The Rainbow Family : an ethnography of spiritual postmodernism
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The Rainbow Family of Living Light is an intentional society devoted to achieving world peace through spiritual healing. A loose association of spiritual seekers that explicitly rejects all forms of leadership and imposed authority, it represents an interesting example of an anarchist and communal society. Rainbow Family events regularly draw thousands of people. These take place all over the world. While some participants may question the label, it can be described as one of the biggest and most geographically diverse New Age groups on the planet. As such, it is a very important factor in shaping the entire present day New Age movement. I conducted fieldwork with the Rainbow Family between the autumns of 1998 and 2002, traveling with the nomadic group throughout the United States. The Rainbow Family rejects any sort of official membership, accepting anyone who attends its events as an equal participant. Spending extended periods of time in the field, I became immersed in this alternative society. The distinction between ethnographic researcher and informants was highly problematic under such circumstances. This made me acutely aware of the issues surrounding fieldwork and anthropological authority. My own work began to seem quite similar to the spiritual seeking of other participants. As such, I began to consider the commonalities between anthropology and the spirituality encountered within the Rainbow Family. The spiritual discourses produced by Rainbow Family participants are uniquely eclectic and ludic in tone. In a setting explicitly championing individual freedom rather than coercion, there is no sense of spiritual orthodoxy. The ways in which spiritual discourses are treated by the Rainbow Family display interesting attitudes towards truth, authority, and reality. These attitudes are reminiscent of epistemological orientations within postmodernist anthropology. Rainbow Family participants find noteworthy solutions to the apparent ontological dilemmas postmodernism presents. It is my hope that looking at the Rainbow Family of Living Light will suggest a viable way for anthropology to productively deal with its current crisis of identity.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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