The new spiritualities disrupt our vision of the world. They would be the fruit of a long evolution which has not yet finished its transformation. Analysis by sociologist and philosopher Raphaël Liogier.
The least we can say is that Raphaël Liogier is an atypical thinker. His book published in 2012, Self-awareness, awareness of the worldsketched the contours of a “religion” in which we would be immersed without being aware of it: theindividual-globalism. With his new book, Chaos, the sociologist and philosopher goes even further. According to him, the boom in interest in new spiritualities only continues the aspiration begun with the Enlightenment of the 18e century and which industrialism then stifled.
To understand the spiritualities of today, you go back to the XVIIIe century. Can you explain this relationship to us?
Raphaël Liogier: It was indeed in the 18e century that the modern promise arises. Contrary to what has been said for years, it is not the annihilation of spirituality. The word “modernity” indicates that transcendence is not what is imposed from without by a unilateral religious order, but what is within us. Modern philosophers call this “subjectivity”. Its political aspect is democracy, which is itself a mystical experience: the source of political truth becomes the agglomeration of our subjectivities. It is also this idea of transcendental subjectivity, which we find in Kant, which is at the origin of the logic of human rights, also called, moreover, “subjective rights”. It is the idea that we have rights regardless of our place in society, since we are transcendentally subjects. This subjectivity ultimately led to the current “it’s my choice” logic that requires no further justification.
On the side of spirituality, how do these changes in representation operate?
RL: The mystical experience has always existed, but it was limited to certain groups: Muslim Sufis, Jewish Kabbalists, Christian mystics, etc. In the traditional worlds, the mystics, those who claim to have a personal experience of the truth, are either members of brotherhoods, of initiatic societies, or totally marginal beings. In the Middle Ages or in Antiquity, mystics were both fascinating and persecuted. By asserting that transcendence is in oneself, they questioned the authorities. In the XVIIIecentury, this right to criticize, to have no other justification for one’s life than one’s subjectivity, is proclaimed, for the first time in history. In the modern situation, the claim of “subjective truth” is normalized and generalized, it goes without saying.
You say that this declaration of freedom is so radical in the 19e century that it becomes too difficult to bear…
RL: The spirituality of subjectivity frees the individual from the transmitted order, but at the same time makes him lose the mental security that tradition offers. And the fact of losing this protective cocoon engendered a general discharge of anxiety. This is, in my opinion, what produced the nihilism and materialism of the 19e century, which seems to be in the continuity of the philosophy of the Enlightenment, whereas it is an anxious and productivist reaction against the uncertainty which goes hand in hand with freedom. Economically and socially, this will generate industrialization, capitalism; then the State itself will become a rationalist religion, science will be transformed into a positivist cult, and, gradually, all forms of spirituality will be denied as being superstition.
And what is the New Age in all this?
RL: It’s just that transcendental subjectivity, the central idea of the XVIIIe century that we could not assume collectively in the 19e, insists and reappears. It will take shape in the New Age, meditation, Westernized Buddhism, personal development, coaching. In the 1970s, it reappeared when pure materialism was exhausted, when people could no longer find meaning. The money, the washing machine, the television, can no longer fill them.
From the end of the 1980s, the materialist system went on the one hand to depreciate spirituality as a matter of superstition, and on the other hand to integrate it into its productive system through coaching or meditation. Spiritual aspirations are reoriented to make them materialistic vectors. We make something technical out of it, which is no longer subjective but objective, and allows us to enter the market with packages. We do master classes in spirituality, as if happiness or inner truth were a technical skill. We use altered states of consciousness to make ourselves more efficient and productive. We see this clearly in the corporate cultures of new capitalism, startups, where it is a question of being efficient while having a relaxed mind through the practice of yoga or meditation.
Why are religious issues, in France and elsewhere, often focused on the tensions between the religions “of the Book” (Catholicism, Islam, Judaism), or between them and society, while interest in new spiritualities is omnipresent?
RL: The religions “of the Book” are indeed often associated with controversial subjects rather than spiritual content: marriage for all, Islamism, terrorism, Houellebecq. The key word is identity, it creates political and social conflicts. This obsession with the loss of identity is characteristic of the cycle that our world is going through, that of the exhaustion of industrialist values. This anguish of being reduced to manufactured products, to digital profiles then becomes generalized; hence the attachment to the Catholic identity, for example, among people who, by their own admission, do not however believe in Christian dogma.
How does your concept of “individuo-globalism” apply to the current explosion of new spiritualities?
RL: Individual-globalism is the heart of modernity. The word “individual” comes from theology to express the indivision between the divine and the human in Jesus. It is interesting, because the fact of using “individual” to designate all men really means that the divine is in man. Traditions are not abolished in modernity, but they only carry the trace of a truth buried in each of us. This explains why modern man is fascinated by traditions, but by traditions in the plural, by the diversity of spiritual experiences to which they give rise. This means that one of the practices of modern religiosity consists in experiencing one’s inner truth by passing from one tradition to another. And to build our individuality, we look for traces of transcendence in the global world. This individuo-globalism is the spirituality of modernity which can unfold in theosophy, New Age, westernized Buddhism, neo-shamanism and all that we see today.
What are the main new approaches that you have developed in your reflection on these subjects?
RL: The central point of my book is in its title: KHAOS, Theory of Real Modernity. “Chaos”, etymologically, means “void”. What I want to try to show is that chaos, in the ancient sense, is not the lack of order, disorder, but what can produce order.
Today, we have reached the exhaustion of rationality for rationality’s sake, and we feel that there is something greater than us, which cannot be determined. The idea of chaos can save us, but the idea of positive chaos, khaos, which transcends all representations and allows the overcoming of collapsological negativity and end-of-the-world anxieties, including to imagine the impossible, supremely creative ecological solutions.
This interview appeared in number 32 of the magazine L’ADN – Tous chamanes, Survey of new spiritualities. You can Get your copy by clicking here.
ABOUT RAPHAEL LIOGIER
Sociologist and philosopher, university professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Aix-en-Provence, he directed the Religious Observatory from 2006 to 2014. A graduate in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh, he also teaches at the International College of Philosophy. He is also an associate researcher at the Sophiapol laboratory at the University of Paris 10 Nanterre. His research focuses on the mutation of identities, religious in particular, in globalization, on beliefs, contemporary myths, individual and collective imaginary constructions and their political, social and economic consequences.
Raphael Liogier, Chaos, Theory of real modernity, The Links that Liberate, to be published in 2024
Raphael Liogier, Care of the self, awareness of the world, Towards a global religion? Armand Colin, 2012