Thesis

Qi equals MC-squared: a New Age case study on contested models of science, spirituality and the acquisition of scientific knowledge

How do practitioners of alternative spiritualties perceive science and its relationship to their spirituality? This paper examines the bearing of aesthetics, epistemology, and the process of enculturation on the acquisition and interpretation of scientific knowledge. By examining conceptualizations of "science" among individuals engaged in "New Age" spiritualities, I demonstrate a divergence of "science-thinkings," defined as the vernacular, epistemological assumptions deployed when one thinks about "science" as a category of knowledge, between "New Agers" and members of the academic, scientific mainstream. I argue that alternative spiritual engagement in a science-focused world results in a cultural model of science comprised of amalgamated schemas of "science" and "spirituality" motivated by the symbolic and cultural capital science holds as an authority on true knowledge. My research is based on a multi-sited ethnographic project whereby a network of informants was gathered for interviews through interaction and participation at several conferences and events focused on spirit, consciousness, alternative medicine, and healing. In this "New Age" case study, the research shows that a contextual shift in thought occurs in one's science-thinking in response to one's immediate social setting and when one transitions between the cognitive tasks of description and interpretation of scientific phenomena. This result elucidates an increased understanding of the interaction between casual/causal processes that characterize an individual's epistemology of science and carries the implication that such shifts in thinking are not exclusive to "New Agers"; rather, individual epistemological criteria in general may be more contextual and fluid than conventionally thought.

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