Reinterpretation Essay

2002 words - 9 pages

Religions do not only relate to the past but also to the future: beliefs about resurrection or further rebirths, hopes of a better future, or even fears of apocalyptic tribulations. In this essay, various religious ‘futures’ will be investigated: the evolution towards spiritual individualism and consumerism, the success of yoga and the Christian speculations about the end of times. It will be easily demonstrated that each of these ‘futures’ is highly controversial – but are they controversial primarily because of the way in which they reinterpret the past? The essay will argue that the reinterpretation of the past should better seen as a legitimating force rather than the primary cause of ...view middle of the document...

64). Almost half of the shops in Glastonbury are ‘alternative shops, selling goods intended to enhance and expend people’s spiritual lifestyles and practices’ and these entrepreneurs ‘see no contradiction between spirituality and business’, regarding ‘their business as part of their spiritual part’ (Bowman, 2013, pp. 67-9). This evolution towards individualism and consumerism is often regarded as having negative impacts of religion, ‘damag[ing] (…) solid values, (…) break[ing] down tradition and the chain of memory, (…) lack[ing] the moral depth and social cohesiveness of more traditional religion’ (Gauthier et al., 2011, pp. 291-2). For Jeremy Carrette and Richard King, ‘the religious’ has been silently taken over ‘by contemporary capitalist ideologies’: ‘individualisation of the spiritual (…) has allowed consumerist and capitalist spiritualities to emerge in the late twentieth century’, promoting ‘accommodation to the social, economic and political mores of the day and provide little in terms of a challenge to the status quo’ (Carrette & King, 2005, pp. 2-5). In this view, religion has been swallowed up by neoliberalism and does not offer an alternative model anymore. In their discourses, critics are thus castigating spiritual individualism and consumerism by opposing it to an idealised past preserved from these flaws – but the reality is much less clear-cut. For Richard King, pick-and-mix spirituality is not a recent phenomenon: ‘in practice throughout history human beings, when they’ve encountered diverse practices and beliefs, have pick-and-mixed and hybridised traditions all the time’ (King speaking in ‘Interview with Richard King’). It must also be noted that nascent religious movements do not necessarily break with tradition, as they ‘often attempt to justify a new idea or a new social order by attributing to it the authority of tradition, (…) through a radical reinterpretation of the past (…) to portray themselves as the true embodiment of “tradition”’ (Lewis, 2003, p. 143). Therefore, it is more a continuum of related religious beliefs than a real opposition between tradition and modernity. Similarly, economic aspect was already present in religious activities in the past and stirred controversies as well: the sale of indulgences (denounced by Martin Luther), the payment of compulsory taxes or tithes to support religious organisations, the construction of religious buildings or statues… (Bowman, 2013, pp. 49-50). Spiritual individualism and consumerism are thus controversial per se and not primarily because of the reinterpretation of the past – but the reinterpreted past is nevertheless an important element of the controversy as it is used to legitimate the evolution or its criticism.
Yoga is a good example of a spirituality-tainted practice that has met an undeniable success, being promoted for its health benefits in the West, with ‘2.5 million people in Britain practis[ing] yoga’ and a commercial market ‘worth in the [US] of $30...

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