J. Gordon Melton (:16-29) describes a few characteristics of New Age and then describes how New Thought and New Age have worked in a somewhat symbiotic relationship.
Characteristics of New Age
While New Age is a term that covers a broad group of groups, Melton identifies various aspects of New Age, based on similarities found in New Age literature:
Channeling. Melton distinguishes channeling as it appeared in the past 30 years from Spiritualism as it existed 150 years ago. Rather than communication with the dead through an intuitive process, channeling today receives knowledge from ascended masters for the purpose of transformation. Examples include the Seth Material, A Course in Miracles and the Abraham-Hicks revelations.
Crystals. Melton says that “the occult attention to gem stones and crystal substances goes back many centuries, however, through the medium of channeling, crystals have been assigned an unprecedented central role in the transformational process.”
An apocalyptic movement. An additional characteristic of New Age, according to Melton, is that New Age is an apocalyptic movement with a focus on the betterment of society caused by external forces outside of human control. An example, as this is written in 2010, is the 2012 Mayan Calendar year phenomenon.
Symbiotic relationship of New Thought and New Age
Religious Movement vs Revivalist Movement. According to Melton, there has not been any direct clash between New Thought and New Age because they are essentially different movements. New Thought was established as a new and separate religious movement which has grown into a religious family tradition much like other denominations. He characterizes New Age as a revivalist movement, similar to the healing movement or the ecumenical movement.
New Thought support of New Age. Melton says that one explanation for the rapid spread of New Age was its ability to mobilize the resources of New Thought churches rather than build a new organization. Melton says “the New Thought churches were especially valuable assets for the New Age movement … Not only were there weekly worship services and Sunday school classes in which to make guest appearances, the New Thought church had facilities which could be borrowed or rented and in which weekly New Age classes could be held. They also had a potential audience of somewhat sympathetic church members.”
New Age attracts new members to New Thought. The New Thought churches, in turn, welcomed New Age teachings because they brought in large numbers of new people and the expectation was that they would be soon converted to New Thought ideas. Melton says that “by the mid-1980s, New Thought leaders began to see in the New Age a movement with a distinct new clientele of its own. It was growing and attracting the rich and famous. They began to see that it had more to offer them than rental fees for the use of their facilities and an enriched program for church members. The many non-New Thought people attracted to the New Age could become an expanded audience for New Thought.”
Other Perspectives on New Age
My own take (Mark Hicks speaking here) is that New Thought has a systematic theology (metaphysics) and it can function in a traditional, modern and post-modern worldview, whereas New Age is a bag of UNsystematic beliefs that came about as a rejection of science and modernism and can only live in a post-modern worldview. I've been tremendously influenced by Huston Smith in forming this opinion. Here is what Huston Smith says in Why Religion Matters (p161):
"Because they lack seasoned guides, their unbridled enthusiasm for the Aquarian Age careens crazily, and conceptually the movement is pretty much a mess... Flaky at the fringes and credulous to the point of gullibility — an open mind is salutary, but one whose hinge is off? — The New Age Movement is so problematic that I would gladly leave it alone were it not for the fact that it has two things exactly right. First, it is optimistic, and we need all the hope we can get. Second, it adamantly refuses to acquiesce to the scientistic worldview. Instinctively it knows that the human spirit is too large to accept a cage for its home."
So, fundamentally, New Age is a hodge-podge of things that center around a post-modern worldview. New Thought can be post-modern as well, but it at least has a structured theology (Mind, Idea, Expression) that holds it together.
Rodney Stark distinguishes New Age as a market (that has an audience) rather than being a movement (that has believers). In The Churching of America, he and collaborator Roger Finke write, "We believe that most people who can in any way be said to have responded to the New Age movement regard it as more of an amusement than a religion ... But audiences do not constitute movements." (pp. 239-40). The demographics of this New Age audience is described by Stark in What Americans Really Believe as being somewhat privileged people who are highly educated and who are "searching for a sense of the supernatural that is lacking in their 'home' denominations" (p. 135).