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Designing Rites to Re-enchant Secularized Society: New Varieties of Spiritualized Therapy in Contemporary Sweden


Detraditionalization in late modernity in Western society has affected the domains of both traditional religion and clinical psychotherapy. Sweden, which is said to be one of the most secularized societies in the world, instead, has allowed the public domain to be colonized by new, spiritualized practices. Sold as therapy, the services of new spiritual leaders offer anti-stress techniques to prevent burnout, or leaders are trained to develop their leadership in coaching activities. New varieties of spiritualized therapy are rapidly increasing in contemporary Sweden, typical of which is to have added healing rhetoric to their agenda, such as “find your inner self” or “develop your inner potential.” Four common denominators seem to guide these practices: self-appointed leaders, individual-centered rites, realization of one’s Self, and intense emotions. We might also add a fifth aspect: profit. Rites have become a commodity and are sold as liberating practices for burnt-out souls or for people in pursuit of self-realization.

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  1. The Journey is the “therapy manual”, written by Brandon Bays, but also the name of the practices, sold as therapy.

  2. But Scientology has until recently been involved in the enterprise known as Narco-non, an anti-drug treatment program available at Swedish private health centers, which are sponsored by secular society. When Scientology’s involvement in this program became more widely known through a critical investigation by journalists in a television program (Uppdrag granskning 2008-10-01), the social support for this highly questionable treatment program was severely criticized and will most probably be suspended. The Church of Scientology responded to the critique by saying that they only sold “the technique”, but not as a religious practice. This argument was not, when revealed, accepted (as in the case of Asian traditions) as such by the secular private health centers, which had purchased the treatment program.

  3. See for example Nilsonne (2007), psychiatrist and professor in medical psychology at the Karolinska institutet, Stockholm, and her book (2007) in practicing mindfulness Vem är det som bestämmer i ditt liv? - Om medveten närvaro, or Schenström, medical doctor, Mindfulness i vardagen: vägar till medveten närvaro (2007).

  4. Rappaport speaks about the rites as “the basic social acts”, a reliable way to communicate social messages, while Humphrey/Laidlow speaks of “archetypal action”, separated from the intention of the performer, and as such there are better ways than ritual to transmit messages.

  5. Ahlström (2008) “Nu ska vi också ha ett perfekt inre”, my translation.

  6. The concept is borrowed from Heelas and Woodhead (2005).

  7. (accessible 2008-10-21).

  8. (accessible 2008-05-08).

  9. (accessible 2008-10-21).

  10. One of these courses involved 250 teachers, but according to Human Dynamics, they had educated 15,000 Swedish teachers, a figure that might be discussed, since it could also be used as a way to market the courses ( (accessible 2008-10-13).

  11. (accessible 2008-06-25).

  12. Seagal & Horne 2004 [1997]: 290, my translation.

  13. See also Hornborg (2007, 2009).

  14. The selection of genre of this “canonical” literature varies, from New Age inspired books to scientific journals, especially scholars who have studied the mind-bodyconnection.


  16. (accessible 2008-10-13).

  17. (accessible 2006-12-02).

  18. (accessible 2008-10-13).

  19. Quoted by Ian Watson, Co-Founder of The Lakeland College for Homeopathy; Author of “A Guide to the Methodologies of Homeopathy” ( (accessible 2008-04-28).

  20. For example the Journey:, or, and (accessible 2008-10-14). But it is important to note that these witnesses are used by the Journey in market their practices, i.e. to sell more courses, and there are no narratives from participants who fail to do a successful healing.

  21. See also the study of est by Finkelstein et al. (1983).

  22. My translation of: Hälsoakademin,, Svenska Institutet för Sorgbearbetning and Akademin för NLP och Ledarskap (accessible 2008-10-18).

  23. (accessible 2008-04-28).

  24. (2008-06-28).

  25. ibid.

  26., my translation (accessible 2008-10-13).

  27. Personal communication 2008-10-07.

  28. (accessible 2008-10-21).

  29. For this discussion I am indebted to the discussion I had with Yvonne Aburrow at the Ritual conference in Heidelberg 2008.

  30. For the discussion of the concept “framing”, see Bateson 1955.

  31. Interview with one of the teachers who participated in the education program.

  32. See Hornborg (2009).

  33. For further reading of the construction of a “therapy culture”, see Furedi (2004), and for the concept “the authentic self”, see Taylor (1991).

  34. at the cost of 335 euros and offered by a licensed facilitator (accessible 2008-10-13).

  35. Private communication 2008-10-13.

  36. (accessible 2008-10-21).

  37. (accessible 2008-10-13).

  38. E-mail communication with Charlotta Dybeck, Human Dynamics, Sweden 2007-08-12.

  39. For a further discussion of this phenomenon, see Joel Haviv Medarbejder eller modarbejder (2007).


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Internet Pages: The Journey

Other Internet Sources

Television Program

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I would like to thank Magnus Bergvall’s fund for their generous contribution to my stay in Heidelberg.

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Correspondence to Anne-Christine Hornborg.

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Hornborg, AC. Designing Rites to Re-enchant Secularized Society: New Varieties of Spiritualized Therapy in Contemporary Sweden. J Relig Health 51, 402–418 (2012).

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  • New spiritual practices
  • Therapy
  • Coaching activities
  • Commodification of rites