Hmm. This is where things get complicated.
Theosophy, by itself, may not necessarily indicate that something funky is going on.
What may be helpful is a concept, described by sociologist, Philip Jenkins, termed 'cultic milieu'--a social venue of alternatives to the mainstream, that is not itself cultic, but can sometimes serve to attract persons who are a little too willing to take risks, and who dislike critical thinking and fact checking.
An entity may not meet Lifton's criteria for a cult, yet might be what Jenkins calls cultic milieu.
We discussed this here:
One can be socialized and pre-formatted within the cultic milieu to become ripe for plucking by recruiters for cultic entities.
Then, again, others may pass through the cultic milieu and emerge as discerning and critical thinkers.
Cultic Milieu--a Possibly Helpful Concept?
'The concept of 'cultural milieu', as developed by sociologist Bryan Wilson,is very helpful in understanding this conglomeration of alternatives. According to Wilson, there is exists in Western societies, a milieu, which he terms 'cultic' where much that is rejected by the dominent cultureaccumulates.(Corboy's italics) -- alternative therapies, alternative beliefs, and to some extent, alternative lifestyles.
'Both ideas and persons usually belong more to the milieu than to any specific group within it. Individuals easily shift their allegiences from group to group and idea to idea, and ideas and groups are themselves linked to each other by a shared network of publications and venues. ('Venues' meaning places where people socialize and meet face to face C)
From Bryan R. Wilson, The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism: Sects and New Religious Movements in Contemporary Society, (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990)
Quoted in a book by Mark Sedgwick, page 48-49 'Against the Modern World: Traditionislm and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century: Oxford University Press, 2004
All this is very interesting and might offer us a way to understand the New Age.
First, some of the alternative ideas and therapies are later found to be effective and become part of mainstream culture. I am thinking of the use of traditional Chinese medicine and acupunture. This was considered fringe and goofy forty years ago. But...what mattered was that some TCM
practitioners had the ability to learn how to do well designed scientific research and were able to start conversations with medical researchers. Even political factors such as the Nixon Administration's willingness to enlarge political and economic exchange with Red China, played a role.
Now we are at a point where tai chi is taught as part of patient education programs at hospitals after studies have shown that it preserves agility and reduces the incidence of disabling falls and injuries.
What is of concern is when portions of the cultic milieu devalue scientific research and write off critical thinking as negative, and make claims and demand personal allegiance or conceal information needed for informed consent.
The concept of cultic milieu is interesting as well because many persons are recruited into Liftonian cults by gurus and outreach workers who know how to use marketing and publicity that are geared precisely to the cultural milieu.
The sad thing is, those in the cultic milieu think they have escaped the evils of mainstream culture and have escaped from the forms of marketing and consumerism that plague the mainstream culture.
Those in the cultic milieu dont realize that the milieu is still very much part of mainstream culture, for it remains a valuable niche market and it can be targeted, accessed and exploited by advertising strategies designed in mainstream culture.
In short, the cultic milieu thinks its a sanctuary, but it is easily penetrated and cognitively colonized by those who masquerade as members of the cultic milieu but whose actual agendas, concealed by spiriitual talk and charisma, are no different than an advertising campaign meant to market cigarettes to teenagers.
This also has implications for exit counseling and cult recovery
Many who feel traumatized by abusive gurus and human potential programs may leave the specific abusive group or guru, but when they leave that group, they return to the cultural milieu...and that milieu may
1) devalue critical thinking
2) contain triggers that constantly activate conditioning inculcated by the group, since a lot of NLP speak seems to float arond in the milieu
3) the cultic milieu seems collectively phobic and unconscious about power issues and issues of abuse and power imbalance, and in my opinion, tends
to shame those who try to discuss this and issue harm reports
4) The cultic milieu seems to enable spiritually rationalized power abuse, socializing people to be codependent to gurus before they even meet a guru and at the same time has a rhetoric of shame and invalidation that is readily directed at anyone who tries to warn of guru abuse
5) The cultic milieu has a network of magazines, social events, conventions, and websites easily colonized and appropriated by enterprising entrepreneurs/eneuses who know exactly how to exploit the mindset of the New Age cultic milieu, using marketing and PR techniques that are created by the very mainstream culture that the cultic milieu sees itself as having rejected.
In short, I contend that what is damaging about the New Age cultic milieu that many of us dislike is not that it is a liberating alternative to mainstream culture, but covertly is an extension of the very worst of mainstream culture.
This article puts some human flesh and bones on the cultic milieu concept--it was written by someone who entered the milieu in her teens, had a niche in that social setting as a teacher, and then decided to leave it.
The entire article can be read via this URL
Bridging the Chasm between Two Cultures
A former leader in the New Age culture - author of nine titles on auras, chakras, "energy," and so on - chronicles her difficult and painful transition to skepticism. She thanks the skeptical community and agonizes over how the messages of scientific and critical thinking could be made more effective in communicating with her former New Age colleagues.