Consumerism as Folk Religion?
"I will argue that consumerism can be understood as a contemporary folk religion as it shares a number of traits with most religions. In this talk I will focus on two: the thematic of transcendence and the dynamics of probation. Consumerism is at the heart of what Thomas Luckmann called “invisible religion”, i.e. the non-institutionalised and non-traditional cultural ways of dealing with the problems posed by the temporally and spatially transcendent nature of human existence. Modern consumerism is distinguished from traditional forms of consumption not so much by its materialism, but by the emphasis on the imagination, the way it instils dreamlike ideas of alternative realities beyond our immediate routines. Because of this connection to individual/personal transcendence, consumerism is highly identity relevant. Identity, nearly in all cultures, is expressed through material objects – but modern consumerism stands out as it, to a hitherto unknown extent, allows the individual to assemble their own identity expressions. This also means that it becomes a field in which individuals prove themselves as having an identity worth expressing in the first place. I will argue that, combined, these two traits justify the notion that consumerism is the folk-religious bedrock on which rests what Émile Durkheim has called the “cult of the individual” – the secular religion in which “man is simultaneously worshipper and god”, a civil religions whose “high-church” format is often understood to be the discourse of human rights."
Network for Religion in Public Life workshop "Critiques of Capitalism: Christian and Muslim Voices", Exeter, 2nd - 3rd Jun 2014