For many people, academics included, the term New Age is likely to bring to mind a range of phenomena, such as crystal healing, tofu, and a belief in auras and past lives, which they are inclined to assume are essentially superficial and trivial, if not actually silly, with the consequence that they tend to view the phenomenon as a whole as one that has little cultural significance. However, the opinion of all those who have studied the phenomenon is that this is a serious misjudgment. For as the British sociologist Paul Heelas emphasizes, it would be a mistake to assume that the New Age is only a “fringe curiosity.” Rather, his conclusion is that it is “firmly entrenched as a cultural and practical resource” in contemporary society (1994, p. 105), while the American James R. Lewis expresses the opinion that the New Age “is merely the most visible part of a more significant cultural shift” (1992, p. 4), adding, “we are no longer talking about a marginal phenomenon. Rather, we appear to be witnessing the birth of a new, truly pluralistic mainstream.” Perhaps most significantly of all, Philip Seddon, who as a Christian critic of the movement has little incentive to exaggerate its importance, actually goes so far as to claim that “the New Age is a spiritual movement of powerful proportions, analogous to the Renaissance or the Enlightenment”(1990, p. 3). Clearly these judgments not only justify taking the movement seriously but also provide a prima facie case for considering that the emergence of a New Age movement might well constitute a crucial aspect of the Easternization of the West. However,

before it is possible to reach such a conclusion, the overall scale, importance, and impact on society of this movement all need to be carefully assessed. Unfortunately this is not easy to do.