The Personal Politics of Spirituality: On the Lived Relationship Between Contemporary Spirituality and Social Justice Among Canadian Millennials

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Watts, Galen
Contemporary Spirituality , Millennials , Spiritual but Not Religious , Social Justice
In the last quarter century, a steadily increasing number of North Americans, when asked their religious affiliation, have self-identified as “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR). Resultantly, a wealth of literature on the subject of contemporary spirituality has recently emerged. Some suggest, generally, that we are seeing the emergence of a “progressive spirituality” that is potentially transformative and socially conscious. Conversely, there are scholars who have taken a more critical stance toward this recent cultural development, positing that contemporary spirituality is a byproduct of the self-obsessed culture which saturates the west, or that spirituality, at its worst, is simply a rebranding of religion in order to support consumer culture and the ideology of capitalism. One problem with the majority of this literature is that scholars have tended to offer essentialist or reductionist accounts of spirituality, which rely primarily on a combination of theoretical and textual analysis, ignoring both the lived aspect of spirituality in contemporary society and its variation across generations. This thesis is an attempt to mitigate some of this controversy whilst contributing to this burgeoning scholarly field. I do so by shedding light on contemporary spirituality, as it exists in its lived form. Espousing a lived religion framework, and using the qualitative data I collected from conducting semi-structured interviews with twenty Canadian millennials who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” I assess the cogency of the dominant etic accounts of contemporary spirituality in the academic literature. I offer a critical analysis of their normative conclusions in light of the lived accounts of my research participants. Using four core ethics—the ethic of self-responsibility, the ethic of authenticity, the ethic of productivity, and the ethic of self-awareness—pertaining to the shared framework of self-spirituality as focal points of analysis, this thesis looks to flesh out the lived relationship between contemporary spirituality and social justice related attitudes and action among Canadian millennials.
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