaim their lives. These rituals were newly created and often celebrated events in women’s lifecycle, as described by Ruth Barrett:

The heart of Dianic spiritual practice focuses on Women’s Mysteries. These rites of passage include the essential physical, emotional, and psychic transitions that only women born with female bodies can experience. These are the five uterine blood mysteries: being born, menarche, giving birth/lactation, menopause, and death, which acknowledge women’s ability to create life, sustain life, and return our bodies to the Goddess at death. . . . To heal and change past attitudes and beliefs that influence the present, many women are creating rituals that revisit our own experiences and life milestones. There is healing in giving ourselves in the present what we were not able to give ourselves in the past. A post-menopausal woman might create or participate in a menarche ritual that may help to heal her from generations of familial denial of that important passage for young women. Countless times I have witnessed the power of ritual to transcend linear time and heal past pain.58

Feminist spirituality also inspired women in Christianity and in Judaism to develop rituals that acknowledge their spiritual experiences, including lifecycle milestones.59

A newly visible issue today is the extent to which transgender people are able to participate in Wicca, given the historically cisgender heteronormative nature of much, but not all, of Wiccan practice. Tensions around the issue of the inclusion or exclusion of transgender women from women-only spaces had surfaced at the 1991 Michigan Womyn’s Festival, but when they re-emerged at the 2011 PantheaCon, an annual Pagan convention held in San Jose, California, it was a different, technologically connected world; as such, there are many publicized versions of exactly what happened, but there is general agreement that the issue concerned transgendered women’s access to a women-only ritual.60 A book published a year after the conference provides a great diversity of perspectives.61 Several of the reflections describe discrimination; for example, Sarah Thompson remarks:

It is my not so humble opinion that a lot of nonsense is talked about gender in magick. Some people say that women can (or should) only deal with female deity, and that men can only deal with male deity. Some, including many from other branches of my own tradition, say that only through the interplay of male and female energies can magick be enacted. Some claim that gay people can not perform magick. Some say that transsexual and transgendered people are similarly disconnected from the current. Personal experience, and that of many people I’ve worked with, illustrates that this simply isn’t so. It’s just so much superstitious nonsense. . . . Of course, gender or sexual energy absolutely can be used, and to great effect, in magick. But, magick is no respecter of people’s petty bigotries. All prejudice can do is restrict your own magick—it has no effect whatsoever on that of me or mine. Bigotry, as an act of Will, however, is an incredibly damaging curse. A killing curse. To be on the receiving end of such energies, consistently, throughout one’s life, requires incredible strength of Will in order to survive.62

Part of the issue is that gender has a distinctive status in feminist discourse and in transgender discourse. In feminist discourse, “gender” has been distinguished from “sex” and analyzed as a cultural construction. Women-only rituals centralize sex in order to create a new and validating cultural construction of women. In a different mode,

The contemporary transgender rights movement instead defines gender as an identity. An individual who is transgender does not identify with the gender that the person was assigned at birth. According to this model, gender is no longer an abstract, pliant category. It can be a real aspect of one’s identity despite that some have been “mis-gendered” (i.e., mistaken for an incorrect gender) from birth. Whereas earlier theorists determined that gender is a category that is socially constructed around sex differences, transgender rights advocates have determined that gender is a true aspect of one’s identity and that the discounting of one’s gender is an act of violence.63

Other aspects of the issue include different generational perspectives, such as baby boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y or millennials, and also second-wave feminism and third-wave feminism. The controversy has reopened and raised anew questions that apply to spirituality and beyond, such as gender and appearance, gender and performativity, assumptions about the body and experience, and the line between diversity and discrimination.

The issue of boundaries is being raised in a different way by holistic spiritualities. Holistic spiritualities pay careful attention to the body, viewing it as providing “privileged access to the inner life of the emotions and the spirit . . . to the depths of authentic inner life, which is framed in terms of its emotional texture.”64 The range of holistic spirituality activities can be extensive, including Kirlian aura photography, Johrei Fellowship healing, Tarot cards, the Theosophical Society, acupressure, aromatherapy, foot massage, kinesiology, and yoga.65 In the 2010s, the “mindfulness momentum” has reached a critical mass, especially with its clinical use in psychology as well as its widespread use in schools and corporate culture, and the cannabidiol (CBD) phenomenon is emerging.66 These multiple dimensions make the holistic spirituality perspective on the body seem at once more intensified and more diffuse than the kinds of rituals originating with feminist spirituality; more intense in its intimacy of body and spirit, and more diffuse in terms of what might count as a spiritual activity and its similarity (or not) to ritual.

In the discourse of holistic spirituality, the affective experience of “well-being” fuses aspects of personhood that may seem distinctive at times of stress; yet the phrase, the “core self” is “frequently and interchangeably” used with terms such as “spirit,” “energy,” “chi,” and “soul,” seemingly distinct from the body as “access.”67 Practice or ritual has long been viewed as a focused moment of alignment among mind, body, and spirit. Holistic spirituality has a different temporal sense in that such moments can occur in the everyday, with nothing more specific than “well-being” providing the frame. So, for example, “Because using luxurious natural bath oil, having a pedicure, or washing one’s hair with an expensive organic shampoo can all engender this sense of well-being—the sense that ‘I’m worth it’—such activities can all fall under the purview of holistic well-being culture.”68 Such a formulation can be viewed as deeply interpellated by capitalist consumer culture and its construction of class and femininity, but holistic spirituality promotes the view that it is a moment of well-being. Thinking about a moment in this way may not seem valid to some: a critique of the Kendal Project is that “it seems misleading to assert that mere attendance at a yoga class, message [sic] therapy session or palm reader’s table counts as participation in the holistic milieu.”69 But in the view of holistic spirituality, human lives are made up of moments (in the eternal now), and a moment of experienced well-being is meaningful.

However, there is still the issue of to what extent the moments of well-being in holistic spirituality are linked to social transformation. Feminism, civil rights, and gay rights liberation all shared and continue to share a focus on political activism, involving practices of protest, and these inform many alternative spiritualities. So too, many alternative spiritualities with connections to organized religion also have a profile of participation in political activism. Reflecting on New Age spirituality and African American women, Akasha Gloria Hull provides ideas on the connections between holistic spirituality and social activism. She asserts that “African American women’s contributions remind us that consciousness about race and gender should exist among New Age thinking and agendas. In many quarters, the apolitical nature of much New Age activity gives the New Age a bad reputation. Opening up to the contributions and voices of black women may help to change that largely white, largely apolitical image. It goes without saying, too, that then the picture will be truer, more accurate, and more complete.” She continues by describing ways in which “being spiritual is also a legitimate way to participate in social struggle”:

If being spiritual means meditating to make connection with the larger self that is part and parcel of the greatest whole, and trying to see, feel, and know our oneness with it; if being spiritual means going to therapy in order to feel and heal our own pain so that we can identify with and heal the pain of others; if it means traveling to Machu Picchu or Egypt to enlarge our vision of the world beyond our own backyards, money worries, and personal problems; if being spiritual means taking up Tibetan Buddhism to open our hearts and minds so that we are moved to alleviate suffering and misery wherever we encounter it, in whatever way we can; if it means seeking transcendent merging with the whole so that we no longer name as “other” those who are different from us and those whose life scripts challenge us to get outside our comfort zones; if it means doing yoga to reduce the stress and tension ballooning inside us so that we can open our eyes to the world around us and really be present in it; if it means visualizing our health and prosperity as pieces of the health and prosperity of every living being; if being spiritual means all of these kinds of things, then, surely, it is a more-than-legitimate way to participate in struggle. Unfortunately, the service aspect of spirituality is glaringly absent from too many spiritual books and activities. . . . Nurturing such a broadly conceived spirituality, we would, I believe, find ourselves acting politically—that is, spontaneously intervening in situations where detrimental inequities of power and privilege are operating, and doing so in ever more creative and effective ways. By so doing, we move from politics to spirituality to creativity, and back again to politics. . . . The union of politics, spirituality and creativity holds tremendous potential for both personal and collective transformation.70

Review of the Literature

Depending on the manner in which “gender and spirituality” is defined, it can be a very wide research topic or a much narrower one. On the wider side, the topic could be explored via scholarly discussion of the gendered personhood of spiritual people and gendered spiritual images they produce; for example, the many studies of historical saints and mystics. However, as noted earlier, it is academically problematic to define “spirituality” as equivalent to “religion.” When “spirituality” is taken as a modern alternative phenomenon, “gender and spirituality” is an emerging field. In 2007, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society launched a call for papers for a special issue on “Gender and Spirituality” to be published in 2008; however, no such special issue was published, presumably relating to a lack of submissions. In 2011, Feminist Review published a special issue on “Religion and Spirituality,” and the editors reported finding that “the majority of articles submitted in the large response to our call focused on major world religions, rather than secular, alternative or New Age spiritualities.”71

Taken as a modern phenomenon, alternative spirituality has been analyzed as developing in response to the crucible of the Enlightenment project and Western interest in hermetic traditions.72 A special focus of study has been alternative spirituality as a response to secularization and the rise of the “subjective turn,” which has been prominently explored by sociologists.73 In the 1960s and 1970s, feminist critique of organized religions, especially Christianity and Judaism, also provided an important impetus to the creation of alternative spiritualities, both those that maintained connection to organized religion and those that departed from it; ongoing discussion can be accessed in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Numerous studies of the New Age are also important in understanding alternative spiritualities in late modern times.74

Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead’s The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality is considered to be a groundbreaking study, both because of its detailed ethnographic methodology and its attempt to explain the decline of attendance at services in organized religion and the rise of alternative spiritualities; the town of focus was Kendal, in northwest England. The methodology and conclusions have received some criticism, but the study has been generative.75 In particular, Woodhead has continued her analysis of Kendal women’s perspectives and activities to create a gendered theory of secularization as well as a gendered theory of the “subjective turn.”76 Her work reveals the gendered nature of the original theories toward a masculine ideal, which were discussed and promoted as “neutral” in the absence of gendered analysis. In the field of gender and (late modern) spirituality, Woodhead’s work is prominent and has been generative.77

In the field of gendered issues raised in LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer) participation in alternative spiritualities, the work of Melissa M. Wilcox stands out, especially her study of queer women in Los Angeles, in which she theorizes the relationship between individualism and community.78 Scholarly discussions of African American women’s spiritualities are significant in their bringing contemporary literature into the conversation as well as an emphasis on the links between alternative spirituality and political-social activism.79

A dimension that has yet to be explored is the relationship between alternative spiritualities and new religious movements: where is there overlap and where is there difference?80 Research on new religious movements potentially has much to contribute to theorizing gender, especially in terms of women’s leadership, which has been prominently discussed in scholarship on new religious movements.81 Also, new religious movements have been identified and studied globally, whereas the study of late modern alternative spiritualities has focused on the West in relation to the themes of secularization and the “subjective turn.”82 For example, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions published a special issue on Hindu new religious movements.83 There is now a critical mass of scholarship on female gurus whose teachings are largely based on Hinduism but who have an international following—are these guru groups a “new religious movement” in India and an “alternative spirituality” in the West?84 Studies that engage new religion or spirituality movements (gurus, yoga) have begun to explore themes of globalization and urbanization—though most do not take gender as a central analytical lens, even though male leaders are just as gendered as female ones.85

Also welcome would be studies specifically of spirituality and the media, to join the growing literature on religion and the media.86

Links to Digital Materials

Further Reading

  • Alvizo, Xochitl, and Gina Messina, eds. Women Religion Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Feminist Studies in Religion, 2017.
  • Aune, Kristin, Sonya Sharma, and Giselle Vincett, eds. Women and Religion in the West: Challenging Western Secularization. Hampshire: Ashgate, 2008.
  • Aupers, Stef, and Dick Houtman, eds. Religions of Modernity: Relocating the Sacred to the Self and the Digital. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010.
  • Bender, Courtney. The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
  • Flanagan, Kieran, and Peter C. Jupp. A Sociology of Spirituality. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.
  • Heelas, Paul, and Linda Woodhead. The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion Is Giving Way to Spirituality. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.
  • Hull, Akasha Gloria. Soul Talk: The New Spirituality of African American Women. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2001.
  • King, Ursula. The Search for Spirituality: Our Global Quest for a Spiritual Life. New York: BlueBridge, 2013.
  • Sointu, Eeva, and Linda Woodhead. “Spirituality, Gender, and Expressive Selfhood.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47, no. 2 (June 2008): 259–276.
  • Wilcox, Melissa M. Queer Women and Religious Individualism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.
  • Woodhead, Linda. “Why So Many Women in Holistic Spirituality? A Puzzle Revisited.” In A Sociology of Spirituality. Edited by Kieran Flanagan and Peter C. Jupp, 115–125. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.
  • Woodhead, Linda. “‘Because I’m Worth It’: Religion and Women’s Changing Lives in the West.” In Women and Religion in the West: Challenging Western Secularization. Edited by Kristin Aune, Sonya Sharma, and Giselle Vincett, 147–161. Hampshire: Ashgate, 2008.


  • 1. Vern L. Bullough, “Gender,” in New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, vol. 3, ed. Maryanne Cline Horowitz (Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005), 870–873. See also Randi R. Warne, “Gender,” in Guide to the Study of Religion, ed. Willi Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon (New York: Continuum, 2000), 140–154.

  • 2. Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality: A Brief History (West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 2. See also Ursula King, The Search for Spirituality: Our Global Quest for a Spiritual Life (New York: BlueBridge, 2013), 3–8.

  • 3. Such as in the twenty-two-volume series edited by Ewert Cousins, World Spirituality: An Encyclopedic History of the Religious Quest (New York: Crossroad, 1985–2003).

  • 4. Courtney Bender, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 35–38.

  • 5. Anna Fedele and Kim E. Knibbe, “Introduction: Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality,” in Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality, ed. Anna Fedele and Kim E. Knibbe (New York: Routledge), 1–27.

  • 6. Sheldrake, Spirituality, 15–17.

  • 7. Xochitl Alvizo, “I Dream Myself a Revolutionary,” in Women Religion Revolution, ed. Xochitl Alvizo and Gina Messina (Cambridge, MA: Feminist Studies in Religion Books, 2017), 135–140.

  • 8. Giselle Vincett, “The Fusers: New Forms of Spiritualized Christianity,” in Women and Religion in the West: Challenging Secularization, ed. Kristin Aune, Sonya Sharma, and Giselle Vincett (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 133–145.

  • 9. Mary N. MacDonald, “Spirituality,” in Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Lindsay Jones (Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2005), 8718–8721.

  • 10. Michael Lipka and Claire Gecewicz, “More Americans Now Say They Are Spiritual but Not Religious,” Pew Research Center, September 6, 2017. Notably, the questionnaire asked about religion and spirituality in separate questions.

  • 11. Alvizo, “I Dream Myself,” 139.

  • 12. Controversies at the World’s Parliament of Religions, especially the negative responses from organized religion to paganism, as well as other issues, illustrate ongoing contestations; see “Parliament of Religions: 1993 and Beyond,” The Pluralism Project, accessed July 1, 2018.

  • 13. William H. Swatos and Kevin J. Christiano, “Secularization Theory: Course of a Concept,” Sociology of Religion 60, no. 3 (1999): 209–228.

  • 14. Peter Berger, “The Desecularization of the World: A Global Overview,” in The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics, ed. Peter L. Berger (Grand Rapids: William B. Erdmans, 1999), 1–18. See also Jeffrey K. Hadden, “Towards Desacralizing Secularization Theory,” Social Forces 65, no. 3 (1987): 587–610; and Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000).

  • 15. David Lyon, Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Postmodern Times (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008), 34. See also: Hans Sebald, “New-Age Romanticism: The Quest for an Alternative Lifestyle as a Force of Social Change,” Humboldt Journal of Social Relations 11, no. 2 (1984): 106–127; James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton, eds., Perspectives on the New Age (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992); Paul Heelas, The New Age Movement: The Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of Modernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996); Wouter J. Hanegraaf, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Albany: SUNY Press, 1998); Dick Houtman and Peter Mascini, “Why Do Churches Become Empty, while New Age Grows? Secularization and Religious Change in the Netherlands,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 41, no. 3 (2002): 455–473; Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005); Rodney Stark, Eva Hamberg, and Alan S. Miller, “Exploring Spirituality and Unchurched Religions in America, Sweden, and Japan,” Journal of Contemporary Religion 20, no. 1 (2005): 3–23; and Dick Houtman and Stef Aupers, “The Spiritual Turn and the Decline of Tradition: The Spread of Post-Christian Spirituality in 14 Western Countries, 1981–2000,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 46, no. 3 (2007): 305–320.

  • 16. Such as Catherine Albanese, A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007); Leigh Schmidt, Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality (New York: HarperCollins, 2005); Sarah Coakley, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender (Oxford: Blackwell, 2012); and Arthur Versluis, American Gurus: From Transcendentalism to New Age Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

  • 17. Peter van der Veer, “Spirituality in Modern Society,” Social Research 76, no. 4 (Winter 2009): 1097–1120.

  • 18. For example, van der Veer, “Spirituality”; Leigh Schmidt, “The Making of Modern Mysticism,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 71 (2003): 273–302; Albanese, A Republic of Mind; and Hugh B. Urban, New Age, Neopagan, and New Religious Movements: Alternative Spirituality in Contemporary America (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2015), 11–13.

  • 19. Versluis, American Gurus, 8.

  • 20. Harvey Cox, Turning East: The Promise and Peril of the New Orientalism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977), 9.

  • 21. Influentially formulated in Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 1991); Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989); and Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991).

  • 22. Linda Woodhead, “‘Because I’m Worth It’: Religion and Women’s Changing Lives in the West,” in Women and Religion in the West: Challenging Western Secularization, ed. Kristin Aune, Sonya Sharma, and Giselle Vincett (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2008), 147–161.

  • 23. Heelas and Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution, 2, 22–23. See also the online site for the Kendal Project, accessed July 1, 2018.

  • 24. Bender, The New Metaphysicals, 47–55.

  • 25. The examples are from Stef Aupers and Dick Houtman, “Religions of Modernity: Relocating the Sacred to the Self and the Digital,” in Religions of Modernity: Relocating the Sacred to the Self and the Digital, ed. Stef Aupers and Dick Houtman (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010), 1–29. Phrases are from, respectively: Cor Baerveldt, “NewAge-religiositeit als Individueel Constructiproces,” in De Kool en de Geit in de Nieuwe Tijd: Wetenschappelijke Reflecties op New Age, ed. Miranda Moerland (Utrecht: Jan van Arkel, 1996), 19–31; Malcolm Hamilton, “An Analysis of the Festival for Mind-Body Spirit, London,” in Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality, ed. Steven Sutcliff and Marion Bowman (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), 188–200; Adam Possamai, “Alternative Spiritualities and the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” Culture and Religion 4, no. 1 (2003): 31–45; and Lyon, Jesus in Disneyland, 76–77.

  • 26. Jeremy Carrette and Richard King, Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion (New York: Routledge, 2005).

  • 27. Kelly Beseke, “Seeing Invisible Religion: Religion as a Societal Conversation about Transcendent Meaning,” in Religions of Modernity: Relocating the Sacred to the Self and the Digital, ed. Stef Aupers and Dick Houtman (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010), 90–114, discussing Thomas Luckmann, The Invisible Religion: The Problem of Religion in Modern Society (New York: Macmillan, 1967).

  • 28. Bender, The New Metaphysicals, 24 et passim.

  • 29. Aupers and Houtman, “Religions of Modernity,” 6–8.

  • 30. Steven Sutcliff, “Rethinking the ‘New Age’ as a Popular Religious Habitus: A Review Essay on The Spiritual Revolution,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 18 (2006): 294–314. See also Steven Sutcliff, “Category Formation and History of ‘New Age,’” Culture and Religion 4, no. 1 (2003): 5–29; and Ulrike Popp-Baier, “From Religion to Spirituality: Megatrend in Contemporary Society or Methodological Artifact? A Contribution to the Secularization Debate from Psychology of Religion,” Journal of Religion in Europe 3 (April 2010): 34–67.

  • 31. Síân Reid, “The Soul of Soulless Conditions: Paganism, Goddess Religion and Witchcraft in Canada,” in Women and Religion in the West: Challenging Secularization, ed. Kristin Aune, Sonya Sharma, and Giselle Vincett (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 119–132.

  • 32. Peter Sweasey, From Queer to Eternity: Spiritualities in the Lives of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People (London: Cassell, 1997), 199.

  • 33. Emilie M. Townes, In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality as Social Witness (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 113.

  • 34. See Carol P. Christ, Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess (New York: Harper & Row, 1978); Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess (New York: Harper & Row, 1979); Carol P. Christ, Rebirth of the Goddess: Finding Meaning in Feminist Spirituality (New York: Routledge, 1997); and Cynthia Eller, Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995).

  • 35. Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow, ed., “Preface,” in WomanSpirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), viii–ix. See also Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow, ed., Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989).

  • 36. For an overview, see Melissa M. Wilcox, “Innovation in Exile: Religion and Spirituality in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities,” in Sexuality and the World’s Religions, ed. David W. Machacek and Melissa M. Wilcox (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003), 321–357; and Melissa M. Wilcox, Queer Women and Religious Individualism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), esp. 16–42.

  • 37. Examples include those discussed in Judith Plaskow, “Jewish Theology in Feminist Perspective,” in Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies, ed. Lynn Davidman and Shelly Tenenbaum (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 62–84. For an accessible overview, see Judith Plaskow, “Feminist Theology,” in Encyclopedia, Jewish Women’s Archive, last accessed 01 March 2019. See also Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983); and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (New York: Crossroad, 1983).

  • 38. For example, special issues of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion such as “an exploration of the productive crossings between, on the one hand, queer and trans theorizations, pedagogical practices, and lived realities as they pertain to studying, teaching, and doing religion and, on the other, feminist and womanist approaches to the study and practice of religious traditions,” JFSR 34, no. 1 (Spring 2018), ed. Elizabeth Pritchard and Kate M. Ott, quote from “Editor’s Introduction,” p. 1; and “Comparative Feminist Hermeneutics,” JFSR 30, no. 2 (Fall 2014), ed. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza.

  • 39. Andrew K. T. Yip, “Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Religious Communities,” in Sexual Orientation Discrimination: An International Perspective, ed. M. V. Lee Badgett and Jefferson Frank (Abingdon: Routledge, 2007), 209–224.

  • 40. On Esalen, see Jeffrey J. Kripal, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); on the ongoing debate about women’s capacity to be initiating gurus in ISKCON, see Karen Pechilis, “Notes on Female Vaiṣṇava Gurus,” Journal of Vaishnava Studies 25, no. 2 (Spring 2017): 101–117, esp. 108–109; and on Wicca see Michelle Mueller, “The Chalice and the Rainbow: Conflicts between Women’s Spirituality and Transgender Rights in US Wicca in the 2010s,” in Female Leaders in New Religious Movements, ed. Inga Bårdsen Tøllefsen and Christian Giudice (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 249–278.

  • 41. Wilcox, Queer Women, 3, 120–129.

  • 42. For organized religion see “The Gender Gap in Religion around the World,” Pew Research Center, accessed July 1, 2018.

  • 43. Heelas and Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution.

  • 44. Reid, “The Soul of Soulless Conditions,” 125; the author also asserts that Paganism is “the fastest growing religion in Canada” today. See also Helen Berger et. al, Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003).

  • 45. Kristin Aune, “Much Less Religious, A Little More Spiritual: The Religious and Spiritual Views of Third-Wave Feminists in the UK,” Feminist Review 97 (2011): 32–55.

  • 46. Dick Houtman and Stef Aupers, “The Spiritual Revolution and the New Age Gender Puzzle: The Sacralization of the Self in Late Modernity (1980–2000),” in Women and Religion in the West: Challenging Secularization, ed. Kristin Aune, Sonya Sharma and Giselle Vincett (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 99–118. See also Richard W. Flory and Donald E. Miller, “The Embodied Spirituality of Post-Boomer Generations,” in A Sociology of Spirituality, ed. Kieran Flanagan and Peter C. Jupp (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 201–218.

  • 47. Houtman and Aupers, “The Spiritual Revolution,” 109.

  • 48. Houtman and Aupers, “The Spiritual Revolution,” 114.

  • 49. Woodhead, “Because I’m Worth It,” 148.

  • 50. Paul Heelas, “Introduction: Detraditionalization and Its Rivals,” in Detraditionalization: Critical Reflections on Authority and Identity, ed. Paul Heelas, Scott Lash, and Paul Morris (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 1–20. See also Houtman and Aupers, “The Spiritual Revolution,” 108–114.

  • 51. Woodhead, “Because I’m Worth It,” 151, 147–150.

  • 52. Eeva Sointu and Linda Woodhead, “Spirituality, Gender, and Expressive Selfhood,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47, no. 2 (June 2008): 259–276.

  • 53. Sointu and Woodhead, “Spirituality, Gender,” 266, 263–265. See also Linda Woodhead, “Why So Many Women in Holistic Spirituality? A Puzzle Revisited,” in A Sociology of Spirituality, ed. Kieran Flanagan and Peter C. Jupp (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 115–125.

  • 54. Sointu and Woodhead, “Spirituality, Gender,” 268–271.

  • 55. Sointu and Woodhead, “Spirituality, Gender,” 272.

  • 56. See for example, Candy Gunther Brown, The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Fahri Karakas, “Spirituality and Performance in Organizations: A Literature Review,” Journal of Business Ethics 94, no. 1 (June 2010): 89–106; and Veerle Draulans, “Gender and Spirituality,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Spirituality and Business, ed. Luk Bouckaert and Laszlo Zsolnai (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 49–57. A thoughtful discussion of spirituality across fields, with extensive bibliography, is in Peter R. Holmes, “Spirituality: Some Disciplinary Perspectives,” in A Sociology of Spirituality, ed. Kieran Flanagan and Peter C. Jupp (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 23–42.

  • 57. Fedele and Knibbe, “Introduction,” 7.

  • 58. Ruth Rhiannon Barrett, “Lesbian Rituals and Dianic Tradition,” in Lesbian Rites: Symbolic Acts and the Power of Community, ed. Ramona Faith Oswald (New York: Routledge, 2013), 15–28.

  • 59. Teresa Berger, “Feminist Ritual Practice,” in The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology, ed. Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Sheila Briggs (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 525–543; Elizabeth Resnick Levine, ed., A Ceremonies Sampler: New Rites, Celebrations, and Observances of Jewish Women (San Diego, CA: Woman’s Institute for Continuing Jewish Education, 1991); Debra Orenstein, ed., Lifecycles: Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1994); and Ellen M. Umansky and Dianne Ashton, eds., Four Centuries of Jewish Women’s Spirituality: A Sourcebook (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2009).

  • 60. Mueller, “The Chalice and the Rainbow,” 256.

  • 61. Sarah Thompson et al., eds., Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism (Cupertino, CA: Circle of Cerridwen Press, 2012). The book has been released “on a strictly not-for-profit basis under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (CC BY-NC-SA) License” and is available for free download.

  • 62. Sarah Thompson, “Gender and Transgender in the Pagan Community,” in Gender and Transgender in the Modern Paganism, ed. Sarah Thompson et al. (Cupertino, CA: Circle of Cerridwen Press, 2012), 1–3.

  • 63. Mueller, “The Chalice and the Rainbow,” 250.

  • 64. Sointu and Woodhead, “Spirituality, Gender,” 265.

  • 65. The first four items were encountered by Courtney Bender at the 2001 Whole Health Expo in Boston; see Bender, The New Metaphysicals, 47–55. The latter five items were included in the Kendal Project study; see Appendix in David Voas and Steve Bruce, “The Spiritual Revolution: Another False Dawn for the Sacred,” in A Sociology of Spirituality, ed. Kieran Flanagan and Peter C. Jupp (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 60–61.

  • 66. On mindfulness, see Ellen J. Langer and Mihnea Moldoveanu, “The Construct of Mindfulness,” Journal of Social Issues 56, no. 1 (2000): 1–9; and Norman A. S. Farb, “From Retreat Center to Clinic to Boardroom? Perils and Promises of the Modern Mindfulness Movement,” Religions 5 (2014): 1062–1086. On CBD, see Alex Williams, “Why Is CBD Everywhere?,” The New York Times, October 28, 2018, ST1, ST10.

  • 67. On the use of terms see Woodhead, “Why So Many Women,” 123.

  • 68. Sointu and Woodhead, “Spirituality, Gender,” 266.

  • 69. Voas and Bruce, “The Spiritual Revolution,” 48.

  • 70. Akasha Gloria Hull, Soul Talk: The New Spirituality of African American Women (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2001), 6–8.

  • 71. Lyn Thomas and Avtar Brah, “Editorial,” Feminist Review 97 (2011): 1–4.

  • 72. For example, Albanese, A Republic of Mind; Schmidt, Restless Souls; Coakley, Powers and Submissions; and Versluis, American Gurus.

  • 73. For example, Kieran Flanagan and Peter C. Jupp, eds., A Sociology of Spirituality (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007); and Lyon, Jesus in Disneyland, 34. See also: Sebald, “New-Age Romanticism”; Heelas, The New Age Movement; Houtman and Mascini, “Why Do Churches”; Heelas and Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution; Stark, Hamberg, and Miller, “Exploring Spirituality”; and Houtman and Aupers, “The Spiritual Turn.”

  • 74. For example, Cox, Turning East; Lewis and Melton, Perspectives; Timothy Miller, ed., America’s Alternative Religions (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995); Heelas, The New Age Movement; Wouter J. Hanegraaf, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Albany: SUNY Press, 1998); Eugene Taylor, Shadow Culture: Psychology and Spirituality in America from the Great Awakening to the New Age (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1999); Steven Sutcliffe and Marion Bowman, eds., Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000); and Bender, The New Metaphysicals.

  • 75. Heelas and Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution; Voas and Bruce, “The Spiritual Revolution”; and a response from Paul Heelas, “The Holistic Milieu and Spirituality: Reflections on Voas and Bruce,” in A Sociology of Spirituality, ed. Kieran Flanagan and Peter C. Jupp (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 63–80. See also Aupers and Houtman, Religions of Modernity; and Sutcliff, “Rethinking the ‘New Age.’”

  • 76. Woodhead, “Why So Many Women”; Woodhead, “Because I’m Worth It”; and Sointu and Woodhead, “Spirituality, Gender.”

  • 77. Anna Fedele and Kim E. Knibbe, ed., Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality: Ethnographic Approaches (New York: Routledge, 2013), and especially the article within that volume by Kim E. Knibbe, “Obscuring the Role of Power and Gender in Contemporary Spiritualities,” (Gender and Power, 179–194), attempt a critical response to Woodhead’s thesis.

  • 78. For example, Sweasey, From Queer to Eternity; Toby Johnson, Gay Spirituality: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Consciousness (Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe Press, 2010); David W. Machacek and Melissa M. Wilcox, eds., Sexuality and the World’s Religions (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003); Stephen J. Hunt and Andrew K. T. Yip, eds., The Ashgate Research Companion to Contemporary Religion and Sexuality (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012); the special section on “Queer Spirituality and Politics,” Tikkun 25, no. 4 (July–August 2010): 33–74, ed. Alana Yu-Lan Price; and Wilcox, Queer Women.

  • 79. For example, Hull, Soul Talk; and Gloria Wade-Gayles, My Soul Is a Witness: African-American Women’s Spirituality (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995).

  • 80. For example, James R. Lewis and Henrik Bogdan, eds., Palgrave Studies in New Religions and Alternative Spiritualities, accessed July 1, 2018, which is a current series that includes diverse monographs.

  • 81. For example, Susan Starr Sered, Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); Elizabeth Puttick, Women in New Religions: In Search of Community, Sexuality and Spiritual Power (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997); Sarah M. Pike, “Gender in New Religions,” in Teaching New Religious Movements, ed. David G. Bromley (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 211–230; Susan J. Palmer, “Women in New Religious Movements,” in The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements, ed. James R. Lewis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 378–385; Laura Vance, Women in New Religions (New York: New York University Press, 2015); and Inga Bårdsen Tøllefsen and Christian Giudice, eds., Female Leaders in New Religious Movements (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

  • 82. There is an important book that discusses secularization globally: Hans Joas and Klaus Wiegandt, eds., Secularization and the World Religions (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009).

  • 83. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 15, no. 2 (November 2011): 6–114; and for an overview, see the introductory article to the special issue, Gene R. Thursby, “The Study of Hindu New Religious Movements,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 15, no. 2 (November 2011): 6–19.

  • 84. For example, Lisa Lassell Hallstrom, Mother of Bliss: Ānandamayī Mā (1896–1982) (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Karen Pechilis, ed., The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Maya Warrier, Hindu Selves in a Modern World: Guru Faith in the Mata Amritanandamayi Mission (London: Routledge, 2005); Marie-Thérèse Charpentier, Indian Female Gurus in Contemporary Hinduism: A Study of Central Aspects and Expressions of Their Religious Leadership (Åbo: Åbo Akademi University Press, 2010); Karen Pechilis, “The Female Guru: Guru, Gender, and the Path of Personal Experience,” in The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Jacob Copeman and Aya Ikegame (Oxon: Routledge, 2012), 113–132; Maya Warrier, “Online Bhakti in a Modern Guru Organization,” in Gurus of Modern Yoga, ed. Mark Singleton and Ellen Goldberg (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 308–323; Amanda J. Lucia, Reflections of Amma: Devotees in a Global Embrace (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2014); Orianne Aymard, When a Goddess Dies: Worshipping Mā Ānandamayī after Her Death (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); and Inga Bårdsen Tøllefsen, “‘Where There Is True Love, Anything Is Effortless’: Mata Amritanandamayi; Divine Mother and Religious Entrepreneur,” in Female Leaders in New Religious Movements, ed. Inga Bårdsen Tøllefsen and Christian Giudice (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 79–98.

  • 85. For example, Joanne Punzo Waghorne, “Global Gurus and the Third Stream of American Religiosity: Between Hindu Nationalism and Liberal Pluralism,” in Political Hinduism: The Religious Imagination in Public Spheres, ed. Vinay Lal (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 90–117; Peter van der Veer, “Global Breathing: Religious Utopias in India and China,” Anthropological Theory 7, no. 3 (September 2007): 315–328; van der Veer, “Spirituality in Modern Society”; Joseph S. Alter, “Yoga in Asia: Mimetic History; Problems in the Location of Secret Knowledge,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 29, no. 2 (2009): 213–229; Ann Gleig and Lola Williamson, eds., Homegrown Gurus: From Hinduism in America to American Hinduism (Albany: SUNY Press, 2013); Lola Williamson, Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion (New York: New York University Press, 2010); Mark Singleton and Ellen Goldberg, ed., Gurus of Modern Yoga (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); and Joanne Punzo Waghorne, ed., Place/No-Place in Urban Asian Religiosity (Singapore: Springer, 2017).

  • 86. Including: Hent de Vries and Samuel Weber, ed., Religion and Media (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002); Gordon Lynch and Jolyon Mitchell, ed., Religion, Media and Culture: A Reader (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012); Daniel A. Stout, Media and Religion: Foundations of an Emerging Field (New York: Routledge, 2012); Mia Lövheim, ed., Media, Religion and Gender: Key Issues and New Challenges (London: Routledge, 2013); and Jeffrey H. Mahan, Media, Religion and Culture: An Introduction (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014).