(Re)Introducing “Secular Religion”: On the Study of Entangled Quests for Meaning in Modern Western Cultures

Dave Vliegenthart*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

419 Downloads (Pure)


The disenchantment of reality has bankrupted conventional sources of meaning for many people in modern Western cultures. This has led a growing number of figures and groups to search for alternative sources of meaning. Typical of their quests for meaning is the entanglement of secular and religious discourses. Since the twentieth century, scholars have studied the social configurations of these figures and groups as "cults" or "new religious movements" and their ideologies as "New Age" or "spirituality," which are seen as parts of a longer tradition of " Western esotericism" (Europe) or "metaphysical religion" (North America). Several leading scholars have also interpreted them as forms of "secular religion," but this has yet to gain academic traction. This article argues that the former concepts are lacking or losing a logical connection with the socio-historical phenomena to which they pertain and reintroduces the latter concept as a more appropriate one.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)256-279
Number of pages24
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2020


  • quests for meaning
  • modern gurus
  • cults
  • new religious movements
  • secular religion
  • new age
  • spirituality
  • Western esotericism
  • metaphysical religion

Cite this