Review of Suzanne Newcombe, Yoga in Britain: Stretching Spirituality and Educating Yogis

Book Review

Suzanne Newcombe, Yoga in Britain: Stretching Spirituality and Educating Yogis. Sheffield, UK and Bristol, CT: Equinox Publishing Ltd, 2019, pp. xiv + 270, ISBN: 978-1-78179-660-3 (Pbk).

Yoga is a multi-billion dollar global industry, with an estimated 200 million participants. Yet despite its popularity, there is much debate regarding what ‘yoga’ actually is; for some it is primarily a form of physical exercise based around postures (asana), while for others it is a philosophical and spiritual system that informs their daily life. Further, the origins of yoga are vague and mysterious. Contemporary forms of yoga are frequently marketed … Read more

Lost Saints: Desacralisation, Spiritual Abuse, and Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybin containing mushrooms have been used in indigenous healing ceremonies in Mesoamerica since at least the sixteenth century. However, the sacramental use of mushrooms was only discovered by Westerners in the early to mid-twentieth century. Most notably, the meeting between amateur mycologist Robert Gordon Wasson and Mazatec curandera María Sabina in 1955 resulted in the widespread popularisation of ingesting ‘magic mushrooms’ in the West. To Sabina and the Mazatec people, psilocybin mushrooms were sacred and only to be used for healing. However, Western ‘hippies’ viewed mushrooms as psychedelic drugs which they consumed with little regard for cultural sensitivities, rendering the … Read more

Delineating the ‘Dark Night’ in Buddhist Postmodernism

In contemporary Western meditation-based convert Buddhist lineages,[2] the term ‘dark night’ has been adopted in order to describe a variety of meditation-related difficulties. While the term dark night is not a Buddhist term – rather it is an abbreviated form of the expression ‘dark night of the soul’ and derives from Christian mysticism – it has recently been appropriated in postmodern Buddhist discourses. The Buddhist dark night is referred to in a range of media, including popular news articles, discussion forums, blogs, podcasts, and texts and meditation manuals written by well-known contemporary meditation teachers. Despite the proliferation of the … Read more

“The Answer to All Your Problems?” The Overly Positive Presentation of Meditation in the Media

The current popularity of ‘secular’ meditation has been due in large part to its promotion in the mainstream Western media. In 1975 TIME magazine ran a cover featuring an image of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation (TM) along with the headline: “Meditation: The Answer to All Your Problems?” Ever since, stories about meditation have captured the attention of a Western audience receptive to narratives around spirituality, healing, self-help and wellness. The view of meditation that is portrayed by the Western media is, however, radically simplified and incomplete. Specifically, it is an overwhelmingly positive view, which at its … Read more

Review of Cristina Rocha, John of God: The Globalization of Brazilian Faith Healing

Book Review

Cristina Rocha, John of God: The Globalization of Brazilian Faith Healing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. xiii + 269, ISBN: 978-0-19-046671-8 (Pbk).

In John of God: The Globalization of Brazilian Faith Healing, Cristina Rocha draws on more than a decade of fieldwork to provide the first enthnographic account of the global John of God movement. Based in Abadiânia, a small town in rural Brazil, John of God (born João Teixeira de Faria in 1942) has become an “international faith healer superstar” (3). He has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, visited by many celebrities, and … Read more

The Dark Side of Dharma: Why Have Adverse Effects of Meditation Been Ignored in Contemporary Western Secular Contexts?

In contemporary Western society, meditation techniques that were previously taught within the context of Eastern religious traditions are now increasingly being practiced in secular settings. While the boundary between the secular and the religious is blurred, popular meditation techniques such as Transcendental Meditation, Vipassana and mindfulness are generally promoted as being derived from Eastern religions, but inherently non-religious, aligned with Western psychology, and suitable for a general audience.  Over approximately forty years, thousands of research studies suggest that there are many psychological and physiological benefits associated with these forms of meditation; however, a small but growing literature indicates there could … Read more

Review of Ingvild Sælid Gilhus, Siv Éllen Kraft and James R. Lewis (eds), New Age in Norway

Book Review

Edited by Ingvild Sælid Gilhus, Siv Éllen Kraft and James R. Lewis. New Age in Norway. Sheffield, UK and Bristol, CT: Equinox, 2017, pp. xiv + 290, ISBN: 978-1-78179-417-3 (Pbk).

While New Age is a global phenomenon, it is also shaped by local influences. New Age in Norway is an examination of how the New Age milieu has been uniquely shaped by political, social and cultural factors specific to Norway. The book consists of an introduction, twelve chapters, and two additional afterwords. Each of the twelve central chapters discusses a specific area of New Age practices and … Read more

Review of Lee Irwin, Reincarnation in America

Book Review

Lee Irwin, Reincarnation in America: An Esoteric History. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017, pp. xxvi + 447, ISBN: 978-1-49855-407-7 (Hbk).

In the West, reincarnation may be most commonly associated with Asian religious traditions and thought of as a relatively minor or eccentric belief system. However, approximately 23% of Americans polled in the last 20 years believe in reincarnation as a viable post-mortem theory, and Reincarnation in America: An Esoteric History demonstrates that this belief has been informed by an incredibly diverse and complex array of cultural influences (xvi). In this ambitious book, Lee Irwin surveys the vast history … Read more

Review of Kenneth Rose, Yoga, Meditation and Mysticism: Contemplative Universals and Meditative Landmarks

Book Review

Kenneth Rose, Yoga, Meditation and Mysticism: Contemplative Universals and Meditative Landmarks. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2016, pp. xiii + 245, ISBN: 978-1-47257-168-7 (Hbk).

Is there a common reality or experience toward which the teachings of the various mystical traditions point? This is a question that has divided scholars of religion and one that Kenneth Rose attempts to answer in Yoga, Meditation and Mysticism.  This thought-provoking text examines the common contemplative experiences that arise from the meditation practices of three distinct religious traditions – Theravada Buddhism, Patanjala Yoga and Catholic mystical theology. Through a comparative … Read more