New Age, New Economy, New Middle Class: The Case of Jewish New Age in Israel

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 9:30 AM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Oral Presentation
Dana KAPLAN , Sociology and Anthroplogy, The Open University, Israel
Rachel WERCZBERGER , Religious Studies, Ben Gurion University, Israel
Albeit the extreme individualization of late modernity, social class still is important in all aspects of our life. Yet, class, as a social category, remains largely ignored in contemporary religious studies. Based on ethnographic data, this paper sets out to explore the central yet under-researched ways in which class sustains social, cultural, and religious distinctions. In particular, by focusing on New Religious Movements and on New Age spirituality, it aims to explicate how class is determining religious affiliations and practices.

Sociologists of religion have recently pointed to that New Age has become part of the cultural repertoire of the new middle class. However, only rarely have they explored New Age as a leisure practice manifesting class-based tastes. Our paper examines the emergence of a New Ageoption in the Jewish cultural-religious field in Israel, asking why has New Age Judaism become so appealing particularly to the burgeoning cosmopolitan, post-materialist, secular new middle class.

Drawing on post-Bourdieusian cultural sociology, we start by describing the theological and experiential hybrid nature of Jewish New Age, and show how these elements were enthusiastically embraced by new middle class followers. We argue that by partaking in Jewish New Age communities, middle class new agers express and further accumulate high levels of omnivorous cultural capital. In line with recent work on cultural cosmopolitanization and class privilege, we conclude by claiming that in the Israeli context, high cultural capital is manifested, inter alia and rather surprisingly, in the ability to re-appropriate local religious forms, and to cosmopolitanize them via New Age culture.