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Spring 1997 · Vol. 26 No. 1 · pp. 99–100 

Book Review

The New Age Movement in American Culture

Richard Kyle. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995. xii + 291 pages.

Reviewed by Valerie Rempel

In The New Age Movement in American Culture, Richard Kyle calls the New Age phenomena “an old movement in new clothes.” More than a fad but less than a conspiracy, Kyle successfully demonstrates that the New Age movement is actually a network of people and organizations that have drawn heavily from the interaction of a variety of cultural forces.

Kyle, Professor of History at Tabor College, draws on his previous work with religious fringe groups and his knowledge of American history to connect the New Age movement to the Judeo-Christian tradition and particularly to earlier developments in American life. He suggests that the movement is rooted in the Western occult-metaphysical tradition and shaped by a worldview which sees everything as emanating from one all-inclusive reality. It is strongly influenced by idealized images of Eastern life and religious thought as well as the modern development of psychology.

The movement has flourished in the pluralistic tradition of American religious life, drawing on an eclectic mixture of cultural and religious elements to move in two directions, one emphasizing global reform and the other focusing on self-awareness and self-improvement. It is a movement characterized by optimism, a holistic view of science and the environment, and a confidence in humankind’s ability to transform society on both an individual and global scale.

The book’s most significant contribution is its contextualization of the movement in American life. Kyle carefully traces the linkage not only with earlier occult and religious thought but particularly with more {100} recent nineteenth-century developments such as transcendentalism, spiritualism, and theosophy. He explores the influence of psychology and the alternative medical practices that have long been a part of American life, demonstrating how they have helped redefine notions of salvation and contributed to the growing interest in holistic health practices. In addition he demonstrates how far the New Age and its worldview have penetrated almost every aspect of American life—influencing business, education, politics, the arts and entertainment, and ultimately the church.

In his own evaluation of the movement, Kyle argues that the church’s response should be neither hysterical overreaction nor blind acceptance. Many of the New Age emphases have been helpful, particularly the emphasis on holism as it relates to health, the environment, education, and mental health. At the same time, he makes it clear that the New Age and Christianity are theologically incompatible. The movement’s6 rejection of Christian theism makes it impossible for Christians to embrace a New Age worldview and should encourage a healthy skepticism about many of its practices.

A more extended evaluation of the movement and particularly its inroads into American church life would have been helpful, but the careful placement of the movement within a historical context more than makes up for any lack. This should be a helpful book for anyone interested in understanding the New Age movement and its roots.

Valerie Rempel
Assistant Professor of Church History & Theology
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California

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