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Consuming the Self: New Age Spirituality as “Social Product” in Consumer Society

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This article discusses the “commodified production of self-actualisation” in consumer society and discusses how the discourses and practices in selected texts from four New Age spiritual thinkers take the form of an ever-changing “social product”. The analysis shows how the discourse and practices of New Age spiritual thinkers align themselves with consumptive behaviour by secularising, homogenising and over-simplifying scientific, social scientific and traditional religious discourse and practices into “social products” for consumption. The analysis also reveals that New Age spiritual thinkers are engaged in a process that could be described as the “consumption of the self”. The implications of the “consumption of the self” will be discussed in terms of the way consumer society requires New Age “technologies of the self” to be continually redefined, restructured and repackaged in new and different forms.
  This article was downloaded by: [University of Otago]On: 04 January 2015, At: 12:00Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Consumption Markets & Culture Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: Consuming the Self: New AgeSpirituality as “Social Product” inConsumer Society Jennifer RindfleishPublished online: 22 Nov 2006. To cite this article:  Jennifer Rindfleish (2005) Consuming the Self: New Age Spirituality as“Social Product” in Consumer Society, Consumption Markets & Culture, 8:4, 343-360, DOI:10.1080/10253860500241930 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the “Content”) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoeveror howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to orarising out of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at  Consumption, Markets and Culture,Vol. 8, No. 4, December 2005, pp. 343–360  ISSN 1025–3866 (print)/ISSN 1477–223X (online) © 2005 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/10253860500241930 Consuming the Self: New Age Spirituality as “Social Product” in Consumer Society Jennifer Rindfleish TaylorandFrancisLtd GCMC124176.sgm10.1080/10253860500241930Consumption,MarketsandCulture1025-3866(print)/1477-223X(online)OriginalArticle2005Taylor&FrancisLtd 84000000December2005JenniferRindfleish In the late twentieth century there has been a proliferation, diversification and popularisa-tion of New Age spiritual discourses and practices in Western industrialised nations. New  Age spiritual thinkers such a Deepak Chopra, Ken Wilber, Gary Zukav and ShaktiGawain, have modified discourse and practices from Eastern and Western traditional reli- gious beliefs, Western science and psychotherapy, to develop their own discourse and prac-tices designed to assist individuals “transform” themselves. This article discusses the“commodified production of self-actualisation” in consumer society and discusses how thediscourses and practices in selected texts from four New Age spiritual thinkers take the formof an ever-changing “social product”. The analysis shows how the discourse and practicesof New Age spiritual thinkers align themselves with consumptive behaviour by secularising,homogenising and over-simplifying scientific, social scientific and traditional religiousdiscourse and practices into “social products” for consumption. The analysis also revealsthat New Age spiritual thinkers are engaged in a process that could be described as the“consumption of the self”. The implications of the “consumption of the self” will bediscussed in terms of the way consumer society requires New Age “technologies of the self” to be continually redefined, restructured and repackaged in new and different forms.Keywords:New Age Spirituality; Social Products; Consumption Behaviour; Technologies of the Self  Introduction New Age spirituality has been a growing social phenomenon in Western industrialisednations since the mid-twentieth century. Heelas (1996, 2) has coined the term “self-spirituality” to describe the myriad of discourse and practices that are encompassed Correspondence to: Dr Jennifer Rindfleish, New England Business School, University of New England, Armidale,NSW, 2351, Australia. Email:    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   O   t  a  g  o   ]  a   t   1   2  :   0   0   0   4   J  a  n  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   5  344  J. Rindfleish under the term New Age. The social and historical developments responsible forthe rise of the phenomenon involve a parallel between a rise in the importance of thetheory and methods of psychotherapy and the increasing secularisation of Westernculture after World War II. According to Lukes (1973, 67–70) the rise of an interest inself-development to the Romantic cultural era around the time of the Italian Renais-sance but most fully elaborated by the writings of Goethe and Rousseau. Furthermore,John Stuart Mill brought a “theory of the right and duty of self-development” into theliberal tradition and even Marx had an ethical view of humans as beings with a widerange of creative potentialities whose “own self-realisation exists as an inner necessity”.Woodhead and Heelas (2000, 272) link the characteristics of post-modern religionwith the “free subject” who is positively encouraged to exercise their autonomy inchoosing whatever has diffused through culture, from sometimes disparate codes orframeworks of meaning, to satisfy their own requirements for self-development or self-actualisation.Couching their discussions in the terminology of the consumer market, Stark andBainbridge (1985, 124) conceptualise religion as a dynamic force forever changing andrenewing itself. Referring to the “unmet needs that plague human beings” they proposethat a “free religious marketplace” is a tumult of competing faiths differing in theirtension with the dominant secular institutions and the degree to which they offer magic.They also suggest that when mainstream religion loses its authority, religious move-ments, including those to do with inner spirituality, come to serve as compensators. Inparticular, secularisation stimulates religious innovation and/or revival and, while thesources of religion are shifting constantly in societies, the amount of religion remainsrelatively constant. In their discussions of the ways in which religion changes andresponds to social pressures over time, Stark and Bainbridge (1985) use the concept of “market demand” to explain rising and falling interest in religious beliefs. Hunter(1987, 71) supports this point by highlighting the stimulation of revival movements andaligns the “fascination with the self” displayed by the detraditionalisation of religionwith the particular form of radical Evangelicanism observed in the USA commonly referred to as the Christian revival movement.Various social theorists (Hunter, 1987; Roof and Gesch 1995; Simmel [1909] 1976;Taylor 1991) have discussed the parallels between the move away from traditional reli-gious beliefs in Western industrialised societies and the increasing interest in innerspirituality or the “turn to the self”. Bellah et al. (1985) made the connection betweenbiblical religion and civic republicanism in the USA and a self-oriented, therapeuticethic which generated a privatised spirituality autonomous of external obligations anddriven instead by momentary feelings and the pursuit of short term hedonism.Together with increasing secularisation, consumerism and the needs of the markethave become dominant ideologies in Western culture. Luckman (1990) discusses aconcept he calls the “market of transcendence” where traditional religious views of Christian srcin compete with religious orientations pertaining to the various levels of transcendence. Disseminated by the mass media in books, television, and by prophetsand teachers in public and private places, in the burgeoning “seminar” industry,religion becomes a privatised market commodity. Woodhead and Heelas (2000, 273)    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   O   t  a  g  o   ]  a   t   1   2  :   0   0   0   4   J  a  n  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   5  Consumption, Markets and Culture 345 link the rise in the importance of self-development with the rise in the activities of thepost-modern consumer culture. They characterise the individualised deregulatedreligion of the twenty-first century as being dominated by the values of novelty, rapidchange, individual enjoyment and consumer choice. In other words, the centralimportance of self-development to Western industrialised cultures that depend soheavily on consumption has left traditional religious doctrines open to the choice of each individual hence creating a type of “spiritual supermarket” from which eachindividual can choose (Roof 1999). Belk, Wallendorf, and Sherry (1989, 13) alsodiscuss “the secularisation of the sacred and the sacralisation of the secular” in thebehaviour of the individual involved in consumption practices. According to Belk,Wallendorf, and Sherry (1989), the rise of individualism has made it possible to definethe sacred as that which brings secular ecstasy to the individual and happinessbecomes intrinsically implicated with the fulfilment of the self.Together with increasing secularisation and the dominance of consumerism, Westernculture has been influenced by a rise in the importance of psychotherapeutic theory andpractice. The convergence of psychotherapy and spiritualisation came about with theadvent of Maslow’s theories of humanistic psychology in 1970. Maslow coined the term“self-actualisation” for the desired state or outcome of his theory related to human moti-vation. The state of self-actualisation was to be realised through “peak experiences”,including mysticism. The convergence of psychotherapy and spiritualisation has beencriticised for its narcissistic self-indulgence and lack of social conscience (Lasch 1978;Schur 1976; Wolfe 1976). However, Puttick (2000) believes the dominant theme thatarose from the convergence of spiritualisation and psychotherapy was that “one mustbe able to love oneself before being able to love others” and that such a theme does notnecessarily rule out a social conscience or commitment to public life.The relationship of “the self with itself” has been analysed by Hazleden (2003) whodiscusses the ways in which self-help literature produces a self-reflexive citizen in aliberal democratic society. The self-reflexive citizen works constantly upon them-selves to produce “the effective, well-adjusted, autonomous individual in charge of their own emotional life who links their personal goals and desires to social orderand stability, and links power to subjectivity”. Hence the liberal democratic project isreproduced “through the freedom and aspiration of subjects rather than in spite of them” (Hazelden, 2003, 424–25).This article furthers that discussion by aligning the specific characteristics of consumption practices with the discourse and practices of New Age spirituality. Thearticle argues that the particular type of citizen produced by New Age discourse andpractice in post-traditional liberal democracies is at the same time consumed by them.The discussion proposes that writers of New Age spiritual texts engage in a process thatcould be described as “the commodification of the self”. They appropriate andcombine aspects from both Eastern and Western traditional religions, theories andpractices from psychology and psychotherapy, and Western and Eastern scientifictheories to formulate what they claim are “unique” meta-theories. The aspects appro-priated by New Age spiritual thinkers are an eclectic mix of isolated parts of large andcomplex traditional religious, scientific or psychological theories or belief systems. The    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   O   t  a  g  o   ]  a   t   1   2  :   0   0   0   4   J  a  n  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   5
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