Is this a sign of the times or what? The British edition of Cosmopolitan, the glossy bible of sex and shopping for the single girl, has launched a new monthly column on spirituality.
“I’ve come to the painful realization that men and shoes are not enough to make me happy,” Hannah Borno, the magazine’s new spirituality editor, wrote in the March edition. “The key to true contentment lies elsewhere.”
God and guidance would hardly seem to suit the “Cosmo girl.” British media have mocked the magazine for asking what happens now after years of breathless stories about dressing sexy, finding men and having multiple orgasms.
Borno, 32, says reader feedback has convinced Cosmo that many young women long for something more than the materialist life.
“Lots of women say ‘I have a great job, I have a great relationship, so why am I unhappy?,’” she told Reuters.
“We have been covering everything else. We already cover the mind and the body but we needed the spirit as well.”
Nina Ahmad, acting editor of the British Cosmopolitan, said the magazine had 1 million readers in Britain and did not want them to “feel alone on their spiritual journey.”
“We want women to be the best they can, in every respect of their lives,” she said.
Cutting out the middleman
In the United States, Cosmopolitan’s main American edition has not copied the British example. But the editor of a leading Web site on faith and spirituality said he was not surprised by Borno’s new job.
“There is clearly a huge number of people who are either disassociated with or disgusted with organized religion but are seeking spirituality by other means,” said Steven Waldman, editor-in-chief of Beliefnet in New York.
“They are cutting out the middleman,” he said. “It’s in the nature of modern society that people are spiritual free agents now.”
“Institutions are no longer imposing a message on the faithful,” wrote Frederic Lenoir, a French sociologist of religion. “Individuals are freely taking what suits them from various traditions,” he added, referring to what is sometimes derided as supermarket spirituality.
Borno bore that out in her first spirituality section, advising readers to tap their dreams to hear their inner voice and use ancient Chinese meditation tricks to think clearly.
“An amazing 44 percent of you think either you or someone you know is psychic,” she told her readers.
“More than 50 percent of you believe in the accuracy of tarot cards and palmistry and 38 percent of you believe in mind-reading.”
Nowhere near a church
As in many other European countries, this new search for spirituality has nothing to do with established religions, which these days attract only a small fraction of the population.
“We’re looking at spirituality rather than organized religion, because that’s where there seems to be a demand from our readers,” Borno explained.
“They want something a bit more alternative.”
Borno has no religious training herself and does not pretend to be an expert on dispensing theological advice.
“First and foremost, I’m a journalist,” she explained, adding that she would consult experts to explain complex topics in what she called “Cosmo-friendly language.”
“There is so much on offer out there and I will try to sift through the whole lot and extract the stories we think are interesting,” she said.
That includes explaining meditation techniques, reviewing books or asking if traditions such as Kabbalah, an esoteric Jewish mysticism embraced by stars like Madonna and Britney Spears, would help readers lead happier lives.
“Cosmo is all about presenting readers with practical options and tricks and techniques they can use,” Borno said. “We don’t want too much mystical baggage.”
The trend towards “supermarket spirituality” has unnerved some traditional churches. The Vatican issued a long study last year arguing that the spread of “New Age” spirituality was an alarm bell for the Roman Catholic Church.
“The success of New Age offers the Church a challenge,” it said. “People feel the Christian religion no longer offers them — or perhaps never gave them — something they really need.”
With people taking an increasingly individualistic approach to faith, Beliefnet’s Waldman saw celebrities driving some of the latest spiritual trends.
“They see that Madonna goes for Kabbalah, so they check it out,” he said. “They see the Dalai Lama has a new book on how to ease stress, so they try it.”
The biggest spiritual leader in the United States, he said, was not any of the well-known preachers but television talk show host Oprah Winfrey. Her popular Web site has its own “Spirit and Self” section.[Original article no longer available]