How Empires Globalized New Age Religion


Lori Lee Oates
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @LoriLeeOates

In 2015, the print and online Yoga Journal celebrated its 40th anniversary. It currently claims a readership of 2.1 million people and receives more than 5 million online page views per month. Lululemon, the famous retailer of women’s yoga wear, has started opening stores for men. The Maharishi Foundation website reports that it has established Transcendental Meditation Centres in 108 countries across the globe. Some of the best selling books of recent decades have focused on themes and practices traditionally found in Eastern Religion. Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now (1997) has been translated into 33 languages and is estimated to have sold 3 million copies. The book is described as a New Age reworking of Zen. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love (2006) spent 187 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers List and sent women across the globe running toward the ashrams of India. Clearly, alternative religion is big business in the twenty-first century.

This global mass consumption of alternative religion has long been regarded as a manifestation of the increasing commercialization of, well, everything since the 1980s. It is true that religion, like everything else, has reached new heights of sales in the age of mass marketing. French scholar Frédéric Lenoir has provocatively argued in Les Métamorphoses de Dieu (2004) that secular societies are more religious than at any previous time in history. However, what is less frequently spoken of is the role that imperialism played in the expansion of interest in Eastern religions in the West. Continue reading “How Empires Globalized New Age Religion”