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My name is Lauren Alexander, and I am a religion major from Massachusetts. My interests within religious studies include modern lived religion in America, Christianity, issues of the body, gender, and power, and questions of ethics and authenticity.
I was intrigued by the blend of South Asian influences like karma, more new age spiritual pursuits labeled Soul Travel and dream keeping, and Christian notions of God as love encompassed by ECK.
My desire to learn about Eckankar grew quite organically. My extended family lives in Chanhassen, and, as I drove around their neighborhood, I would always find myself noticing the large, golden pyramid of the Temple rising from the horizon, gleaming in the sun. The gate in front of the property displayed a sign denoting the site as Eckankar, while another display remarked: ‘All Are Welcome.’ I never remembered to look up the name, and when I asked my family about the site, all they knew was that it was “some religious group.” Once I started researching Eckankar for this project, I was intrigued by the blend of South Asian influences like karma, more new age spiritual pursuits labeled Soul Travel and dream keeping, and Christian notions of God as love encompassed by ECK. I knew that learning about Eckankar would be both interesting and challenging for me.
Attending the community HU song was one of the moments in my life where I have felt the most welcome and the most wanted.
As a self-professed skeptic of religion as a whole and of new religious movements, I knew that picking this project would force me to reassess and reevaluate my assumptions about religious people and practice. Perhaps more importantly, studying Eckankar and immersing myself in the community and lives of ECKists would allow me to question biases I have about what makes a religion or a belief, and how we (as students of religion, as academics, as Americans, as Westerners) perceive, constitute, and maybe even create authenticity, modernity, and legitimacy when it comes to religion. Instead of writing off ECKists as ‘weirdos’ or ‘hippies’ as many have, I found myself over the course of my research drawn in by the people I met. Not only were their explanations and descriptions of Eckankar centered on finding God and feeling spiritual wholeness, their dedication to Eckankar was about self-discovery and finding love and wisdom in everyday experiences. In my meetings with members of Eckankar, I was overwhelmed by the welcoming, loving, and open experiences I had. Attending the community HU song was one of the moments in my life where I have felt the most welcome and the most wanted. While learning about Eckankar has challenged me to think critically about what makes religion, what it means to be authentic, and how we constitute tradition, the most important thing I learned was how to engage with those who, although seeming profoundly different, prove to have much in common with me. I want to thank those I met who shared their books and CDs, their songs, coffee, their hopes, hugs, their time, and their stories. If nothing really is a coincidence, I am grateful that this is what happened.