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American Gnosis: Political Religion and Transcendence

A new book by Arthur Versluis (Oxford University Press, 2023)


“In this compelling book, Arthur Versluis looks at many aspects of modern America in terms of the neo-gnostic world view. In it, we encounter multidimensionality, hyperspace, immortal avatars, sexual magic, Tibetan Buddhism, Shambhala, psychedelic drugs and much else. American Gnosis is a heady rollercoaster journey that leaves the reader pondering profound questions about the struggle for freedom of the human spirit and the challenges that it faces in the present age.”
—Christopher McIntosh, author of The Rosicrucians, Beyond the North Wind and Occult Russia.

“In American Gnosis, Versluis searches the modern Americas for the paradoxes and syncretisms of gnosis freed from its ancient roots.  Versluis is the Sherlock of contemporary Gnosticism, and his sleuthing has paid off!”  
—April DeConick, author of The Gnostic New Age: How A Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion From Antiquity to Today

“Versluis’s new book bursts the bounds set by more timid scholarship, with a cast of characters at the limits of respectability—as some Gnostics have always been. Its exhibition of neo-gnostic attitudes in politics, philosophy, and popular culture is a feast of curiosity and erudition, anchored by a sense of what true gnosis could mean in a desperate age.”
— Joscelyn Godwin, author of The Golden Thread: The Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions

Book Description
The Greek word “gnosis,” defined as direct spiritual knowledge or insight, has its origins in historical offshoots of Christianity in late antiquity. But the terms “Gnosticism” and “gnosis” have become widespread in many other contexts. They are common in contemporary scholarship on religion and in popular usage among magical, religious, and spiritual practitioners. And they have entered popular usage in contemporary society, with applications in numerous political, religious, and cultural contexts. Gnosis and Gnosticism have become leitmotifs in popular culture, in films such as The Matrix and Dark City, as well as in anime and other popular art forms.

In American Gnosis, Arthur Versluis explores the fascinating connection between the Gnostic tradition and contemporary American spirituality, politics, and popular media. Versluis surveys themes of Gnosticism and gnosis in American culture, both within the United States and in global contexts. Versluis shows that gnosis is key to understanding a wide spectrum of global syncretic religious and intellectual movements-some sensational, even wild, but all fascinating. American gnosis, he argues, is a defining feature of hybrid new religious forms in the twenty-first century.

Versluis provides case studies of major contemporary figures and texts that are emblematic of neo-gnosticism, offering a comprehensive framework of gnosis and an understanding of gnostic trends in modernity. He explores how neo-gnostic memes recur in social media and shows how American gnosis has manifested as spiritual independence, reflecting the ever-growing demographic category “spiritual but not religious.” In delving into the intersection of contemporary American spirituality, politics, and literature, American Gnosis uncovers the remarkable prevalence of neo-gnostic elements today.

American Gnosis

Click here for the Oxford University Press page

*Clearly explains the contemporary phenomena of neo-gnosticism and of gnosis in contemporary American society, inclusive of Latin America.

*Surveys major contemporary and recent neo-gnostic figures and their significances.

*Explores neo-gnosticism in recent film, literature, and social media.

*The first book to explore the prevalence of neo-gnostic memes on the right.

*Analyzes neo-gnostic metaphors on right-wing and patriotic social media fora.

*Predicts likely future developments of neo-gnosticism and gnosis.

American Gnosis explores brand new territory in contemporary American spirituality. This startling tour du force will change how you see contemporary society—reading it is akin to putting on a pair of the revelatory eyeglasses in the cult film They Live.  In recent and contemporary American literature and films, as well as in political life, we find many elements taken from the early Christian heretical category of “Gnosticism.” In fact, new forms of Gnostic religion are found across the Americas, in all kinds of unexpected placis. Thjs phenomenon calls for a new name, “neo-gnosticism.” In American Gnosis, Versluis surveys the prevalence of neo-gnostic metaphors in films and novels, as well as in contemporary politics, primarily on the right. He provides case studies of some major contemporary neo-gnostic figures, and demonstrates how neo-gnostic thought contributes to critiques of politico-technological dystopian contemporary American and global society. American Gnosis introduces and discusses, some for the first time in scholarship, major neo-gnostic figures, also exploring how neo-gnostic memes recur in social media and other sources. Versluis also explores the emergence of American gnosis as spiritually independent, reflecting the growing demographic category “spiritual but not religious.”  

A Neo-gnostic Meme Collection

A gallery of recent or contemporary memes mentioned or illustrating themes in American Gnosis can be found here or by clicking the heading above.