CCHU9083 Arts and Humanities
Spiritual, not Religious: Technologies of the Soul

This course is under the thematic cluster(s) of:

  • The Quest for a Meaningful Life / The Universe and the Question of Meaning (UQM)

Course Description

This course explores the question of what it means to be “spiritual,” but not “religious”, in a secular age. We will explore fundamental theories about religion and secularism in modernity and case studies of spirituality that reflect and confound these categories. Our exploration of ideas and practices that distinguish spirituality from organized religion will begin with early esoteric and “New Age” movements of the late 19th and early 20th Century such as Theosophy, Anthroposophy and the self-realization fellowship of Paramahansa Yogananda as a foundation for modern movements of spirituality in the era of the “disenchantment the world” and what Nietzsche called the “death of God.”

The course will then pursue more recent forms of spiritualities in North America, Europe, and Asia. Students will learn to analyse the modern search for meanings and the desire for belonging and ecstatic experience amidst a complex landscape of pluralism, secularism and post-colonialism. In a moment where kindness performance indicators are in decline and where community has been displaced by isolation and even depression, an exploration of the human search for higher values is a critical tool for contemporary analysis.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Explain the various important roles, spirituality and spiritual movements play in human life and society.
  2. Articulate how spiritual movements serve as a vehicle for cultural flow and human ethics and apply that new understanding to help us understand the evolution of tradition in the modern world.
  3. Critically analyze contemporary developments applying the new understanding and perspective developed in this class regarding social formations, human needs, and the market economy.
  4. Use basic digital tools to enhance engagement with humanities data visualization methods.
  5. Explain in basic outline foundational theories regarding religion, secularism and spirituality in modern thought and practice and in turn their wider importance for human heritage.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

First semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Reading / Self-study 38
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 30
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 20
Assessment: In-class quizzes 10
Total: 132

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
In-class quizzes 10
Individual portfolio 20
Creative group project and audio-visual presentation 20
Group project and presentation 20
Participation in lectures and tutorials 30

Required Reading

Excerpts from:

  • Altgas, V. (2014). From Yoga to Kabbalah: Religious Exoticism and the Logics of Bricolage.
  • Berger, P. L. (1967). Sacred Canopy. [Appendix & last chap.]
  • Blackbourn, D. (1993). Marpingen.
  • Callios, R. (1939). Man and the Sacred. [Chap. 1]
  • Carrette, J. R. (2004). Selling Spirituality.
  • Ellin, A. (n.d.). The Tie that Binds.
  • Eskridge, L. (2013). God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America. [Chap. 1 “Jesus Knocked Me Off My Metaphysical Ass“]
  • Foxen, A. P. (2017). Biography of a Yogi: Paramahansa Yogananda and the Origins of Modern Yoga.
  • Goodrick-Clarke, N. (2008). The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction. Oxford University Press. [Chap. 11 “Helena Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society”]
  • King, H. (Director). (1949). Song of Bernadette.
  • Knight, M. M. (2007).  Five Percent Nation.
  • Mauss, M. (1925). The Gift.
  • Myers, J. (2007). Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: The Kabbalah Centre in America (Religion, Health, and Healing).
  • Myers, J. (2011). In F. E. Greenspahn (Ed.), Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah: New Insights and Scholarship. New York University Press. [Chap. 8 “Kabbalah at the Turn of the 21st Century”]
  • Ouvran, J. (2013). The Star Spangled Buddhist: Zen, Tibetan, and Soka Gakkai Buddhism and the Quest for Enlightenment in America.
  • Santucci, J. A. (2004). The Theosophical Society. In J. R. Lewis & J. A. Petersen (Eds.), Controversial New Religions (pp.259-286). Oxford University Press.
  • Seager, R. (1995). The World’s Parliament of Religions.
  • Segady, T. W. (2009). Globalization, Syncretism, and identity: the growth and success of “Self-Realization Fellowship. Implicit Religion, 12(2), 187-199.
  • Shires, P. D. (2007). Hippies of the Religious Right. [Chap. 6  “The Countercultural Christians“]
  • Smith, J. Z. (1998). Religion, Religions, Religious. In M. C. Taylor (Ed.), Critical Terms for Religious Studies. University of Chicago Press.
  • Staudenmeier, P. (2018). Anthroposophy. In E. Asprem (Ed.), Dictionary of Contemporary Esotericism. Leiden: Brill.
  • Summary of Émile Durkheim’s theory of Religion.
  • Taylor, C. (2007). A Secular Age. [Chaps. 1 & 14]
  • Tonkinson, C. (1995). Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation.
  • Walker, D. (1990). The Black Muslims in American Society: from Millenarian Protest to Trans-Continental Relationships. In G. W. Trompf (Ed.), Cargo Cults and Millenarian Movements (pp. 343-390).
  • Worth, R. (2018, July 26). The Billionaire Yogi Behind Modi’s Rise. The New York Times Magazine. From
  • Wuthnow, R. J.  (2003). The New Spiritual Freedom. In L. L. Dawson (Ed.), Cults and New Religious Movements: A Reader.
  • Zimdars-Swartz, S. (1991). Encountering Mary.

 In addition, other videos, music and document sets will be on offer for student learning.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr A.J. Sacks
School of Humanities (History), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2897
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr A.J. Sacks
School of Humanities (History), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2897