Making the frontier manifest: the representation of American politics in new age literature

Margaret Ellery

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

This thesis explores the history of the New Age movement through a political analysis of influential New Age books. By drawing upon cultural, religious and American studies, and concepts from literary criticism and political science, a new understanding of the movement becomes possible. This thesis analyses the ideological representations and rhetorical strategies employed in both New Age literature and American presidential discourse. It is argued that their shared imagery and discursive features indicate that New Age writings derive their ideological underpinnings and textual devices from dominant beliefs of American nationalism. This historical examination begins with the Cold War in the late 1940s and ends with the 1990s. Each chapter traces parallels between a particular presidential discourse and New Age texts published in the same decade commencing with Dwight D. Eisenhower and The Doors of Perception and finishing with William J. Clinton and The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure. It argues that the appropriation of particular spiritualities in New Age texts is closely related to contemporary American geo-political interests and understandings. Major New Age spiritual trends are derived from regions, most often in the third world, which are considered to be under threat from forces such as Communism. New Age writings construct an imaginary possession of these worlds, reconfiguring these sites into frontiers of American influence. In particular, this study examines the influence of the jeremiads and the ensuing Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny ideologies upon post-war national beliefs and the extent to which these understandings of nationalism inform New Age discourse. Representations of time and space, destiny and landscape, and self and other in these literary and political contexts are analysed. From this perspective, the eclecticism that marks the New Age can be historically understood as a shifting cultural expression of Cold War and post-Cold War political responses. Consequently, New Age literature is one of the means by which dominant American identity is reproduced and disseminated in what seems to be an alternative spiritual context.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2007

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