A theme that fits in incredibly well with Scientifical Americans and the modern popularity of paranormal topics are the ideas of occulture and re-enchantment put forward by Christopher Partridge. I came across a YouTube lecture by Dr. Partridge that points out some of the well-established factors in the growth of esotericism that can also be applied to the swell of people who, prompted by TV shows and internet forums, got up and went out to have their own experiences in a search for meaning.
Christopher Partridge (Lancaster University) gave this keynote lecture to the First International Conference on Contemporary Esotericism at Stockholm University, August 27, 2012. Partridge argues that the previously deviant, occult, and hidden is becoming increasingly ordinary and everyday. In short, we are witnessing the emergence of a broadly shared “occulture”.
He defines occulture as the environment in within which and the social processes by which particular meanings – esoteric, paranormal, spiritual and conspiratorial – emerge, are disseminated, and become influential on societies and in the lives of individuals.
Here are some points to note:
- The ordinariness of these unusual ideas – occulture as ordinary; paranormal as normal. These subjects and practices are no longer unfamiliar or hidden in today’s society. There is a general openness to and conspicuous interest in the possibility of metaphysical interpretations.
- The shift from organized religious practice to a generalized, pick-and-choose spiritualism. The individual quest is preferred over rules from external authority; personal experience is sought to obtain knowledge.
- A post-materialistic view. We no longer need to worry about our materialist needs and we have time and money to spend seeking out meaningful life experiences. This ties in intimately with Stebbin’s serious leisure as these experiences are key to defining a person’s identity and sense of self. The emphasis is on personal empowerment and the finding of illuminated knowledge. Adopting these new ideas gives people a greater sense of control over their lives.
- All aspects of these topics, including experiences, are commodified and marketed. (New Age healing to ghost tours).
- The increased influence of popular culture (tv shows and internet) trumps that of traditional belief structures. There is not a decline in religious thinking but a shift in the sacred. That is, ideas put forward in supernatural fiction (he cites witchcraft in Buffy, for example), prompts a new pattern of thinking for the viewer. They know it’s fiction but it resonates with them and they pursue the real-life version for themselves.