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with Jasmine Bina

19: Systems In Flux: Birth of the New Spiritual Consumer

insights in culture

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For the fourth and final episode in our series on Systems In Flux, we’re talking about seemingly new emerging forms of spirituality, and how new spiritual brands are positioning themselves to take advantage of our collective movement towards wanting to be both categorized but at the same time free from conventional binary definitions.

Everything is being catered more and more to us as individuals—and religion seems to be shifting in that direction, too. Part of that shift is the way we understand what religion is in the first place, and our youngest generations are pushing us further toward newly remixed ideas of spirituality that borrow from a wide range of traditions.

Allegra Hobbs is a journalist who’s explored the phenomenon of the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a newly-revived derivative of the teachings of the Bolivian-born philosopher, Oscar Ichazo, that practitioners believe can lead to improved self-awareness.

She found that the Enneagram and other categorizing devices like it have also seemingly crossed over into the mainstream because we find ourselves in a perpetual state of isolation and alienation—something Rachel Lo discovered as she developed the dating app Struck, which helps match people based on their astrological signs.

This episode explores what these new forms of spirituality mean and how they’ve come into the mainstream with the emergence of a new spiritual consumer, and while discussions about spirituality can be challenging for a number of reasons, our conversations ended up revealing surprising potential implications for equity and inclusion in everything from how we find meaningful relationships to how we conceptualize our work.

Podcast Transcript

MAY 13, 2021

60 min read

Systems In Flux: Birth of the New Spiritual Consumer

00:11

Jasmine:
Welcome to Unseen Unknown. I’m Jasmine Bina. For the fourth and final episode in our series on Systems In Flux, we’re talking about seemingly new emerging forms of spirituality and how new spiritual brands are positioning themselves to take advantage of our collective movement towards wanting to be both categorized but at the same time, wanting to be free from conventional binary definitions.

Everything is being catered more and more to us as individuals and religion seems to be shifting in that direction, too. Part of that shift is the way we understand what religion is in the first place. And our youngest generations are pushing us further toward newly remixed ideas of spirituality that borrow from a wide range of traditions. Allegra Hobbs is a journalist who’s explored the phenomenon of the Enneagram.

01:00

The Enneagram is a newly revived derivative of the teachings of Bolivian-born philosopher Oscar Ichazo that practitioners believe can lead to improved self-awareness. She found that Enneagram and other categorizing devices like it have also seemingly crossed over into the mainstream because we find ourselves in a professional state of isolation and alienation—something Rachel Lo discovered as she developed the dating app Struck, which helps match people based on their astrological signs.

This episode explores what these new forms of spirituality mean, and how they’ve come into the mainstream with the emergence of a new spiritual consumer. And while discussions about spirituality can be challenging for a number of reasons, our conversations ended up revealing surprising potential implications for equity and inclusion in everything from how we find meaningful relationships to how we conceptualize our work. First, Allegra breaks down the history for us. What is an Enneagram anyway? And how did it capture the imagination of some of the world’s most powerful leaders and institutions today?

02:00

Allegra:
So, the Enneagram as it is currently used is a system of typing people into nine basic personality types. And you are dominant in one. That does not mean that that is all you are, you theoretically contain parts of each personality, but you’re only dominant in one type. And that type is all about what fundamentally motivates you.

02:30

What is the core motivating factor? So it is not based on behavior, you cannot tell a person’s type based on the way they behave. It is all about what motivates them at a fundamental level. So for example, I am Type Four or dominant in Type Four. And my core motivation is, according to the system, to establish an identity for myself.

03:00

So I guess when it comes to exploring the history of the Enneagram, it’s important to note that this is all based on a wisdom tradition that serious practitioners will tell you is ancient and somewhat mysterious. Like the exact origins of the wisdom tradition itself are disputed, but we can pretty precisely pinpoint when that wisdom tradition started to become the personality typing system that is in use today.

 

03:30

There was a philosopher named Oscar Ichazo, who was the leader of a non-religious human potentialist movement that was based in Chile in the 1970s. He crafted the Enneagram into a system for understanding how essence, which he posits is perfect and in oneness with the cosmos, becomes distorted into what we would call our personalities, which are the nine types. It’s not that you’re your personality, it’s that your personality is kind of a mask, or is this distortion of your core essence. So the work of the Enneagram is all about tearing down that personality to get back to the core of who you are, so learning your type is the start of the journey and not the end in itself.

04:30

So he kind of started with that philosophy and established these nine types. His work was then expounded on by a student of his named Claudio Naranjo. And then some Americans came to Chile, discovered the system, they passed it on to a group of Jesuits in the United States. And that is how it came into the hands of a Franciscan friar named Richard Rohr, kind of known for his work in meditation and quiet contemplation. He has kind of a retreat in New Mexico. And then he wrote the  first book about the Enneagram from a Christian perspective in 1990. And it was literally called The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective. So this is something that’s kind of been out there for a few decades in the Christian world, but not anywhere near mainstream. But Rohr kind of became the entry point for a lot of other Christians who were curious about the system.

05:30

One of them was Suzanne Stabile and she was a pastor’s wife. She journeyed to Rohr’s center where he was teaching the Enneagram. She absorbs the wisdom of the Enneagram and she co-wrote a book with an Episcopal Priest named Ian Morgan Cron called, The Road Back To You. And it was published in late 2016. And that was the book that changed everything.

05:50

Jasmine:
It’s interesting that that book is called The Road Back To You because the words read like self-help to me.

06:00

And I know that you’ve written that a lot of people who have really embraced the Enneagram, Christian or otherwise, they tend to be quite young. They are into self care and wellness. They are open to therapy, possibly astrology, things like that. You talked about Christianity, the Christian system, which you’ve written posits that, “We are inherently flawed,” but you’re describing the Enneagram system is we are inherently perfect. And our personalities kind of mask that perfection. I’m sensing a tension between these two systems, or I guess you could even call them brands. Is there a tension there?

06:32

 

Allegra:
There is a tension between the Enneagram and a certain strain of Christianity. And I think that’s important to specify because whether or not the Enneagram comes into conflict with Christianity, kind of depends on who you ask, because there are many ways of practicing the faith of Christianity. But what I did find is that the way American evangelicalism is often practiced can be traced back to the teachings of John Calvin, a philosopher out of the Protestant Reformation.

07:00

And he taught a doctrine called total depravity, which is pretty much what it sounds like, which is that every effort by a human being is tainted by sin. And it is only through faith that we escape our fate of eternal damnation. So here’s a quote from John Calvin that I cited in my piece. “Our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil that it can never be idle. The whole man from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot is so deluged, as it were, that no part remains exempt from sin, and, therefore, everything which proceeds from him is imputed as sin.”

07:47

If you look at American evangelicalism, it stems from this Calvinist teaching and this Calvinist understanding of sin nature and human nature. So there is a sense among a lot of American evangelicals that, “You are bad at the core, and it is only through the grace of God that you even have a hope of salvation, but any efforts that you personally make to better yourself are fundamentally flawed because we’re sinful at our core.” What the Enneagram teaches is that at your core, is this kind of perfect essence. 

Oscar Ichazo believes that we are in essence, in perfect oneness with the cosmos and that we become distorted and lose that perfection when we fall from essence into ego. So the Enneagram is a significant departure from that kind of Calvinist American evangelicalism which is still pretty prominent because it teaches you that you can, through your own efforts, work your way back to this fundamental goodness at your core.

09:00

When you contrast that with this message that, “You’re bad, bad, bad, that you’re sinful at your core, and you need to move away from yourself,” it’s really striking.

09:12

Jasmine:
Why do you think this has entered the spiritual mainstream at this point? Because this is quite recent, it’s been around for a long time, but like you said, in 2016, it was a turning point and it feels like more of a movement now than anything else. Why do you think that is?

09:27

Allegra:
Yeah. I think that for one, something I’ve found in reporting this piece, there is a trend of younger Christians who are really jaded by the showy megachurch type of Christianity. These charismatic pastors holding religious services in sporting arenas. It strikes a lot of younger people as disingenuous. And so there’s actually a really interesting trend of younger Christians moving towards more liturgical traditions and being more open to meditative practices and quiet contemplation, and the Enneagram kind of falls in line with those trends.

10:09

If you look at it the way it’s supposed to be followed and supposed to be studied, the Enneagram is practiced as this life long journey to better understand yourself and your place in the world. It’s very serious work to the people who practice it. And it is often taught in tandem with quiet contemplation. That’s the way that Franciscan friar Richard Rohr taught it.

10:32

So when you look at it that way, it’s kind of an intentional departure from the more surface level glitzy, aesthetic brand of Christianity if that makes sense. The other thing, the evangelical world is more open to influences outside of the explicitly Christian, which is a fairly new phenomenon. If you look at the history of evangelicalism in America, you see a resistance to things like yoga, which some believed was satanic. You see the Harry Potter books were kind of approached with fear and trepidation and kind of moral panic because evangelicals believed that it would impart witchcraft and on a more serious note, the evangelical church has been exclusionary and even outright hostile to marginalized groups that it felt were not in line with their moral teachings specifically the LGBT community. All of that has changed in recent years.

11:37

Jasmine:
As I was surveying this, and even my personal experience with Enneagram and talking to some of the people that I know, a lot of people are introduced to the Enneagram through totally non-religious routes. You could easily embrace this and never feel, or know about the religious context. What are some of the spectrum of brands that have emerged around the Enneagram from religious to non-religious that might give us an idea of just how big this is?

12:07

Allegra:
Yeah. So the first example that comes to mind and the most prominent kind of in the influencer brand sphere is definitely Sarajane Case. And she runs an Instagram account called EnneagramAndCoffee. At the time I wrote my piece, she had half a million followers. That’s pretty significant for this little kind of personality typing system that a few years ago was relatively unknown. 

And she kind of has built herself into a brand around the Enneagram, if that makes sense. Her Instagram account is quite personal. It trades both in serious spiritual work and advice for people who are looking to explore the Enneagram and fun, more topical means that are Enneagram adjacent if that makes sense.

12:59

A lot of this does in fact, live on Instagram. There’s one Instagram account that I find funny called Rude Ass Enneagram. It’s mostly screenshots from TV shows that people love like New Girl. And it’s kind of like, for example, it will show what character, maybe what type, or it’ll have memes using screen grabs or quotes from these TV shows, making fun of each Enneagram type in a good natured way.

 

13:30

And that’s the kind of content that people online who are into the Enneagram seem to like, and there’s a lot of accounts along those lines. Sarajane’s is a little bit more earnest if that makes sense, because I asked her, there are some people who are serious practitioners of the Enneagram who may view these meme accounts and these brand accounts kind of cynically because for them, this is a serious spiritual practice. When I asked Sarajane, how she reckons with that and how she sees herself fitting into this world, she basically told me that she hopes that her Instagram account will be a starting point for people who are seriously interested in exploring the Enneagram. 

She doesn’t just do the Instagram account to her credit. I mean, she’s kind of launched this whole platform where you can do Enneagram workshops with her and more deeply explore the system if you choose to. So it doesn’t just end at memes.

14:28

Jasmine:
I saw that she also has a five day summit that looks pretty comprehensive as well. You’ve written in the past that, “To be human is to categorize.” And it’s really obvious when you look at something like the Enneagram or astrology, but where else do we see this kind of need to categorize in our everyday lives?

14:46

Allegra:
Yeah, I’d also noticed that beyond personality typing systems that Buzzfeed quizzes are really popular right now. 

People love these deeply individualized and digitized ways to better understand themselves and to do so publicly. And you see that also with the trend of people sorting themselves into Harry Potter house, like if you look at a Harry Potter fan’s Twitter account, it’s not uncommon to have one’s Myers-Brigg type in the bio and then Gryffindor or Slytherin or Ravenclaw or whatever. 

15:25

Jasmine:
Right, right.

 

15:27

Allegra:
There seems to be a real desire for people to use a shorthand to say, “This is who I am.” And the Enneagram helps build that space in a way. If you’re familiar with the Enneagram and someone tells you, “I’m a Type One,” you immediately have at least the beginning of an understanding of them or what motivates them and the same for Myers-Briggs and the same for Harry Potter Houses and to a lesser degree and in a more, perhaps less serious degree, Buzzfeed quizzes and things of that nature.

16:00

Jasmine:
So on the serious side of things, I’ve noticed that all kinds of personality typing systems, but also the Enneagram are being used increasingly in a business context. I mean, I was talking to the CEO of a big public company who was telling me that they had just taken their own Enneagram test. They were a little bummed to learn that they were a Type Two or something like that. And it’s just so interesting to me that we’ve seen things like this crossover into business, things that maybe had a religious origin or a non-scientific origin, certainly a non-business origin and they’ve they’ve crossed over and they cross over into so many other parts of our lives too. How does this kind of thing happen? How do we lose the origins of typing systems like these and start applying them in seemingly unrelated places?

16:51

Allegra:
Right. I think that with any typing system, and in any mode of spirituality, any strain of spirituality, that kind of crossover is inevitable. Or I don’t want to use the word warping because that has a distinctly negative connotation, but, but it is essentially a warping of the original intention of the thing.

17:15

So the Enneagram may be intended as its serious practitioners will tell you to be a serious spiritual discipline that lasts a practitioner’s lifetime and ultimately serve the purpose of allowing you to understand yourself better and to understand your place in the world and how you relate to others better. That is the purpose of the Enneagram. But any time there is an opportunity to do so systems like that will be shoehorned into other purposes. I think that there’s just a real desire to use whatever tools we have in our arsenal to  improve ourselves, improve our workplaces.

18:03

I think that modern life can be quite alienating and the current trends for these ultra personalized systems of bettering ourselves or better understanding ourselves, or maybe in response to that. And so I’m not surprised that people are using it in a work context, because I think the modern workplace is a really strange one to navigate. I think that perhaps there is more depersonalization and there’s more remote working and we’re more dependent on technology. I can see how if a manager thought, “This is a way that I could make my team function better and I could improve morale, then I’m going to do it.” And I think that’s why workplaces try to use Myers-Briggs to improve the workplace. And I imagine that’s why they’re using the Enneagram.

19:08

Jasmine:
When you take a step back to look at all of this, how do you think the new consumer’s sense of spirituality is changing and how will it continue to change into the future?

Allegra:
So a wonderful journalist named Tara Isabella Burton wrote a book called Strange Rites about this new kind of a religious spirituality that she observed taking hold in the culture. She observed the companies that were selling wellness products or fitness dads like SoulCycle were using pseudo-religious language to do so. And so nothing was explicitly religious, but this kind of vague a-religious spirituality was running through all of these things. And she also made a few observations in general about American adults and the kind of consumer that might be interested in these products.

 

20:03

So she found that a quarter of American adults are religiously unaffiliated. And for those born after 1990, that number climbs to almost 40%. She also found that three-quarters of those religiously unaffiliated people still believe in a kind of higher power. And she called these people faithful nones. And then she also found that 27% of Americans consider themselves spiritual, but not religious.

 

20:31

So it’s a weird consumer landscape, right? Because on the one hand, people are becoming less religious, people are attending church in fewer numbers, but on the other, you still see a pretty significant bend towards spirituality and a desire for something deeper. She also observed that people are taking what she calls an intuitionist approach to religion rather than an institutionalist approach. So taking bits and pieces from different traditions that they feel serve them. And so I think you see that with the Enneagram, right? And you see that with the way a lot of young adults now are approaching Christianity. 

You take what serves you, whether it’s astrology, a meditation app, the Enneagram, and you leave the rest. She kind of made the observation that there’s a sense that everything is ultra personalized, catered to the individual and digitized. So you see that in the way your Netflix queue is personalized, you see that in the way that we look for love on Tinder. So there’s this expectation that we should be able to meet our spiritual needs in a similar way. Why would we force our beliefs into this category, into doctrines and creeds that we feel don’t really serve us when we could instead cobble all of these different systems together and walk away with a strain of spirituality that we feel serves as a person?

22:19

Jasmine:
We have a strong desire to find a shorthand that explains who we are in business and in life. But there’s another interesting place where our new consumption of spirituality is starting to show up and it’s in our dating lives. Rachel Lo is the founder of Struck, a dating app based on astrology. And her work is a perfect example of how our new consumption of spirituality is creating a world of new brands. What’s most interesting however, is how these new brands are opening us up to new kinds of user experiences, regardless of whether you’re a believer or a skeptic.

 

22:59

Rachel:
So our philosophy when we were building the app was authentic human connection. So when I was living in San Francisco after college, I used basically every dating app under the sun. And for me, it was actually a decently enjoyable experience. I met a lot of cool people, I made some friends, I dated a couple people, but I noticed that my friends didn’t have the same experience. And what really felt like it was lacking was this lack of authenticity when they were meeting new people on dating apps.

And something I realized was that through my growing interest in astrology, I found that my conversations with friends and even strangers around astrology were often so much deeper than random conversations about your job or what you did this weekend, which is usually the bulk of the conversations you have on dating apps. And so I felt like there was this really amazing opportunity to combine the two and help people just connect that much more deeply, that much more quickly through the vocabulary of astrology.

 

24:10

Jasmine:
I think that’s really fascinating and something that maybe people miss it first, just as you described it, the fact that if you approach dating through an astrology lens, it seems to kind of force a different level of authenticity you don’t normally get on a dating app. And I think I’ve even seen this in your interviews where you say that you see astrology is a great tool for speaking about your emotions in a language that a lot of us weren’t taught to communicate in. What did you mean by that? What is that language?

 

24:30

Rachel:
What astrology does, I kind of call it “therapy with training wheels.” What it does is it just provides this existing framework and existing language that people feel is a lot more approachable than something like therapy. I don’t think it’s a direct substitution, I don’t think astrology can completely displace something like therapy, but I do think having those pre-existing words and phrases is really helpful, like saying, “I have a tendency to think about myself a little too much at times because I’m a Leo,” right?

Just acknowledging that fact, I think wouldn’t normally happen in conversation. And one thing I love to talk about is even people who are skeptics, even someone who is adamant that astrology is fake and not empirical, you can still have a really good conversation with that person if you use astrology as the tool.

25:31

So an example of that is I might say to a die hard engineer, “Hey look, you have in your chart that you’re a Mercury in Cancer. So you might cry a lot. You’re very soft-spoken, you might be passive aggressive,” and they go, “Wow, that is so wrong. I’m actually extremely assertive. I don’t cry. I express myself in a very assertive way.” At that point, you still had a conversation about how that person views themselves, how they communicate. And that, again, wouldn’t normally happen if you didn’t have this framework or the pretense of astrology there.

26:11

Jasmine:
That’s so interesting. So obviously it’s forcing these more intimate conversations. I tried the app and I found that for some reason it felt more intimate. It felt familiar, not the app itself, but the people as I was going through my matches and understanding how their astrological profiles fit into the identity or who I was looking at. I think I could fall in the diehard engineered camp. Right? But I’m not above seeing the tremendous value in starting these dating conversations from a really emotional place.

I’m just curious, how are people using the app? Are you seeing any interesting behaviors or are you seeing them move in a certain way that they wouldn’t in other dating contexts?

27:00

Rachel:
Yeah. So what we see is that the people who come onto our app are sort of self-selecting to begin with, right? They tend to be more open-minded, tend to be more empathetic, tend to be more heart on their sleeve in some ways, because they are willing to put it out there that they’re into astrology and they have XYZ traits about them. Another thing that we developed into the app was forcing people to choose their priorities. And that it doesn’t really even have a lot to do with astrology, but we were writing this idea that again, those people who are into astrology are more self-aware or at least more introspective and would be more willing to interrogate what it is in life that they want. 

And so these are categories like financial stability, which is a huge driver for some people and not at all for other people or spending time with family, which I know sounds crazy for those people who are really close with their families, but for some people that really isn’t a priority either. And so we wanted to force those conversations upfront as well. And so I think that’s a lot of where this sense of familiarity comes from is these people are amazing users just being really open and honest about who they are and craving that more authentic connection too.

28:13

Jasmine:
Something else I was kind of struck by was… At least with my matches, they seemed like a very diverse crowd of people. All kinds of different jobs, all kinds of different backgrounds and stories. And I think in my one data point anecdotal experience, I didn’t see that on other dating apps when I was actually dating in the past. Do you think that’s unique to your app and is it part of a function of how you’ve built this thing?

28:42

Rachel:
Yes, absolutely. And I am so glad you said that, it’s something I take a lot of pride in. So the team that built the app is incredibly diverse by Silicon Valley standards and just corporate standards in general. It was mostly women and a lot of women of color, a lot of women who built the app. I say a lot, but there weren’t that many of us anyway. 

But proportionally, we made up the whole team. So I think when you have a diverse team building a product, it’s inherently going to be serving a diverse population. So, that’s something we’re really proud of. I also think there’s something about astrology that’s really powerful for people who feel overlooked, which obviously tends to be underrepresented people, minorities, that kind of thing.

29:27

So I think there’s a real reason that people of color and queer communities really are the driving force behind the popularity of astrology. And I don’t think they get enough credit for that either. And I think it’s that astrology makes you feel really seen in a way that you might not be seen in a predominantly white community that you’re used to growing up in.

So to answer your question, I think astrology kind of self filters for that type of person. And one thing anecdotally, we’ve heard from some of our users is, this is the first dating app a lot of people have used, which is interesting because you think in today’s world everyone’s tried a dating app at least once. But it sounds like for a lot of people, this aligns more with what they want to get out of a dating app. And so they’re finally willing to take that leap and try it out, which is really amazing and sort of bolstering to hear.

30:24

Jasmine:
When you said the word ‘seen,’ that was the exact word in my mind too. And I’m curious to know what your experience was growing up and how that influenced the way that you created Struck.

30:34

Rachel:
Yeah, absolutely. So I grew up in an extremely secular household and I think part of that is my parents immigrated maybe already having that mentality to some degree. And that’s part of why they immigrated thinking that America was this amazing equalizer kind of country. But I also think that part of it may have stemmed from them wanting to assimilate more quickly. And they felt that by embedding themselves in the science culture of the US that would be a way for their kids to assimilate more quickly. So I was raised like super, super science focused. Actually studied mechanical engineering, material science at Berkeley. So I have a very, not just technical background, but technical rooted in the physical world. The exact opposite probably of something like astrology. For a long time I rejected any sort of spirituality because I felt like there was such a bias against that. Buddhism and those types of religions, if you want to call it a religion we’re the butt of jokes for a long time when we were growing up.

And I think now it’s a little bit more in Vogue and so it’s easy to forget that kind of thing, but I really didn’t want to be seen as this Chinese kid who went to the temple and prayed with incense to my ancestors. Right?

32:00

Because that was just such a foreign thing to people, but basically long story short, in my mid 20s, I had sort of a quarter-life crisis of identity, which I think a lot of people did, especially around the 2016 election. And suddenly I think a lot of especially first generation immigrant kids were like, “Wait, I’m not white actually.” And I know I had that experience too, and it just really shook things up for me. And I realized how much I had been sort of forcibly and actively suppressing that side of my cultural heritage in favor of almost using science as a religion which I could talk forever about.

32:47

Jasmine:
Yeah. Well, also just being a kid and not having a model for living between these two different identities, it’s a lot. Of course, it makes sense to just choose the one that is being offered to you. And a lot of people would relate to that. So let me ask you when the Indian Matchmaking [show] came out and I think all of us had this awakening to like, “Wow, astrology is so fundamental to so many ancient cultures.” I think we started to see it a little differently. We were all home-bound anyways, and that was the one week where we all watched on Netflix. What happens for you and the app? Did you guys see anything? Was there any new interest in Struck?

33:30

Rachel:
That’s such a funny question. First of all, I do want to acknowledge, of course I glossed over that obviously South Asia is still hugely important for astrology. They practice Vedic Astrology, which is a little bit different, but I would say probably in the modern world, they take astrology maybe the most seriously as a culture and a society. As far as the show, I know the show is very divisive as well in the South Asian community from the people I’ve spoken to. So also acknowledge that, but in the context of Struck, what’s really funny is we had obviously been developing this app for months and months at this point. And when Indian Matchmaking came out, we actually went semi-viral in India.

Jasmine:
Oh wow.

34:20

Rachel:
A bunch of articles were written about us. But they were saying things like we were copying Sima Aunty. They were saying that we built the app to ride this wave of Indian Matchmaking, which was a really interesting take. I can see why they might’ve thought that, but it was just kind of a funny anecdote. So there’s a decent number of people in India I think that actually know that we exist. We had requests from people in India, which I was surprised about for us to launch there, because from what I’ve heard from a lot of younger Indian people… And this is very, very generalized and very anecdotal, but from some of my friends and people who have reached out, I was under the impression that the younger generation was a little bit more skeptical. And as younger generations do, they always want to reject what their parents were into or believed. So I was surprised to see that we did get some demand there as well.

35:18

Jasmine:
Yeah. You mentioned that you have interest in other countries. Are there any other places where people are reaching out and asking you for the app?

35:25

Rachel:
Oh yes, absolutely. So Latin America is a huge, huge astrology center. So…If you haven’t seen Mucho Mucho Amor on Netflix, I can’t plug that film enough. It’s a documentary about this amazing astrologer Walter Mercado, who did a lot of work to bring astrology to the mainstream. So Latin America has been huge. Also Europe and Australia have been really big requests as well. And I think that’s just a side effect of the growing popularity of astrology in sort of the Western world for the same reasons that it’s becoming popular in the States.

36:08

Jasmine:
Right. So let’s talk about the brand for a bit. I kept thinking as I was researching before this call, how you were able to build a brand that really honored what astrology is, but still made room for your tagline which says, “Skeptics welcome.” What were some of the brand decisions that you made that helped you find that balance?

36:29

Rachel:
Yeah, definitely. I think at its best astrology can be this really welcoming tool for connecting people for all the reasons we’ve talked about. And I think what it boils down to is just like a culture and a brand that’s built on top of respect. So I really believe that people with different views and opinions can get along with one another, as long as there’s a mutual respect between the two. We welcome people who are skeptical with open arms for the reasons I said earlier, which is that you don’t necessarily need to believe in astrology to reap some of the benefits of astrology so long as you are not going to be a person who puts down other people who do believe in it. As long as you’re willing to have a dialogue and listen to what that person has to say and are respectful of their thoughts and opinions, I think there’s definitely room for people like that on our platform.

Jasmine:
Why do you think we’re in a place right now as a culture where astrology and so many other ancient systems are getting mainstream acceptance? Why do you think that’s happening right now?

37:39

Rachel:
That’s such a loaded question and I love it because I talk so much with my friends. One thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about is the idea of subjectivity. And something I find really refreshing about astrology when you actually talk to those in the know, including professional astrologers, they consider astrology just as much art as it is science, right? So there’s often this false argument happening from the science side of things where they’re saying, “This is not an empirical science, so therefore it’s not real,” et cetera. And from the astrology side, I’ve heard the argument… Well, there’s not really an argument against that. It’s just an ability to embrace this thing that does have subjectivity involved, just like art does. Right?

38:28

And as far as, why now, I think collectively, especially we’re seeing this in Gen Z, like we’re realizing that binaries don’t exist and I know some people might roll their eyes at that, but I really think that’s true.

As someone who grew up very invested in science, I had some realizations like the idea of Schrodinger’s Cat, which if you don’t know what that means, it’s basically the idea that you have this metaphorical or theoretical cat in a box and you close the box, is the cat alive or dead? Well, it’s actually both dead and alive in coexistence at the same time. And if you told that to someone like a really young kid they’d be like, “What? That is insane,” right? It’s such a weirdly faith-based argument for a very scientific concept. So I think we realize now science isn’t black and white, medicine is not black and white. Medicine has so many subjectivities and biases built into it.

Science has biases built into it as well. And so I think we’re entering a world where things are just much more nuanced on the whole. 

So Gen Z is like, “Gender’s a construct.” A lot of Gen Z believes that nobody’s truly straight, right? Everyone’s a little bit heteroflexible or queer or whatever the case is. So I think we’re just at the beginning of that, right? It feels like with 2020 in our rear view mirror, we’re really headed in a new direction.

 

40:01

Jasmine:
So I think where a lot of this conversation is coming to is, you look at a lot of people in our generation who feel like they’re scientifically minded like myself, but also embrace spiritual things that maybe don’t seem to jive with that scientific mindset. So this idea of like two seemingly opposite things existing in the same person, two very different truths existing in the same person. I think a lot of us carry that within us. Where do you think that’s coming from?

 

40:32

Rachel:
I really think that’s kind of this fundamental human thing. I used to wonder the same thing, honestly about really devout Christians who were scientists, because I was like, “How can you hold these two things at the same time?” But this is really nothing new. I mean, even if you look at the development of modern psychology as one example, Carl Jung was a noted fan of astrology and even he had this idea of synchronicity. It’s this idea of meaningful coincidences. So even though he was in cahoots with Freud and these other guys who were building this new branch of science and medicine, he was very insistent that there are coincidences in our world that kind of go beyond just pure statistical chance. And he didn’t really know what to chalk that up to, but he called it synchronicity and just said, “There are these in our lives that we can’t ignore that have some meaning in them.”

41:38

And the last thing I’ll say, I actually was having a really amazing conversation last night with another founder. And I think he typically would skew sort of on the skeptic side of things, but we were talking about astrology and he said, “I’m a very mathematical person and I’ve had a lot of conversations about astrology.

 

And while I may not believe every piece of it, what I’ve basically decided is that astrology and a lot of these…” Maybe he wouldn’t say synchronicities, but he was basically describing synchronicity. So, “A lot of these meaningful coincidences are things that we as human beings with all of our flaws have just not discovered yet, right? There’s this truth that we only know as much as we know, and people are absolutely very far from perfect, and we have so much to discover.” And he was saying that he felt astrology may point to some of these truths that we just haven’t discovered yet. And I really liked that.

Jasmine:
So coming back to the app, now that you’ve created this world that really lets people see themselves, it lets people connect in a different way. It started a very different kind of conversation. It’s tapped into a sea change that may have already been happening in people. Where do you see the brand going?

Rachel:
Yeah, I mean, for us, what’s really important is to continue to make people feel welcome no matter what their background is. And you kind of spoke on the diversity of the users on the app, and we want to definitely keep that going. We want people to feel welcome on our app where they may not feel welcomed elsewhere. And I think we want to continue honoring where astrology comes from and its roots because they do go so far back and we owe it to so many people that came before us for getting us to this point. And so as a brand, I think those are really important principles for us.

43:40

And ultimately that same underlying thread that started this project is something I don’t want to let go of, which is trying to improve the authenticity of the connections that we make, because we are at a point where people are just so depressed and anxious and lonely, and it just feels so paradoxical because we have the world at our fingertips. So it’s an ambitious goal, but I want to see if there’s a way where we can reign in what we’ve done this far and bring us back to a place where we can make more of those authentic connections with other people.

Jasmine:
Thanks for listening to this episode of Unseen Unknown. If you liked it, go ahead and share it with someone you think would appreciate it. And don’t forget to rate and subscribe too. And a friendly reminder that you can always sign up for our newsletter where you’ll get all of our latest brand strategy thinking, articles, videos, and podcasts. Just go to conceptbureau.com to subscribe.

 

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