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How to become an advice guru : the new age spirit of entrepreneurial selfhood Forsey, Caitlin Andrea


This dissertation updates Max Weber’s (1904-05) celebrated thesis on the relationship between Protestantism and modern capitalism through an analysis of the interplay between the economic ethics of New Age spiritualism and the economic spirit of online entrepreneurialism. It extends Boltanski and Chiapello’s (1999) discussion of different mutations in the spirit of capitalism by analyzing 21st century religious and entrepreneurial texts, in addition to ethnographic data generated through participant observation and qualitative interviews with 28 professionals who are reinventing their identities as entrepreneurial “advice gurus” at a self-help seminar in the United States. The core argument of this dissertation is that beginning in the mid-1990s, a new spirit of capitalism emerged in the United States that stems from and finds resolution through New Age spiritual movements that blend Eastern and Western religious traditions. To this end, I examine how the calling of the entrepreneur has been supplemented by and transformed into the dharma of the advice guru through a thematic analysis of the manifest and latent content of two self-help texts that display the economic ethics of New Age spiritualism. I also demonstrate how New Age entrepreneurs blend the American ideal of self-invention with a certain popular interpretation of the Hindu principle of reincarnation to construct a relationship between spiritual transformation and upward social mobility. The charismatic form of leadership and sectarian characteristics of the self-help seminar are discussed for how they provide an ideal-typical portrait of the “network capital” (Elliott & Urry 2010) that is required to access this global community. To supplement my analysis of the economics ethics of New Age spiritualism, I draw on principles of poststructuralist theory to reveal the interpretive repertoires of entrepreneurial selfhood that participants use to construct ‘expert’ identities. I conclude with a discussion of how the rational pursuit of self-fulfillment emerges as a key spiritual and economic imperative that distinguishes the New Age spirit of capitalism in the early 21st century. Errata: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/45398

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