Quantum Regimes: Genealogies of Virtual Matter and Healing the New Age Body
This dissertation makes sense of New Age healing practices and the spiritual currents undergirding the increasingly popular landscape of alternative healthcare. To do so, it argues, we must first determine its material ontology – the conception of materiality that shapes how New Agers understand and interact with the world around them, especially as it pertains to healing the human body using metaphysical tools. As such, it uses archival research, film analysis, and ethnography in the San Francisco Bay Area to uncover the development, not of the New Age religiosity or spirituality per se, but of its material ontology. What emerges is the primacy of musings about virtual matter, things unseen but nevertheless real as they are felt, evoked, and experienced. Things such as quantum phenomena, code, digital content, cosmic energies, chakras, auras, and ancestral DNA resonances. Within these musings lies the close relationship between techno-scientific advancements and metaphysical pursuits, which is why this dissertation is structured around exploring how quantum physics, computing, and cybertechnologies shape the New Age experience. In the New Age material ontology, the microscopic, the digital, and the supernatural can cooperate and be willed to heal, since all belong to a realm of virtuality that interacts with the physical world. This is possible because virtual matter is just matter hidden from the ocular sense, and all matter is subject to human will. Methodologically, this dissertation centralizes the human diversity within the New Age with a focused case study of Iranian-American healers, whose prominent presence in the alternative healthcare landscape demonstrates the importance of including immigrant communities in studies of American religion and culture, the diversity of New Age spirituality, and the prominence of racialized bodies in a movement largely known for being post-racial, universal, and progressive. Iranians also highlight healing in terms of their various subjectivities (national, political, and racial) and existential ailments, adding “homeland” and “lineage” the repertoire of virtual matter as metaphysical limbs of the body. Ultimately, this research contributes to the study of American religions, the anthropology of the body, science and technology studies, and inter-disciplinary conversations about materiality and the human condition.
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