Capitalizing Religion: Ideology and the Opiate of the Bourgeoisie

9781472533371Talk of ‘spirituality’ and ‘individual religion’ is proliferating both in popular discourse and scholarly works. Increasingly people claim to be ‘spiritual but not religious,’ or to prefer ‘individual religion’ to ‘organized religion.’ Scholars have for decades noted the phenomenon – primarily within the middle class – of individuals picking and choosing elements from among various religious traditions, forming their own religion or spirituality for themselves.

While the topics of ‘spirituality’ and ‘individual religion’ are regularly treated as self-evident by the media and even some scholars of religion, Capitalizing Religion provides one of the first critical analyses of the phenomenon, arguing that these recent forms of spirituality are in many cases linked to capitalist ideology and consumer practices. Examining cases such as Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, and Karen Berg’s God Wears Lipstick, Craig Martin ultimately argues that so-called ‘individual religion’ is a religion of the status quo or, more critically, ‘an opiate of the bourgeoisie.’

“Martin’s work brilliantly exposes the intellectual limitations of scholarship that claims neutrality but fails to interrogate the social dimensions of modern individualism and calls for an engaged approach to academic writing that reveals its own sympathies in relation to dominant forms of power. An essential primer in unmasking the politics of classification and the influence of modern capitalist ideas upon scholarship in the study of religion.”—Richard King, Professor of Buddhist and Asian studies, University of Kent, UK

“In this timely intervention, Martin shows how the field of religious studies has failed to theorize ‘individualism’, and goes on to provide an account of the social functions served by supposedly individualistic expressions of religion. Martin focuses on religion where it actually happens: not in the pulpit or the rarefied works of theologians, but in the day-to-day and popular manifestations of religious ideology that appear in novels and self-help books. In the process, his clear prose makes sophisticated theorists and complicated ideas accessible to a general readership.”—William Arnal, Department of Religious Studies, University of Regina, Canada

“It is nearly impossible to find a study of religion in the West written in the last forty years that has not made reference to individualism. Craig Martin asks his scholarly colleagues to stop believing the ideological fallacy of ascendant individualism in modern religious experience. Instead, he turns our attentions to the embedded capitalist agenda of religious action and advocacy in the contemporary moment. After reading this book, you will never again feel wholly comfortable talking about spirituality without also thinking about consumerism and its profound hold on our fictions, our fantasies, our ideologies, and our religions.”—Kathryn Lofton, Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, History and Divinity, Yale University, USA

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