Self religion

religion which focuses on improvement of the self

A self religion (or self-religion) is a religious or self-improvement group which has as one of its primary aims the improvement of the self. The term "self religion" was coined by Paul Heelas and other scholars of religion have adopted/adapted the description. King's College scholar Peter Bernard Clarke builds on Heelas's concept of self religion to describe the class of "Religions of the True Self".


Alphabetized by author
  • Est is subsumed under 'other self-improvement groups'. The latter probably comprise groups for which Paul Heelas coined the term 'self-religions': groups which offer techniques and practices which encourage experience and perfection of the self (Heelas 1982; 1984; 1988).
    • Elisabeth Arweck (2006). Researching New Religious Movements: Responses and Redefinitions. Routledge. p. 171-172. ISBN 978-0415277549. 
  • Self-religions have become in the West a part of a new monistic tradition that promotes exhaustive self-exploration.
    • Pola Bousiou (2008). The Nomads of Mykonos: Performing Liminalities in a 'Queer' Space. Berghahn Books. p. 27. ISBN 978-1845454661. 
  • Self religions. A term devised by Paul Heelas to denote a group of religions and self-improvement organizations that aim to develop the 'self'.
  • Paul Heelas, in his study of the New Age movement, includes firmly structured organizations such as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Osho and the so-called 'self religions' such as est (Erhard Seminar Training), among others.
  • Werner Erhard, a former used-car salesman, founded his Erhard Seminar Training system (EST) in 1971. He drew upon many sources in the development of his philosophy including Zen Buddhism, Dale Carnegie's Positive Thinking, L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology and Jose Silva's Silva Mind Control. Erhard's seminars were at first 60-hour courses over two weeks designed to give insights into the meaning of life; his philosophy has been described as 'the most important of the self religions' that developed in the 1970s and 1980s.
    • Ray Clancy (21 July 1992). "Professionals fall prey to New Age gurus". The Times (United Kingdom). 
  • Rupert (1992) discusses a range of cases where religious or philosophical ideas have been used to underpin business training seminars, including both movements which fall under the 'New Age' umbrella and the so-called 'self religions' such as the human potential movement, est, or Scientology.
    • Peter Bernard Clarke (2000). Japanese New Religions: In Global Perspective. Routledge. p. 64. ISBN 978-0700711857. 
  • New Age communities appear to be driven more by a concern for individual spiritual growth than by collective concerns. A majority focus on teaching the various techniques for improving the quality of one's life and greater effectiveness by kindling the divine spark within. Transcendental meditation, the Self-religions (see Self-religion, The Self, and self) including The Forum, formerly est, Insight, The Life Training, the Silva Method of Mind Control, based largely on New Thought, Mind Dynamics, an offshoot of Silva Mind Control fall into this category.
    • Peter Clarke (2005). Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements. Routledge. p. 445. ISBN 978-0415453837. 
  • NRMs generally, and Religions of the True Self and/or Self-religions, which include Scientology and the NAM, can be considered new in several other senses.
    • Peter Clarke (2006). New Religions in Global Perspective: A Study of Religious Change in the Modern World. Routledge. p. 8; Section: "Identifying 'new' religion globally. ISBN 978-0415257480. 
  • [People] who develop forms of unaffiliated 'self-religion,' a deep but vague and unorganized interest in the sacred.
    • Massimo Introvigne, quoted in — Larry Witham (March 11, 1996). "Europeans forge new religious paths - Boomers tilt traditions to fit their needs". The Washington Times: p. A12. 
  • Paul Heelas, for example, includes a significant number of what he calls the 'self religions': groups like Landmark Forum (also known simply as The Forum, formerly est or Erhard Seminar Training) and Programmes Limited (formerly Exegesis).
  • The largest group of New Religious Movements – both in numbers of individual groups within it and in the diffused range of its overall influence within modern British life – is that clustered around the richly varied collection of 'self-religions', psychotherapies and New Age mysticism and alternative spiritualities. This large group may be broadly divided into two sub-groups, each of which is simply a clustering of often quite diverse movements around a similar overall theme. The first group consists of the 'self-religions' and religiously 'flavoured' psycho-therapies which have increasingly fluorished in the last twenty or thirty years. The self-religions have been characterized as 'movements which exemplify the conjunction of the exploration of the self and the search for significance'.
    • Parsons, Gerald, ed (1993). "Expanding the religious spectrum: New Religious Movements in Modern Britain". The Growth of Religious Diversity: Britain from 1945: Volume 1 Traditions. London: Routledge. p. 283. ISBN 0415083265. 
  • The practices and self-identities of witchcraft are also distinguishable from Satanism. The groups introduced above are centrally concerned with individual growth and/or self-development. They are akin to New Age in that they are correctly identifiable as self-religions or self-spiritualities.
    • Jesper Aagaard Petersen (2009). Contemporary Religious Satanism: A Critical Anthology. Ashgate Publishing Company. pp. 34-35. ISBN 978-0754652861. 
  • Contemporary western witchcraft traditions are 'nature-religions' even when some of them are deeply interested in the self (e.g. Crowley 1989). The difference is that the 'self' for nature-religionists is relational, while it is thoroughly individual in self-religions.
    • Jesper Aagaard Petersen (2009). Contemporary Religious Satanism: A Critical Anthology. Ashgate Publishing Company. pp. 34-35. ISBN 978-0754652861. 
  • Beginning with the concern with self-expression in the 1970s, when cultural developments encouraged self-exploration, the New Age developed from what has been described as self-religions such as EST, a self-improvement method based on Erhard Seminars Training.
  • New Age religions, televangelism and fundamentalist religious sects, and 'self-religionist' or self-actualization movements such as est (Erhard Seminars Training) and Scientology emerged to fill the empty place of any unifying or collective belief system for many Americans in the '80s.
    • Amy E. Seham (2001). Whose Improv is it Anyway?: Beyond Second City. University Press of Mississippi. p. 83. ISBN 978-1578063413. 
  • To create a harmonious inner existence is a positive act with far-reaching effects, and not an act of isolation. To desire peace strongly is to help achieve it.
    • Jane Roberts, in The Early Sessions: Book 8, Session 337, Page 16
  • Like the NAM, many of the Self-religions (Heelas 1991) have been heavily influenced by Asian, and more generally Eastern, ideas of spirituality and divinity and do not acknowledge an external theistic being but, rather, use spiritual and psychological techniques to reveal the god within and/or the divine self. The Forum and/or est, whose origins are in the United States (Tipton 1982) holds to the belief that the self itself is god.
    • Charles Taliaferro, Victoria S. Harrison, Stewart Goetz (2012). The Routledge Companion to Theism. Routledge. p. 123. ISBN 978-0415881647. 
  • If the range of religions on offer is a symptom of religious interest, then the second half of the twentieth century appears to rebut any suggestion that the West has become increasingly secular: the counter-culture of the 1960s produced an astonishing array of new religious movements (NRMs). The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (or ISKCON or Hare Krishna), Transcendental Meditation (or TM), the Divine Light Mission and the Healthy-Happy-Holy of Yogi Bhajan (a variant of Sikhism), were imports from the East. Others were what Paul Heelas has called 'self—religions': Erhard Seminar Training (or est, always spelt with lower—case letters), Insight, Exegesis, and Scientology were quasi—religious psychotherapies.
    • Marta Trzebiatowska, Steve Bruce (2012). Why are Women More Religious Than Men?. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 37. ISBN 978-0199608102. 
  • Enlightenment 'seminars', so to speak, have (largely) replaced LSD, self religions of the seminar variety now being of very considerable significance.
    • Lieteke van Vucht Tijssen, Jan Berting, Frank Lechner (1995). The Search for Fundamentals: The Process of Modernisation and the Quest for Meaning. Springer. p. 147. ISBN 978-0792335429. 
  • I first give some indication of the extent to which the New Age (specifically est-like self religions) has entered the domain of business (specifically management).
    • Lieteke van Vucht Tijssen, Jan Berting, Frank Lechner (1995). The Search for Fundamentals: The Process of Modernisation and the Quest for Meaning. Springer. p. 158. ISBN 978-0792335429. 
  • They point to the spirituality that emerged from Rogerian therapy, Reichian therapy and psychodrama. They cite what they call self-religions like est and the followers of Bhagwan, both of which draw on Western therapeutic techniques and also put forward a form of Eastern spirituality.
    • William West (2000). Psychotherapy & Spirituality: Crossing the Line Between Therapy and Religion. Sage Publications Ltd. p. 63. ISBN 978-0761958741. 
  • It was the psychological wing of this widespread and increasingly mainstream cultural development that was radicalized in the 'self-religions' (the most influential of which was est) which came to lie at the 'heart of the "New Age"'.
    • Matthew Wood (2007). Possession, Power and the New Age: Ambiguities of Authority in Neoliberal Societies. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 20-21. ISBN 075463339X. 
  • In time, psychological expressivism declined, but the self-religions remained, resulting in the New Age as 'a relatively significant practical and cultural resource' within wider society.
    • Matthew Wood (2007). Possession, Power and the New Age: Ambiguities of Authority in Neoliberal Societies. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 20-21. ISBN 075463339X. 
  • Young (1987:132) assigns est to 'a family in which Arica, Assertiveness Training, Actualizations, Gestalt Therapy and several other psychologically oriented groups belong.' These, as well as Lifespring, Relationships, Self-Transformations, the Church of the Movement for Inner Spiritual Awareness/Insight and others, are what Paul Heelas terms 'self-religions.' For an investigation and analysis of Exegesis, an est derivative, see Heelas (1987).
    • Michael York (1995). The Emerging Network: A Sociology of the New Age and Neo-pagan Movements. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 93-94. ISBN 978-0847680016. 

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