The Sociology of Gnostic Spirituality

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
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  • 1 Rice University

Abstract

This paper owes debt to the field of study known as sociology of knowledge, which is interested in the social location of groups and their constructions of knowledge and reality. This project, however, is not about ordinary knowledge, but how gnosis, the direct knowledge of a transcendent God beyond the traditional Gods, became the foundation of a new form of spirituality in antiquity, and how this form of Gnostic spirituality has reemerged in modern America, impacting traditional religious communities and fostering new religious movements. Several social factors are involved in the emergence of Gnostic spirituality, including the dislocation of the founders and collaborators of Gnostic movements, the prominence of the seeker response, the revelatory milieu in which they find themselves, their reliance on revelatory authority, their push for alternative legitimation, and their flip-and-reveal and do-it-yourself constructions of new knowledge. Gnostic countercultures arise when Gnostic spirituality is mobilized. Much of religion and society are overturned so that we find constructions of the counter-self, calls for counter-conduct, the establishment of counter-cult, the deployment of counter-media, and the emergence of modes of Gnostic esoterization. The final section turns to the awakening, transport, and occulturation of Gnostic spirituality into modernity in America via artifact migration and alpha channels like Blavatsky.

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