Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church


Editor’s note: Reverend Pat Bailey is the pastor of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church. He is currently working on his PhD. These posts are based on themes he is exploring for his advanced degree. For more on Pat, see Our Writers.

Last week I began to discuss what many are calling a spirituality revolution in Western culture, and I introduced a study by religious scholars Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead and their characterization of the shift to subjective life (see Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality).

Heelas and Woodhead group subjective life activities into what they call the “holistic milieu,” which includes a wide range of interactions that emphasize personal experience, personal choice, and wholeness.  So, they include in the holistic milieu such practices as yoga, homeopathy, Reiki, Art therapy, Aromatherapy, Naturopathy, Rebirthing, and even tradition-related activities such as Buddhist meditation, inter-faith spiritual dialogue, pagan seasonal rituals, and Taize’ singing. The central characteristic that binds these disparate practices together is their focus on the inner life. They represent what Heelas calls “a spirituality ‘of’ and ‘for’ what it is to live out of life. . . . a spirituality ‘of’ and ‘for’ being truly human” ( see Paul Heelas, Spiritualities of Life; New Age Romanticism and Consumptive Capitalism).  Such inner-life spirituality both “emanates from the depths of subjective life” and is able “to make a positive difference to subjective life and the life around us.”

If we simply peruse the latest offerings at the Wilkinson Library, the Ah Haa School for the Arts, Telluride Inside and Out’s many articles, and Visit Telluride’s health and wellness pages, then It seems that the subjective turn described by Heelas and Woodhead is very much part of the cultural reality of Telluride.  Comparing the numbers of subjective-life activities offered in Telluride and the total average weekly church attendance at its current four congregations of around 250 persons, it can be concluded that the trend toward subjective live activities that Heelas and Woodhead observed is germane to Telluride and may, in fact, be more advanced than what they experienced in their own context.

Does the “holistic milieu” seem to describe accurately what is taking place in our culture? If this trend is accurate, what do you think about it?  Should religious communities feel threatened or hopeful by the trend?  Does the emphasis on personal experience, personal choice, and wholeness appeal to you?  Is the turn to subjective life just a form of selfish individualism or is there more to it than that?  Please join me next week as we deepen the conversation.

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