spirituality, german

April 2006 cover of <em>Amica</em> magazine
April 2006 cover of Amica magazine

The most important item on my agenda when traveling home to “the old country” is scheduling some time with a German stylist. Not only do these visits keep me up-to-date in terms of hairstyles but they allow me to immerse myself in a wealth of “lifestyle,” “fashion,” and “wellness” magazines. Amica, Die Bunte, and Meine Freundin, to name just a few, provide a wealth of information for how their primarily-female audience can lead fuller lives. As a scholar of religion, I was thus tickled when, beginning in the 2000s, a new feature appeared alongside the usual advice on dieting, exercise, work-life-balance, and sex: spirituality.

Amica, for example, states that spirituality is not a word that refers to the allegedly dubious practices of card reading or palmistry but one that expresses a “feeling of faith beyond all religions.” This source of energy “between mind and matter” points to a dimension of our lives that, if we cultivate it, can lead to more contentment and freedom. Thus, in Amica, I can find not only the “Sex-Check” to discern whether I am more prone to wild or romantic erotic encounters but also the “Enlightenment-Check.” This test allows me to measure how far I have advanced on the path to developing my “true spiritual being.”

When I first encountered spirituality in these magazines, I suspected that its arrival in German stylist salons finally proved Max Weber right. After all, the intense individualization of “spirituality” could be understood as a prime example for the privatization and commoditization of religion in modernity. In secular societies, one could say, religion becomes so profoundly privatized and disconnected from its traditional contexts that its remnants appear open for individual and market manipulation in the form of “spirituality,” a point Jeremy Carrette and Richard King explored in their Selling Spirituality: the Silent Takeover of Religion. A prime location for the new commodity “spirituality” is the market of self-improvement products, as witnessed not only by my lifestyle magazines but also by the flurry of offerings for the “spirituality for managers,” breathing techniques for teachers, and the like. I will become a better me through developing my spiritual self. And Amica helps me to see how far I’ve come and how far I still have to go. As the new dimension of human flourishing, the spiritual makeover is promised and facilitated by a market product, namely the magazine and the places for its consumption, like my stylist’s salon. As I am waiting for my body’s transformation I can muse on the improvement of my spirit as well.

But becoming a better self is not to be understood as a private Emersonian imperative. And the workings of religion in modern societies and states are more complex than a simple privatization paradigm would make it seem. Precisely as a market commodity in the service of self-transformation, the discourse of spirituality subtly relates to ideals of citizenship, particularly in the context of makeover culture. How and where we do our shopping—or invest in transforming our homes, bodies, and spirits—determines our access to social capital. As Brenda R. Weber’s Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity showed, the ideas of self-improvement and self-transcendence are an integral part of North Atlantic cultural enfranchisement.

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