- Reflexive Religion: The New Age in Brazil and Beyond by Anthony D'Andrea
the New Age, esotericism, Brazil, Latin America, alternative spirituality, neo-shamanism, indigenous religions, Nova Era
Since the early 1990s, "New Age" has established itself as a recurring term in the social sciences of religion. It has served to designate a movement which, in a very diffuse way, was structured from the counterculture of the 1960s, promoting an ideal of institutional rupture and cultivation of the subject's autonomy. In these terms, it is a heterogeneous, decentralized, post-traditional, and noninstitutionalized phenomenon whose outline would be more associated with the historical context of its emergence and with a particular type of mystical reflexivity than with a specific set of rituals and devotional practices. The New Age phenomenon produces a shift in the attention of researchers from religion to believers, from churches to seekers. Anthony D'Andrea's Reflexive Religion: The New Age in Brazil and Beyond is in dialogue with the tradition of New Age studies. Part of his effort can be described as an attempt to theoretically advance a model of analysis that has the practitioner as a reference point, and not the practice.
One of the objectives of the book is to offer a theoretical framework for understanding alternative spiritualities of the self in general, taking as a starting point the recognition that the New Age is, rather than one more religion, a pragmatic language that retools traditions for individual purposes (138). And, in this language proposed by D'Andrea, one word stands out: reflexivity. As he suggests, "new forms of religiosity are enabled by late modern reflexivity as a contemporary process that transforms personal, collective and societal projects" (16). This does not mean that religious reflexivity is unique to the Brazilian New Age. "It is a double hermeneutic of action affecting the religious field in general, resulting in the retooling of religious traditions for the deliberate cultivation of self" (20). If there is anything particular about the New Age, suggests D'Andrea, it is that it provides possible instances of reflexive religiosity that closely resonate with late modern, globalized settings.
The second objective of the book is to provide an empirical analysis of the New Age in Brazil (1). D'Andrea must face a fundamental question, one whose solution is a hallmark of his work: what would be the distinguishing symbol of a New Age in Brazil or even in Latin America? At this point, D'Andrea's book most clearly engages in a dialogue with (while also departing from) a significant part of the tradition of studies on the New Age conducted in Latin America. There is a relative accumulation of theoretical debate on the theme of the New Age in Latin America.1 Since the 1990s, social scientists have [End Page 450] pointed to a wide variety of phenomena associated with New Age themes: esoteric fairs in large cities, holistic therapy centers, and groups that seek to rescue local indigenous traditions. This set of phenomena has received attention from anthropologists such as Renée de la Torre and Cristina Gutiérrez, who identified three main branches of the New Age in Latin America: popular, shamanic, and esoteric. In D'Andrea's reading, while the majority of studies are dedicated to indigenous and shamanic cases, respectively placed within neo-Indian and neo-shamanic branches, a wide variety of religious, cultural, and secular systems were collapsed under the catchall neo-esoteric branch, oddly including Catholicism, Spiritism, Asian systems, parasciences, and alternative psychologies (143). D'Andrea turns away from this type of understanding, recognizing that such typologies are not only incomplete but also that it is a "mistake is to assume that the New Age reduces major religions to reformulations connected to traditional beliefs in magic" (143). In short, his critique of the dominant analytical perspectives on New Age in Latin America is that "when not summarily omitted from general mappings, secular, psychological, Asian and occultist systems have been reduced to their therapeutic function, neglecting the fundamental role of their ethical dimension...