As the societal and cultural influence of traditional institutional Christianity continues to wane, a wide range of alternative understandings that often significantly expand on the conventional boundaries of the “Christian” and its practice have continued to form, proliferate, and mutate in the “margins” of contracting institutional Christian “mainstreams.” These “margins” consist of a multitude of often informally or weakly organized sites of eclectic religious/spiritual exploration that have largely remained unmarked by the presence of institutional and more firmly organized religious actors. One of the most significant among these sites is the field of alternative spiritual healing- and meditation practices. Alternative healing-and meditation practices have become increasingly established throughout the West following the wider proliferation of various types of so-called “holistic” spiritualities since the mid-1960s. While alternative healing- and meditation practices come in a vast array of different forms, they tend to be mainly sourced by ideas and practices derived from Asian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, especially as mediated through Theosophy and the so-called “New Age.” While the presence and visibility of Christian ideas and notions in the field has been noted by previous scholarship, detailed research on the engagements of Christians within the field of alternative healing- and meditation practices has been comparatively scarce.
In a deliberate effort to advance the state of art of research in the area, the CCMM project approaches the field of alternative healing- and meditation practices as an important contemporary site of Christian and theological rethinking and renewal. Rather than approaching the field as a site where Christian beliefs may enter into conversation with various non-Christian notions and practices, this project instead approaches it as a site where people engage in the cultivation of distinctively new, innovative, eclectic, often un-orthodox, and sometimes provocative, understandings of the “Christian,” what the Christian “is,” what it “can be,” and how it can be practiced. In order to bring the negotiations over the proper character of the “Christian” that unfold in such contexts into clearer focus, the project approaches its topic through a “mainstream-margins” heuristic. In this perspective, the “mainstream” and the “marginal” are approached as dialectically related broader modes of classification that people, depending on their respective positions in relation to these phenomena, typically employ to determine and justify what should be regarded as “common” and “uncommon,” “orthodox” and “un-orthodox,” or “proper” and “improper” forms of Christian belief and practice. Such classifications also tend to include a historical dimension. For this reason, the project also employs the concept of “Christian cultural memory,” which in this context refers to different understandings of how Christianity and its practice have developed over a longer period of time. The CCMM project therefore views the “Christian” as an open-ended category, the more precise meaning of which is always continuously constructed and re-constructed across particular historical, interactional, relational, and discursive contexts.
CCMM seeks to advance the state of art of research on the changing character of Christian religious life and practice in the following principal ways. 1) Through investigating Christian renewal and rethinking within a field that is conventionally understood to be governed by non-Christian ideas. 2) By approaching the field in light of a “mainstream-margins” heuristic, the project seeks to offers novel perspectives on how the negotiations over the proper character of the “Christian” unfold in actual practice, thereby contributing to the scholarship on people’s negotiations over Christian orthodoxy. 3) The CCMM-project generates innovative methodological and theoretical ways for studying the intertwinement of Christianity and other spiritual traditions and currents. 4) More generally, CCMM also seeks to shed further light on what makes the field of alternative healing- and meditation practices into such an important site for the cultivation and dissemination of new understandings of the “Christian” and Christian practice.
Marcus Moberg, ThD, Docent. Professor, Study of Religions, Åbo Akademi University
Tommy Ramstedt, PhD, Postdoctoral researcher, Polin Institute, Åbo Akademi
Katriina Hulkkonen, PhD, Postdoctoral researcher, Polin Institute, Åbo Akademi