spirituality, capitalist

From feng shui to holistic medicine, from aromatherapy candles to yoga weekends, from Christian mystics to New Age gurus, spirituality is big business. We now see the introduction of modes of spirituality into educational curricula, bereavement and addiction counseling, psychotherapy and nursing. Spirituality as a cultural trope has also been appropriated by corporate bodies and management consultants to promote efficiency, to extend markets and to maintain a leading edge in a fast-moving information economy. Spirituality is celebrated by those who are disillusioned by traditional institutional religions and seen as a force for wholeness, healing and inner transformation. In this sense spirituality is often taken to denote the positive aspects of the ancient religious traditions, unencumbered by the ‘dead hand’ of the church, and yet something which provides a liberation and solace in an otherwise meaningless world. However, is this “feel good” term always what it is advertised to be?

Capitalist spiritualities involve the subordination and exploitation of religious themes and motifs to promote an individualist or corporate-oriented pursuit of profit for its own sake. They have emerged in response to the rise of global finance capitalism, the shift to post-Fordist modes of production and the growing cultural influence of transnational corporations and neoliberal models of governance. Like the individualist or consumerist spiritualities of the 1960s and 1970s upon which such trends have developed, they tend to be ‘de-traditionalized’ and syncretic in nature. Use whatever you like, as long as it works. As the postmodern spiritualities of globalization and new information technologies these trends mirror the deregulation of economic markets and the easy transfer of electronic data across national boundaries. Unlike the individualist spiritualities of the Sixties and Seventies however, such trends remain institutionally embedded and represent an uncritical assimilation of business values into their rationale. What characterizes such trends is a subtle shift beyond an exclusive emphasis upon the individual self and towards a concern with making the individual employee/consumer function as effectively as possible for the benefit of corporate organizations and the global economy.

Many scholars have suggested that what we have seen emerge in the last few decades of the twentieth century is something new, which has been variously described as “New Age capitalism,” “millennial capitalism,” or, as David Loy has written, “the most successful religion of all time … the religion of the market.” Yet, in many respects the ‘free market’ values embodied in these ascriptions are not particularly new. In 1944 Karl Polanyi traced similar tensions and issues to the Industrial Revolution. However, the intersection of such an ideology with the collapse of Soviet communism, the rise of globalization, the proliferation of new communications technologies, and the possibility of mass advertising saturation through corporate-owned media outlets have moved the free-market agenda onto an unprecedented scale. However one chooses to characterize these developments they now offer a significant challenge to the indigenous civilizations and ancient cultures of the world that they are in the process of colonizing, strip-mining and transforming. Harvey Cox describes the long historical arc of markets and their relation to religion in this passage:

Page 1 of 4 | Next page