François Gauthier–Religion is not what it used to be. Consumerism, neoliberalism, and the global reshaping of religion

Religion is not what it used to be. Not so long ago, this statement would have been understood as meaning the decline of religion. A claim that seems supported by the recent survey that shows that over 50% of British adults today declare to be “non-religious”. Yet this trend is only a very superficial appraisal of what is really going on. If we look closer, the last half-century has not been a shift from religion to no religion¾what we commonly refer to as “secularization”¾as it is a shift from one type of religion to another. What are the forces that are driving this shift? I believe these can be boiled down to two complementary processes: the joint rise and globalization of consumerism and neoliberalism. Not as monolithic and unidirectional forces, but as the two heads of a process that has eroded the National-Statist foundations of our societies in favour of a new configuration in which the mechanisms and the idea of Global Market are determining. As a consequence, we are shifting from what I call a “National-Statist regime” of religion towards a “Global Market” one.

It is fascinating that scholars of religion have all but ignored the obvious: the incredible rise of economics as a dominant and structuring social force in the beginning of the 1980s. We have all noticed that education, health and the state’s mission in general are now all submitted to the logics of economic efficiency. And we have all noticed that consumption impregnates social life in such a way that it is impossible to relieve oneself in public facilities without having to stare at publicity. Branding has become a must for political parties, hospitals, NGO’s and even people. Still, the most prominent authors typically make no mention of the recent developments of capitalism in their analyses of religion, contrary to other disciplines which have acknowledged the neoliberal revolution.

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Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Globalization, Religion & Culture, Sociology