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Akua, Porsche Little
Photography Porsche Little

Has the pandemic sparked a spiritual awakening?

TextLaura PitcherIllustrationCallum Abbott

More and more, people are turning to spirituality and religion to cope with lockdown life, and imagining their futures with newfound faith

While most of us would say the coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives forever, this could range from increased anxiety to a new career path. For some, this includes their entire spiritual outlook. Nearly three in ten US adults say the outbreak has boosted their religious faith and are in the midst of what Eckhart Tolle suggests could be a “spiritual awakening”.

So what is it about a year deemed cursed by popular culture, and consisting of mostly sitting indoors and worrying, that inspires a higher faith? In hard times it’s reasonable to expect humans will search for comfort and explanation, but Pat Hastings, assistant professor of sociology at Colorado State University, has done research that suggests that religion can actually buffer the adverse effects on happiness during negative life events like when losing a job. 

While his research was conducted pre-pandemic, it does provide insight into how those turning to spirituality are faring in the pandemic in comparison to their disbelieving counterparts, starting with why religious people are generally happier. “People find happiness in their connections to others in a religious community, religion can provide a sense of life purpose and meaning through its beliefs and practices, and it can also help buffer against hard times that would otherwise make people even less happy.” This, says Hastings, is only achieved when religion or spirituality become a large part of your life.  

This is the case for Lena Suponya, a 25-year-old American based in India who recently became a brahmacharini (monk) after her spiritual journey in the pandemic, to the shock of her friends back home. While she describes herself as “spiritual” before the pandemic, working remotely from India and connecting with her guru Paramahamsa Vishwananda allowed her to make spirituality the biggest priority in her life. “If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I would have made excuses involving my job and social life as to why I couldn’t delve more deeply into my spiritual path,” she told Dazed. 

She is currently still based in the ashram after making a life-altering decision in August of last year. “I could renew my contract with my remote job or I could dedicate more time to spiritual pursuits such as studying the Hindu scriptures,” she says. She quit her job and committed herself to study, something she believes wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic.  

While not everyone has left their workplace and moved across the other side of the world, alternative religions like Black diasporic spirituality have also experienced an uptake in interest, says Porsche Little, a Brooklyn-based artist, diviner, and aborisha (a practitioner of Yoruba religion) who offers over-the-phone tarot readings. Before the pandemic, she worked as a part-time server in New York, doing readings for family and close friends before launching her business in early April. 

Little started taking three to five clients a week during the beginning of the pandemic, which escalated to around 20 to 25 currently, with Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, and Athiest clients all turning to her in a time where churches were closed. “All that was left was Spirit,” she told Dazed. “The world literally stopped and all that we could do as a people was reflect and look within.” 

“I was able to connect religion to social issues and behaviours that I support in clearer ways”

Akua Shabaka, who also does tarot readings, says her client list has grown exponentially during this time. “I think the pandemic has allowed people the opportunity to take a moment to breathe, to remember self and spirit,” she says. “Sometimes this can be hard in a fast-paced world that does not emphasise the importance of spiritual work but there have been a lot of people looking for guidance around career, finances, and spiritual fulfillment.”

For some, having the time to engage in social justice movements taking place last year sparked their religious curiosity. Sam Ebert, based in Norwalk Connecticut, says it was attending the Black Lives Matter marches where he became motivated to explore his religious beliefs. “I was able to connect religion to social issues and behaviours that I support in clearer ways,” he tells Dazed. “I have since gone to church and explored Franciscan beliefs. I wouldn’t say I believe in god now, but I definitely feel the need to take my spirituality more seriously and cultivate it.”

For Lila, a social media manager based in Brooklyn, time alone caused her to look inward and notice her “ego.” “I had become paralysed by others’ opinions of me, getting angry at unavoidable things like traffic or long lines,” she says. “I drew correlations to larger-scale issues like systemic racism, power dynamics between nations, and the divides in the US and around the world. I wanted to contribute to the collective shift I saw happening, where people on social media and in my life had this sort of awakening.” Pre-pandemic, Lila was agnostic, growing up half-Jewish, half-Christian. She now has her “own personal way of viewing religion” and has been nurturing rituals like meditating, moving her body, eating well, and educating herself and others.

While for many the pandemic has altered or started their spiritual journey, for others it’s sparked a deep-dive into cynicism. As vaccine rollouts continue and post-pandemic life is on the horizon for some but not all countries (due to vaccine apartheid), it’s also impossible to tell if this is part of a larger spiritual boom or one of the adjustments, like hand sanitizer, that will level out with some resemblance of normality. Either way, it looks like more religious or spiritual friends and family have been faring this time better than the skeptics. 

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