As many Americans have shifted away from organized religion in recent years, mystical thinking has not evaporated, but simply taken on new forms. Popularized in the U.S. in the 1960s and 70s, and influenced by earlier spiritual and religious movements from around the world, the new-age movement includes ideas that are embedded in the belief systems of many Americans.
A YouGov poll in August finds that nearly all Americans hold at least one belief associated with the new-age movement, or have engaged in practices associated with it. Beliefs that emphasize the interconnectedness of humanity — like karma or the view that everything happens for a reason — are among the most widely held. Goals that emphasize the interdependent relationship between mind, body, and spirit — such as living in harmony with nature and seeking spiritual growth — are also seen as at least somewhat important to most Americans.
The poll asked Americans whether or not they hold 20 beliefs that fall under the loosely defined umbrella of new-age spiritualism. Nearly nine in 10 Americans — 87% — say they believe in at least one of the 20 polled, and almost half (45%) say they believe in at least five. Of the beliefs asked about, the largest share of Americans, 55%, say they believe in karma, which — while definitions vary — is generally perceived as the notion that a person's actions in life influence what happens to them in the future (or, in some versions, in future lives). Many Americans, though fewer than half, believe in each of the following: hypnosis, extraterrestrials and UFOs, or manifesting — also referred to as the "law of attraction." Around one in four people believe in each of reincarnation, astrology, parallel realities, or telepathy.
Phenomena that involve the ability to see the past or future – including mediums, psychic readings, tarot card readings, and fortune-telling — are less credible to Americans. The two concepts asked about that are least familiar to Americans are Chakras — which refer to energy points in your body — and astral projection, or the ability to have your spirit travel out of your body.
Americans agree – at least somewhat – with many of the core principles of new-age spiritualism, which often overlap with tenets of other religious and cultural worldviews, including Christianity. The poll asked about five beliefs, each of which was agreed with — strongly or somewhat — by at least half of people. The assertions with which the largest share of people strongly or somewhat agreed with are that "everything is interconnected" and the related principle that "everything happens for a reason" (69% and 68%, respectively).
While a majority also believe that "we create our own reality" (65%) and 52% say "nothing is as it seems", these statements don't evoke as strong of an agreement as do the ones about connectedness and everything happening for a reason. The most controversial statement of the five polled — "everything is god and god is everything" — is strongly agreed with by 28% of people but strongly disagreed with by 24% (a larger share than strongly disagree with any other statement).
New-age healing practices
Many adherents of new-age spiritualism believe in the restorative power of certain practices outside of the traditional medical establishment. We asked about nine of these practices and found that 70% of Americans believe in the healing power of at least one of the nine. The largest share — 50% — believe in the power of herbal medicine, which may be defined as remedies and medicines made from plants. Also popular are acupuncture (44%), aromatherapy (31%), homeopathy (31%), and essential oils (30%). A total of 42% express belief in alternative medicine, which is a broader term encompassing many of the more specific practices asked about. Healing practices that center around energy or vibrations are viewed as less credible, including energetic and vibration healing (18%), healing crystals (14%), and Reiki (11%).
Despite not fully endorsing many of new-age spiritualism's practices and beliefs, a majority of Americans are aligned with some of the movement's core goals. Three in five Americans (61%) say that at least one of the six goals asked about is very important to them personally, and 93% say at least one is somewhat important to them. "Achieving spiritual growth" is personally very important to the largest share (40%), followed by "living in harmony with nature" (32%). The fewest number of people (16%) say that eating organic foods is very important to them, though 52% say it is at least somewhat important to them.
One core tenet of the new-age movement is the syncing of body and mind. Practices frequently adopted by new-age practitioners to achieve this goal have not fully broken through with Americans, though certain ones, including meditation (engaged in by 26% of people) and mindfulness (21%) are popular among at least one in five in the U.S. Other practices — such as Pilates, vision boards, and Tai Chi — each have been engaged in by 6% or fewer of Americans.
Other findings on new-age spiritualism:
When asked about their views on the relationship between spirituality and science, more say that the two do not contradict one another (47%) than say they do (23%).
Few Americans — 15% — say they've received guidance from a guru, shaman, or other spiritual leader at some point in their lives.
One in three people (31%) say they do at least one of the following: consume wellness-related content (18%), follow wellness influencers (15%), or belong to wellness-related groups on social media (12%).
— Carl Bialik contributed to this article
This poll was conducted on August 18 - 22, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.
Image: Adobe Stock (Elena Ray)