Crossing spiritual boundaries: encountering, articulating and representing otherworlds

MacKian, Sara (2011). Crossing spiritual boundaries: encountering, articulating and representing otherworlds. Methodological Innovations Online, 6(3) pp. 61–74.




There is a growing critical social science literature around contemporary expressions of alternative spirituality. However, this literature appears to have overlooked a core feature of these spiritual experiences. For many contemporary alternative spiritual practitioners, spirit plays an active and ever present role in their everyday lives and relationships. However, the critical social science discourse has failed to adequately engage with this. Instead the dominant approach has been to suggest spirituality today is about a personal journey to the divine within, usually sustained by the purchase of widely available protean commodities such as crystals, Buddhas and weekend retreats. In this discourse the ‘spirit’ at the heart of spirituality has effectively been killed. It is my belief that this is in part a reflection of the inability of social science to encounter, articulate and represent such otherworldliness. Based on my experiences of participatory fieldwork with individuals and groups engaged in a wide range of spiritual practices, I suggest critical social science needs to be able to engage with the enchanted worlds which arise out of many contemporary spiritual experiences with respect, sensitivity and a little creativity. These practitioners are actively seeking connections between ‘this’ world and ‘otherworlds’ and it is time for critical social science to acknowledge the ‘extra-geographies’ that arise out of this. In this paper I reflect upon the methodological implications of this, and present a conceptual framework which might help us to articulate and represent the spatialities of these very enchanted spiritualities.

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