Globalisation and New Religious Movements. Kabbalah Centres in Britain, France, Israel and Brazil.

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sociology Social Policy and Social Work


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Altglas V (2011) The Challenges of Universalizing Religions: The Kabbalah Centre in France and Britain in Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions

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Matthew Wood (author) (2010) Sociologists of belief and beliefs of sociologists in Nordic journal of religion and society

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Matthew Wood (author) (2010) Reflexivity, scientificity and the sociology of religion : Pierre Bourdieu in debate in Nordic journal of religion and society

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Veronique Altglas (Author) (2011) Instrumental religions and middle classes

Description By comparing the popularisation of neo-Hindu religions and Kabbalah, this research analyses the construction and dissemination of 'exotic' religious resources in Western societies. It thus contributes to three debates: the globalisation of religion, self-authority and bricolage, and religion in neoliberal contexts.

1) There is evidence that the popularisation of Hindu-based teachings and Kabbalah entails a partial detachment from their particular roots ('de-ethnicisation'):

Western expectations contributed to shape both neo-Hindu and kabbalistic teachings that were subsequently adopted in western societies.

As they spread transnationally, neo-Hindu movements and the Kabbalah Centre increasingly present their teaching as universal and as transcending their particular Hindu / Jewish roots.

These movements present Vedanta and Kabbalah as instrumental religions. They become standardised and practical methods for self-realisation that downplay references to Hindu or Jewish doctrines, while increasingly drawing on ideas and methods from popular psychology.

Their members seek efficient self-realisation methods and are largely indifferent to, and sometimes uncomfortable with, their Hindu / Jewish origins.

2) Scholars often refer to the popularisation of 'exotic' religious resources to claim that modern religiosity is characterised by the rejection of institutional forms of religion, and that self-authority leads to the formation of 'à la carte' religiosities. The findings demonstrate that:

Despite their apparent eclecticism, religious incursions in yoga, meditation or kabbalah often contribute to a quest which, for social actors, is unchanging in some ways. They successively adopt practical methods for personal growth in a 'lifelong religious learning'. In other words, rather than making successive different choices, they reiterate a consistent religious orientation.

The eclectic nature of their religious trajectory is also overstated because neo-Hindu and kabbalistic teachings are de-ethnicised and therefore not so dissimilar.

Rather than illustrating self-authority and the rejection of social constraints, the success of these instrumental religions for personal growth reflects social pressures upon individuals for permanent self-actualisation and, more largely, the normalisation of the self in neoliberal societies.

3) Following on from the last point, striking correspondences were found between these practical salvation goods and the human model demanded by neoliberal societies. In a fast-changing and deregulated market economy, growing importance is attached to individuals perceived as owners of a 'potential' that they have to develop in order to adapt to social change. Through an internalisation of norms, self-actualisation incites individuals to find by themselves the tools to become proactive, resilient and adaptive.

The researched religious movements reflect these social trends:

Research participants' discourses and practices emphasise the paramount importance of personal growth.

Their specific socio-professional trajectories make them particularly sensitive to these incentives to self-actualisation. They represent a fraction of the middle class fearing or experiencing downward mobility, and they often have professions demanding constant reinvention of personal skills.

Movements' teachings endlessly reiterate the importance of 'being spiritual' and the need to 'work on oneself'. In this regard, they prove to be as normative as so-called institutional forms of religion - one more argument against the assumptions of self-authority and free choice in religion, even in its heterodox and deregulated sectors.
Exploitation Route The notion of bricolage can be applied and develop for a new areas of research in the sociologies of culture, lifestyle and religion.
Sectors Other

Description Why a movement such as the Kabbalah Centre emerged and why Jewish mysticism became appealing is directly relevant for representatives of Jewish communities. They are particularly sensitive to the effects of secularisation on their constituency - for instance the demands for 'spirituality' and practical tools for personal growth which members of their congregation may find in the Kabbalah Centre. The internal deregulation of Judaism, resulting in the emergence of 'non-conformist' religious teachings such as the Kabbalah Centre's is also one of their concerns. Knowledge about the Kabbalah Centre is a useful resource for non-profit organisations collecting and providing information on NRMs to the public. Indeed, only one study of the Kabbalah Centre has been published so far, and it focuses specifically on the North American context. By and large, the relations between Judaism and NRMs have hitherto largely been neglected. My research findings are directly relevant for the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (INFORM) which is funded by the British Home Office and houses one of the most extensive collection of information about NRMs in Europe. Finally, the craving for exotic forms of religion is a particularly attractive topic for the media and the public. This research interests journalists and its non-normative perspective can impact on the way they cover religious issues. Please outline the findings and outputs from your project which have had the economic and societal impact(s). The popularisation of yoga and meditation, the curiosity for shamanism or the recent craze for kabbalah, all demonstrate the appeal of these religious resources in western contemporary societies. It is in part their perceived otherness that lends them authenticity and nourishes the hope for the discovery of mysteries and hidden truths. However, this popularisation has not led to mass conversions to Buddhism, Hinduism or Judaism. Indeed, religious exoticism implies a deeply ambivalent relationship to otherness - and to religion itself: uprooted and fragmented teachings are presented and appropriated as practical methods for personal growth. In other words, religious exoticism tells us as much about the ways in which religious resources are disseminated globally as it does about the construction of the self in contemporary societies. The ways in which the Kabbalah Centre combines Jewish ideas and practices with pop psychology sheds light on some of Judaism's modern trends. This research also sheds light on the ways in which ambivalent and diverse Jewish identities are elaborated. Far from seeking a religious conversion, non-Jewish disciples of the Kabbalah Centre consume 'otherness' in order to enhance a cosmopolitan identity. But for those born Jewish, being involved in the Kabbalah Centre allows the elaboration of a non-ethnic and glamorous Jewishness without the stigma attached to anti-Semitism; it represents for some a way to be a proud, cool Jew. Please outline how these impacts were achieved Through my research, I have developed links with representatives of Liberal and Reform Judaism. As a result, I was invited to give a talk about my research on the Kabbalah Centre and discuss modern trends of Judaism in Europe at the Dutch-French-Belgian Progressive Rabbinical Conference (Brussels, 9 November 2010). I kept in touch with these representatives of Liberal and Reform Judaism and provided copies of my publications. I regularly provide my publications to INFORM and I have participated in two of its conferences. I also facilitated a meeting between representatives of INFORM, the Bureau des Cultes (French equivalent of the Faith Community Unit), the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office, during which these bodies compared their management of religious minorities (19 October 2007, London School of Economics). I also advise INFORM's staff on their publication regarding the Kabbalah Centre and provide advice and information on request. I have been contacted on several occasions by the media to provide information on the Kabbalah Centre and discuss the significance of kabbalah or yoga in contemporary society. This includes: 2012 Interview for Zone Franche, Radio Suisse Romande (Switzerland), 28 February. 2011 Interviewed on French national radio, France Inter, 5 December. Interviewed and cited in 'Le Yoga: dope ultralibérale ?', Marianne, 5-11 November. 'Comment le Yoga a conquis l'Occident' for Sciences Humaines, Special Issue n°23, << Apprendre a vivre : Des philosophies antiques au développement personnel >> (Learn to Live : From Ancient Philosophies to Personal Growth), p. 22-25. 2010 'L'âge des gurus' for Sciences Humaines, Special Issue n°12, << La Grande Histoire des Religions >> (The Great History of World Religions), p.72-73. 2008 Interview for Sunday Program, Radio 4, 5 October. Please outline who the findings and outputs had an impact upon Impact has been on groups mentioned above: INFORM, representatives of religious organisations and the general public via the media. Unexpected Impacts n/a Potential Future Impacts The book I am currently writing is of paramount importance for the impact of this research. The book proposal has caught the interest of Oxford University Press in New York and is currently being reviewed. I also intend to translate it myself into French as soon as the manuscript in English is completed: making the research results available to academia and the wider public, both in English and French, will considerably expand the scientific and social impact of this research. I am still often interviewed by the media about the fascination for Eastern religions because it takes time for the media to notice scientific research and for academics to be able to communicate efficiently to the public. But, considering the tremendous media coverage regarding the Kabbalah Centre and celebrities' involvement, I am certain the appeal for kabbalah to attract journalists' interests in the future and the book will certainly contribute to this.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Education,Other
Impact Types Cultural

Description De-ethnicisation of religion and its ambivalences : the transnational diffusion of neo-Hindu movements and the Kabbalah Centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Paper given for the Religion and Society Research Seminar, University of Durham
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity
Description Globalisation and de-ethnicisation of religion : the transnational expansion of Neo-Hindu movements and the Kabbalah Centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Part of the School of Anthropology and History, Queens University Belfast anthropological studies research seminar series.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity