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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter February 5, 2019

The role of group experience in alternative spiritual gatherings

  • Danijela Jerotijević and Martina Hagovská
From the journal Human Affairs


The focus of this study is alternative spiritual groups among the urban population in Slovakia. Those who participate in them may be characterized as “spiritual, but not religious” (Willard & Norenzayan, 2017)—people who are not affiliated to a traditional (Christian) church, and may even have negative opinions on the Church, but who seek a different kind of spiritual experience. As Willard and Norenzayan pointed out the “spiritual, but not religious” have “an experiential relationship to the supernatural, and see themselves as more connected to the universe as a whole”. The authors studied spiritual gatherings containing elements of rituals, dance and narrative sharing and that were charged with different kinds of emotions. We are interested in people’s motivation to seek out alternative spirituality and in their preferences for group experiences. Based on theories of collective rituals and shared emotions, we assume that these gatherings may have a positive impact on general well-being and be a form of social and emotional resilience.


In recent years, multiple studies have been published on the “spiritual, but not religious”—a growing population (especially in Western Europe and the United States) of people who identify as non believers, or unchurched, but who are inclined to seek out different forms of spirituality [2] (e.g. Fuller, 2001; Silver et al., 2014; Willard & Cingl, 2017; Willard & Norenzayan, 2017). This phenomenon is connected to the growing secularization [3] of the western world (in the main). Although there are indications that the number of believers (in a strict sense) is decreasing, this does not necessarily mean the number of atheists and agnostics is increasing, but it could mean a rise in the number of people interested in spirituality (e.g. Heelas, 2002).

Spiritual but not religious are usually not affiliated to a traditional church (Fuller, 2001; Willard & Norenzayan, 2017), although they may have been at some point in their life. At the same time most do not deny believing in God, magic, or mystical forces. Although there is a lack of statistics about this social group in Slovakia, there is some evidence of a growing number of individuals engaging in various types of spiritual activities (see e.g. Willard & Cingl, 2017).

In relation to the United States (though it may be applied elsewhere as well), Fuller (2001, pp. 2-3) distinguishes three types of “unchurched” people: 1) secular humanists who do not subscribe to supernatural explanations of the world, but instead claim to rely on rational reasoning and common sense. These are mostly educated people who reject religious explanations and are neither religious, nor spiritual, and 2) those who have an ambiguous relationship towards organized religion. They may be religious, but do not attend church. Their religiosity in general may vary from being highly religious to only marginally religious, 3) the already mentioned spiritual, but not religious—this group is not homogenous, but contains individuals for whom spirituality is not a part of their everyday life, but also those who see life as a spiritual pathway (p. 3). We believe that this distinction can be applied outside the USA as well. We focus on the third category, which is part of our research topic.

Alternative spirituality [4] can be linked to alternative life philosophies manifested in the sphere of health (a tendency to favor alternative medicine), alternative education (Waldorf schools, home schooling etc.), environmentalism (ecospirituality), feminism and so on (see e.g. Astin, 1998; Ray & Anderson, 2000). The term “alternative” is used here to refer to an absence of rigid dogma and social control (Bloch, 1998, p. 56) [5]. Spiritual groups tend to be informal and loosely organized, but their “members” may share an “alternative set of values, explanations, lifestyles choices and communication systems that often are enacted in micro, everyday settings” (Bloch, 1998, p. 59), through which they escape the fundamentalism of the mainstream culture. Not all aspects are necessarily connected to religiosity (not related to it), therefore we can apply a concept suggested by Ann Taves (2018), and talk about worldviews[6] (see also Taves, Asprem, & Ihm, 2018).

Spirituality is usually contrasted with religion. While religion is seen as collective, public and institutional, and as God-centered and based on an official doctrine and formal rituals (Heelas, 2002; Fuller, 2001), spirituality is more private, focused on personal experience, an “interest in mysticism, experimentation with unorthodox beliefs and practices, negative feeling towards church and clergy” (Fuller, 2001, p. 6). We may say that while religion has a goal defined by the doctrine (e.g. salvation), spirituality is usually described as a journey—a (never-ending) process of personal growth, development, but also healing, and so on. From a scientific point of view spirituality may be considered a coping strategy (Boscaglia et al., 2005; Gall et al., 2005). The groups we studied were (at least partially) concerned with problem solving, healing, and coping with life’s situations and problems. At the same time, the cultural models of the faith of those engaged in spirituality are “weaker” than those in the traditional church. The variety and combinations of what a person can believe in are broad (e.g. believing negative energy can be transmitted from one person to another, but not that aliens have been visiting Earth, and vice versa, or believing in astrology, but not in ghosts, etc.). As Willard and Norenzayan (2017) pointed out, it is impossible for a Christian to believe in God and the Holy Spirit, but not in Jesus,while in spiritual movements with no formal doctrine almost any kind of belief is allowed. [7] Saucier and Skrypinska showed (2006, in Willard & Norenzayan, 2017, p. 138), using data from the United States, that religion and spirituality appeal to those with different psychological profiles: traditional religiosity was connected with authoritarianism, collectiveness and traditionalism, while spirituality was connected to openness to experiences, magical thinking, dissociation, and superstitions. Willard and Norenzayan also pointed out that the spiritual, but not religious in their sample had a more experiential relationship to the supernatural. This aspect is important in this study as well.

In this study, we analyzed partial data from research on alternative spiritual groups [8] in a small number of Slovak urban environments. We present the preliminary results of our ongoing research. The research is exploratory and aimed primarily at obtaining a better understanding of the groups studied, their dynamics, and the reasons individuals participate in them. We have also been looking at the efficacy of their practices from the emic perspective, as well as their expectations and motivations. Our approach is anthropological, but we apply anthropological and psychological theories in our data analysis. We predicted that alternative spirituality and collective experience could have an impact on general well-being of those involved. Our expectation was based on studies on collective emotions (von Scheve & Salmela, 2014) and studies testing the relationship between participation in collective gatherings and general well-being (Khan et al., 2014; Snodgrass, Most, & Upadhyay, 2017).

Spiritual transformation

As stated earlier, spirituality is usually defined in opposition to religion—as what it is and what it is not. However, the phenomenon of spirituality need not depend on religion. Spirituality may be part of everyday life and integrated into other domains of life. Although there are young people who were raised in a spiritual environment, our sample mainly includes those who have experienced “spiritual transformation” [9] in the past, as defined by Paloutzian (2005, p. 334):

Spiritual transformations, religious and otherwise, occur because people are confronted with discrepancies in life that require them to construct a new meaning system because the old one no longer works. Some changes in a meaning system may be partial and may not result in objectively identifiable outcomes, since some changes in people are not expressed in overt behavior. However, when spiritual transformations occur in their fullest form there will be measurable changes in self-perception and identity, life purpose, attitudes and values, goals, sensitivities, ultimate concerns, and behavior.

Paulitzian’s model of spiritual transformation is based on the assumption that negative events, or unmet needs lead to pressure on a person’s meaning system. As the level of disequilibrium increases the possibility of change occurring in the meaning system, the new meaning system is constructed. If individuals experience a discrepancy between what they believe and what happens in reality, or if they feel emotionally insecure, unsafe, mistrustful, and if their life events are inconsistent with their expectations and beliefs, that can trigger a search for new meanings and explanations (Paloutzian, 2005). [10] Our view of spiritual transformation is in line with this model. Our informants had not necessarily experienced a negative event in a strict sense; however, most mentioned a lack of satisfaction, or long-lasting problems and the need to deal with them. [11] Their engagement in spiritual groups had an effect “on their behavior, beliefs, and experience” (Miller & Thoresen, 1999 in Gall et al., 2005, p. 90). It is important to note that spirituality does not necessarily have a positive effect on the individual. Individuals who are not able to find a positive explanation for their experience, or who are not able to ascribe a higher cause to that experience, or who come to the conclusion that the situation/event could be a supernatural punishment, may find that the search for meaning through spirituality has a negative impact (Pargament, Smith, Koenig, & Perez, 1998 in Boscaglia, Clarke, Jobling, & Quinn, 2005). However, we will try to show that even where they have a negative experience/meaning, the group could be an important factor in turning negative emotions into positive ones. This may happen if the participant finds a way to transform a negative meaning into a positive one (or at a least neutral one).

The collective gatherings that we studied are charged with emotion, as we will describe in the next section. Many group activities—religious ones, or secular rituals, festivals, sport and so on—stimulate the sharing of emotions. However, this is an aspect that has not received much attention, although there is some research by psychologists and anthropologists (Paéz & Rimé, 2014). According to Paéz and Rimé (2014, p. 204) “every affect-loaded event brings people together and elicits a process of emotional communion or perceived emotional synchrony, composed by emotional contagion and synchrony with others, that supports fusion of identity analogous to what Durkheim described in view of religious ceremonies”.

We assumed that looking for meaning in a group (through sharing narratives with others), sharing a common goal (however vaguely defined e.g. finding your true self), feeling support strengthened by dance and ritualized behavior [12] were some of the factors that played a role in the alternative spiritual gatherings we studied. A combination of these factors contributed to a strong emotional experience. At the same time, we did not expect that each factor contributed equally to the individual experience.

Sample and methods

This study is a partial output from research on alternative spirituality in Slovakia. Here we analyzed data from 15 participants, all women. [13] Although the research covers different spiritual groups and techniques, in this study we focus on spiritual gatherings attended mainly by women. [14] The women were aged between 25 and 57 years old; most were in their forties. The authors of this paper had not studied the same spiritual groups (although the research partially overlaps), but used same methodological approach. The research was exploratory: first, we tried to obtain a general impression of the groups and their participants. We conducted preliminary research on the Internet and our informants were initially contacted via email. When (or if) contact was established, other informants were contacted directly at the place they used to meet. The first part of the interview was the autobiographical part. Informants talked about their family background, education, life trajectories, and so on. In the second phase, the interview focused on their experiences of spiritual therapies, their reasons for using them and the problems they were used to solve, personal experience, evaluation of their efficacy, and the emotions the informants experienced. Through the semi-structured interviews, we wanted to find out about the informant’s worldview, or life philosophy. A few informants were group leaders. [15]

Participant observation was another qualitative method used. This method was used to observe the group’s experiences and relationships, as well as participant reactions and involvement. This method also enabled us to observe the ritualized techniques used during the gatherings, the group dynamics, as well as participant emotions and reactions.

As already mentioned, it is important to study not only the spiritual beliefs and activities linked to them, but also the informants’ worldviews in a broader sense. Alternative spirituality is characterized by a certain level of fluidity—individuals may attend various spiritual groups and be active (at different levels of engagement) in a few of them (see e.g. Luhrmann, 1989). Informants may also have substantial experience of alternative medicine (craniosacral therapy, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine etc.), but nonetheless do not reject biomedicine and standard psychotherapy (see also Astin, 1998; Jerotijević, Kráľová, & Kulichová, in press). Most informants had a college education, although some were educated to high school level. [16] There were a variety of professions, for example businesswoman, secretary, foreign language teacher, project manager, IT, and bank clerk. The research participants were mostly of middle or upper middle socioeconomic status. Some were married with children, and some were single. They had hobbies such as traveling, reading, sport, or art.

Most of the informants can be defined as spiritual, but not religious: some described themselves as agnostics but with a belief in the transcendent, cosmic energy, reincarnation and so on. Although some were from Catholic backgrounds, they were not practicing Catholics, and were open to new ideas and philosophies. The groups tended to be informal and did not have a strict number of participants.

There was no explicit philosophy or theory behind this form of alternative spirituality. All the groups had a leader—a woman who led the meetings, gave instructions, suggestions, prepared the rituals and so on. The reasons for participating in these activities varied from general ones, such as developing female spirituality and femininity, to more concrete ones, such as solving life problems and situations, dealing with physical and mental health issues, accepting one’s body. The gatherings included discussions on topics about femininity, sharing experiences (talking), dancing, rituals, and were charged with emotion (both positive and negative).

Alternative spiritual gatherings and emotions

Spirituality has been approached from different perspectives. We are more broadly interested in its role in reducing anxiety and stress, but here we focus on the role of collective gatherings and collective experience. However, as these two aspects are linked, we cannot completely avoid mentioning anxiety and stress reduction. Our methods (qualitative interviews and participant observations) do not allow us to draw conclusions applicable in other contexts.

Although people can become involved in alternative spirituality out of curiosity, this was only partially true for our sample. For most of our participants, spirituality was a way of solving problems or at least of trying to find answers. They used the therapies repeatedly and saw them as effective in the sense that they thought “they worked”—even though the problem did not always disappear [17], things got better (e.g. one informant claimed that she learned how to accept a problem that was a cause of stress).

Most participants attended these groups and used alternative spirituality to find answers to their dysfunctional and disturbed relationships, but there were also those who needed to deal with substance abuse or health issues, or who were preparing for motherhood, giving birth and so on. We have to add that some of them used (or had used) individual psychotherapy. However, the two ways of dealing with personal problems seem to serve different purposes. We do not assume that alternative spirituality is a form of alternative psychotherapy; neither do we claim that it may serve as a substitute for standard psychotherapy (nor did our informants claim that). [18] According to one informant with a background in biomedicine, alternative spirituality cannot help in cases of severe psychological problems, such as bipolar disorder, serious anxiety, or personality disorder, serious depressions; however, it may at least partially help in situations where individuals face relationship issues, feel unsure of their life situation, or are confronted with illness, for example. Other informants backed this view. Those who mentioned substance abuse had used another method to tackle that problem. Most participants had used different methods to deal with different life events. Nonetheless they had repeatedly attended alternative spiritual gatherings and most of them pointed out that these had positively affected their personal well-being.

I did not expect to find answers to all my questions, I was looking forward to it, but at the same time I told myself that if I wanted to leave, I would. But in general, I felt like a little girl before Christmas - expecting a present and whatever it was, it was nice. And it was exactly like that: many new things, the whole weekend was utterly fantastic, I had not expected that it would be so intense, but I liked it very much, it was great and I was really surprised. (Kamila, 34) [19]

...We talked about motherhood and there were different emotions - anger, happiness, power - but also one more thing – freedom – whatever happened, we could find a way to express it.

Emotions are an integral part of these meetings and they are intense, as the informants’ descriptions indicated. The women experienced a broad spectrum of emotions when sharing their personal stories, dancing or performing rituals. They did not only experience positive emotions. The informants faced their own choices and decisions, or things that had happened to them in the past, but that they had not processed correctly. They listened to the others’ stories, found links to their own lives and were flooded with emotion as Renáta and two other informants described:

Extreme joy, extreme sadness, pity, love, enjoyment, understanding, support, but also depression, sorrow... but there are far more positive emotions than negative. (Renáta, 34) [I experienced] both positive and negative emotions...but mostly positive... I felt joy, I felt support, love, understanding, relief, ecstasy...there were also negative emotions like sorrow, guilt, depression, dissatisfaction, pity...(Ivana, 40)

Happiness, anger, sorrow, euphoria, catharsis, relief, safety...It depends which technique you use and what the meeting is about. (Linda, 38)

Studies on collective gatherings and experienced emotions have tended to deal with individual experiences. Walker (2010, in Paéz & Rimé, 2014) showed that the “flow” [20] present in a social situation elicited greater joy than “solitary flow” and that through this experience, “I” becomes part of “we”. One aspect that emerged during the coding was understanding, but also acceptance, and safety:

I have never felt safe anywhere. Never nowhere. Maybe because of the way we were raised as children ...I had good parents, but my mother always compared us to others. Even when I was good at school, there was always someone who was better...there was always a reason why something could be even better...And for the first time I felt completely safe (at a spiritual gathering).

A few other informants also mentioned this aspect was important:

For me, the meetings are always very touching, I am touched by how open people are, because I am a very honest person and when I feel safe, I have no problem speaking about things... People (outside the group) are not usually so open, because of that I am very touched. (Zuzana, 36)

...If something like this had been done from childhood, in kindergartens, schools, if it was done at work, I think it would really help to reduce the amount of mental illness and to improve quality of life...We are shut up in our small flats, small communities...but in the past more generations used to live together and although I don’t like that, it had some benefits...the women sat together around the table in the evening, they embroidered, or knitted, or whatever, and they had women’s circles. (Zuzana, 36)

Denisa (40) who leads one of the groups shared a similar perspective:

I like to work with twenty women in a group. Sometimes there are more of them, but if it is a “sharing” group there has to be the space to share. We sit in a circle for more than an hour and we really just talk and it is really important that these groups stay closed to others. When we establish a group, we don’t accept any more women. The women go deeper and deeper, they have to trust each other, and they have to feel safe in the group.

In this context alternative spirituality is very much about “sharing”—the main “thing” that is shared is personal information, stories about “oneself”, intimate (sometimes painful) experiences. Through sharing their personal stories, the women in the groups established trust. From their statements we can see how emotional these gatherings are. Although we do not have the space here to explain in depth the possible mechanisms underlying the trust-building and feeling of acceptance and safety, we assume that emotional contagion—“an unconscious process whereby individuals mimic others’ facial expressions and end up feeling an emotion congruent with these facial expressions via facial feedback” (Kelly, Iannone, & McCarty, 2014, p. 204)—plays a role here. Sharing emotions facilitates communication and supports intragroup bonding (Kelly, Iannone, & McCarty, 2014) as our data show:

I feel good there...I know some women there, we also meet independently of the gatherings and I am happy when I see them at a birthday party, or some other occasion...It is like coming home for me. (Soňa, 38)

The positive thing for me is that something is solved, that you feel relief. And I meet new people. Because when we open up to each other, we open our hearts, we engage in intimacy, we are closer to everyone there. (Jana, 57)

We have presented a small amount of ethnographic data illustrating the informants’ experiences. Alternative spirituality is a complex phenomenon that covers many other topics. The gatherings differ in the way they are organized: some are organized as a cycle with a given number of meetings—each one addressing a specific topic (women as mothers, lovers, etc.); while others have no have strict scenario. Regardless of the format, part of the meeting is devoted to sharing stories and part to experience (dance, rituals). Both parts are strongly emotionally driven—feeling all kinds (and combinations) of emotions is both desired and accepted. Although it will be necessary to conduct further research based on other methods as well before we can say more about the role of shared emotions in alternative spiritual gatherings, it seems that this aspect is important in building trust (the women empathise with each other and create a “safe” space for themselves) and this, subsequently, helps the women to, at least partially, transform the negative emotions caused by various life situations into positive ones. At the moment we cannot say if this effect is only a short-term one (during the meeting and shortly after), or if the efficacy is prolonged. As the women repeatedly attend these meetings, and some for a longer period of time, it is both possible and necessary to focus on this aspect more.

A broader perspective on alternative spiritual gatherings

We have already mentioned that alternative spirituality includes different techniques and methods. In the previous section we spoke about the emotions that are elicited as a result of some of those methods. From the anthropological perspective the interesting part is the ritual [21]. Another factor is the magical thinking [22] that is present in the narratives and explanations of life events. Taking into account this complexity, we do not expect to find that there is a single mechanism behind the popularity of alternative spirituality, but rather that it is a combination of factors. Below we will mention some of these. Due to the small sample and qualitative approach used, our findings have limited validity; however, they may form a basis for further research.

When we explain cultural factors, we can focus on two levels of explanations (Henrich & Henrich, 2006, p. 221): a “proximate psychological level that focuses on understanding the psychological processes and preferences that propel certain decisions and behaviors, and the ultimate evolutionary level, explores the evolutionary processes that produced the proximate psychologies that, in turn, produce decisions and behaviors”.

What is the function of these groups? The emic perspective emphasises closeness, sharing, bonding, and safety. Informants who were repeatedly involved in the spiritual groups pointed out their positive effects. [23]

The spiritual meetings are very much about sharing—the informants share intimate and personal stories [24]. This “storytelling”—putting (past) events into a story and finding connections between them [25]—ascribing meaning to past events - can reduce the stress the events caused (Keinan & Sivan, 2001). [26] It could be an attempt to regain control by making the environment appear more structured, understandable, and predictable (Keinan, 1994; Keinan & Sivan, 2001, p. 128). By being part of the group, sharing their experiences and listening to the stories of others, individuals may not simply achieve a better understanding of their problems, but feel a bond with the other participants and feel accepted—as we described in the previous section, one of the informants stressed that what I want to achieve is inner peace. Shared narratives accompanied by performed rituals, dance and music contribute to the feeling of empathy among participants.

The thrill is so strong, the feeling of the soul truly healing...It is the strongest part. Many times when the girls are sharing their stories, I start to cry, because their story affects me, although I haven’t experienced anything similar. I cry, and not just me, many of us cry. They are strong things, you feel you are experiencing the same situation (as the person sharing her story) – you who appear to be a perfect mother, wife, partner, daughter, employee - you also feel unimportant. [27](Lívia, 36)

Experience sharing is followed by collective rituals, dance and music:

Three women joined in the dance, they did not know each other. One of them was supposed to be dancing her own celebratory dance, the other two were there to support her...Then they changed roles. They danced around the altar, in their skirts, clapped, jumped, and most of them were laughing, some of them were screaming and whooping.

According to French sociologist Émile Durkheim (2002) collective activities have an impact on prosociality and on the solidarity of those participating in them. Durkheim was talking mainly about religion when he emphasised collectivity. His idea, although broadly accepted, was not empirically tested until recently. During the last two decades a number of experimental studies have been published testing Durkheim’s hypothesis (Norenzayan, 2013; Sosis & Ruffle, 2004; Xygalatas et al., 2016). However, these studies are mainly about traditional religions and rituals. They do not cover spiritual groups, probably because of their informal character and lack of strict rules/a doctrine shared by all participants. Nonetheless, even our small sample shows how important empathy, the feeling of acceptance and as most of them stressed—safety—is to the participants. Although these communities are not the same as religious communities (there is no common doctrine; the leaders are more like “guardians” than authorities, there are no strict rules, no obligations etc.), all the activities that were mentioned as being part of the gatherings promote bonding among the participants. As some informants pointed out, they had found new friends at the gatherings and had met independently of the spiritual gatherings. An informant who did not believe in the efficacy of the spiritual methods was still attracted to them because they were “charged with emotion” (Jerotijević, Kráľová & Kulichová, in press). A study by Tewari et al. (2012) has shown that collective gatherings can have a positive impact on individual well-being and self-esteem. While their study was based on self-reports, Paéz et al. (2015) experimentally tested Durkheim’s hypothesis on the effect collective gatherings have on social integration and collective identity. Their results supported their hypothesis: they focused on perceived emotional synchrony and found it had a positive influence on the dependent variables. The final mechanism that may support prosociality and bonding in these groups is music (and dance). For example Kirschner and Tomasello (2010) showed that shared music can influence prosocial behaviour in preschoolers. Kelly, Iannone and McCarty (2014) emphasized the role of interaction synchrony [28] in reinforcing emotional contagion.

When it comes to “the ultimate level of explanation” we can turn to a study by Taylor et al. (2000) in which they tested a hypothesis from evolutionary psychology [29] regarding women’s response to stress (or a potential threat). [30] They questioned whether the human “fight-or-flight” response to stress is an essential mechanism for survival, and postulated that while this strategy may work for men, women have different parental investments and “their stress responses evolved to maximize survival of themselves and offspring”. They called this strategy “tend and befriend”: women tend their children and “create, maintain, and utilize social groups, especially relations with other females, to manage stressful condition” (p. 411). This does not mean that men do not need social support, only that intimate bonding under stress is more often observed among women than among men (Taylor et al., 2000, p. 419).

This study has limitations (p. 422) and we do not have the space here to present it in detail. However, we believe that it would be useful to further test this hypothesis in the context of alternative spiritual groups.


The alternative spiritual groups in this study are becoming more popular in urban Slovakia. Those who participate in this kind of spirituality may identify as “spiritual, but not religious” (Willard & Norenzayan, 2017). Our research covers various topics and we study alternative spirituality through the prism of the coping strategy (Fallot, 1998; Gall, 2005), but focus on elements that are part of spiritual gatherings: 1) their role in preferences for alternative spirituality in general, 2) the psychological and social mechanisms underlying them. Here we have presented an analysis of the ethnographic data on the role of collective experience. We suggest that even though these groups differ from traditional religious groups, they may also support bonding and have a (mainly) positive effect on participants via psychological mechanisms. The alternative groups we studied are concerned with problem-solving. Their aim is to help participants deal with various life challenges, or specific life situations. Contrary to non-spiritual methods, the gatherings include dancing and ritualized activities. The important part is the narratives—the women share their stories and put their experience of the events in context. By ascribing meaning to the events experienced, the informants may establish a sense of control over them (the past events) and their environment may seem less unstructured and unpredictable. Connections between the events are based on the magical thinking (implicitly) present in the explanations. The combination of “storytelling”, dance and ritualized behavior evokes a broad spectrum of emotions in the participants. Even if the participant experiences negative emotions, these may be transformed into positive emotions and influence the sense of general well-being felt after attending a gathering. However, at the moment we are not able to tell if this is a long-term effect.

We do not suggest that alternative spirituality is an alternative to psychotherapy, but rather that it is a form of emotional and social resilience. The informants stressed a feeling of safety and understanding, and saw bonding as a crucial reason for participating. Our methods allowed us to identify the potential underlying mechanisms, but not to test our hypothesis or detect relationships between the key variables. Indirect support for our findings, at the very least, is found in studies focusing on 1) collective gatherings and their effect on individual well-being and self-esteem, and 2) their effect on music, dance, ritual and synchrony. We believe that further research on the role of collective and shared emotions (von Scheve & Salmela, 2014) may help us to better understand these phenomena. The popularity of this kind of gathering among the (mainly) urban, more educated population and the need to participate in collective activities and share experiences with others are other aspects that requires explaining.

1 This article was supported by the Slovak Research and Development Agency under contract No. APVV-14-0431 and by a VEGA grant no. 1/0421/17, “The Symbolic Representation of Danger ”.


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Published Online: 2019-02-05
Published in Print: 2019-01-28

© 2019 Institute for Research in Social Communication, Slovak Academy of Sciences

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