spiritual leaders

spiritual leaders
   In a secular age, the role of spiritual leaders has changed and adapted to meet the needs of an increasingly individualistic society. In the 1890s, Freud remarked that the only thing one could be sure of about the next century is that one would die in it. The end of a century has traditionally brought with it a dread of Armageddon; perhaps the approaching end of a millennium spawned such cults as those led by Jim Jones, who persuaded 900 people to commit collective suicide at the People’s Temple in Guyana. Freud’s remark was also preempted by 86 people, including British citizens, when they followed their leader David Koresh to Waco, Texas and death by fire in 1993. In Britain, the Korean Sun Myung Moon found a willing congregation for his Unification Church in British youth.
   The authority of leaders of the traditional religious institutions of the country was increasingly eroded by a general disenchantment with establishment figures. The Nobel Laureate Mother Theresa of Calcutta became a spiritual icon, but her position was put in doubt when she was dubbed ‘Hell’s Angel’ by a television documentary which questioned her association with dictators. During the 1990s, Roman Catholic clergy fell from grace as news of their sexual indiscretions appeared in the press. The Church of England alienated sections of society with its stance on homosexuality and the opposition of a number of its leaders to the ordination of women. Evangelical Christianity found favour with many people; hundreds flocked to hear preachers such as Billy Graham speak. ‘New age’ mysticism brought with it spiritual leaders from other cultures and disciplines with its fusion of spirituality and personal growth. Perhaps the New Age godfather was the psychologist C.G. Jung. His teachings appealed to the society of the 1960s, for whom the pursuit of religious experience had become fashionable. His use of the mandala image, used in Eastern meditation techniques, found a popular appeal amongst a population becoming familiar with gurus such as the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was the mix of Western psychology and Eastern mysticism which brought to prominence the Indian mystic Osho Rajneesh, with centres devoted to his teachings established in most countries. The universally respected leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, also acquired a large following amongst a wide section of British society. It seems today that East has overtaken West in spiritual leadership.
   See also: evangelism
   JAN EVANS

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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