This Week’s Guest: Tara Isabella Burton
The so-called “rise of the nones” is a trend that has been going on for decades in the U.S., as more and more Americans, when asked about their religion on surveys, are checking the box labeled “none.” With this trend strongest among millennials and members of Generation Z, the future seems clear: we are becoming a more secular country.
Or are we?
The instinctual search for religious meaning and the yearning for transcendence are sewn into the fabric of the human condition. Everyone worships. And as Tara Isabella Burton documents in her new book, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World, the decline of traditional religious institutions has been accompanied by a rise in alternative forms of spiritual expression; and more than that, an investment of spiritual energy into nearly every domain of human life, from shopping to health to politics.
In this podcast, Burton joins Jonathan Silver to discuss her book, the return of paganism to America, and the spirituality of SoulCycle.
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.
I don’t think we are in a godless world at all. I absolutely don’t see us as a secular age, as an age of disenchantment, but rather as taking this kind of refracted, more individualistic approach―for better and often for worse―to religion. It’s telling that the same people who might not want to go to a service to give up an hour a week in the morning—to go to Mass, let’s say— are also very willing to get up at 6:00 am every morning to go to a SoulCycle class.
Often many of these wellness cultures and iterations―the idea of purifying your body, or letting your bodily disciplines stand in for a purification of your best self―are pretty demanding.
Whether it’s a ten-step Korean skin-care routine, or an intense commitment to working out, or eating only special raw food on a whole food diet―these are demanding. I would argue that often the ones that are most successful are the ones that are most demanding, that are most challenging in part because there is a hunger to do the most intense thing and the most challenging thing.
For more on the Tikvah Podcast at Mosaic, which appears roughly every Thursday, check out its inaugural post here.
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