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Life guidebooks in the era of the custom-built spirituality: New sources of spiritual guidance in contemporary Europe
Many parts of the world have nowadays turned into “post-confessional” societies, in which neither the “traditional” Christian religiosity nor the “modern” science-based worldview can boast the spiritual hegemony. Instead, various “in-between” teachings combining materialistic orientations with belief in the supernatural have enjoyed increasing prominence.
The multiplicity of these teachings caters to what I am referring to as the “custom-built spirituality” – people’s search for building their own, eclectic but individualised worldviews. In many cases, their creators or advocates seek to reach the widest possible audience and for this purpose recur to modern media such as television and Internet. Their primary vehicle of communication, however, is books. What trends and topics prevail in spiritual guidance literature in contemporary Europe? What values does this literature seek to propagate as a spiritual guide? What changes in the life of contemporary individuals account for its spread and popularity? What implications does it have for established religions? A thorough investigation of these issues can help make significant advances in understanding the current processes of socio-cultural transformation in contemporary European societies.
Furthermore, one might expect that under conditions of globalisation the field of spirituality could not remain closed to the transnational flow of ideas leading to the mutual penetration and multiple mixing of local elements with those originating elsewhere. This renders relevant also the question as to whether the contents of this literature circulate transnationally and how. The geography-related aspects of the phenomenon have been barely studied so far.
This project is located in a point of crossing between a number of disciplines, including sociology, social psychology, human geography, religious and cultural studies. Accordingly, it will take into account existing methodological approaches from these disciplines. For the reasons of feasibility, the project focuses on three major European countries: France, Germany and the UK.
Demyan Belyaev is a human geographer. He has worked in various research projects and lectured in Spain, Portugal, Germany, Russia and the United States, taking advantage of his fluency in the respective languages. His educational background includes degrees from
the St. Petersburg State University in Russia, Harvard University in the USA and a doctorate from the University of Heidelberg in Germany. His first major research interest area focuses on heterodox knowledge and alternative forms of religiousness in contemporary Europe with special attention to their spatial and socio-demographic aspects. The second major area of his research specialisation involves the role of the so-called “orientation(al)” knowledge, i.e. commonly held beliefs, values and ideologies, and the study of the ways in which the social and cultural organisation of human society interacts with socio-economic development.